AOL Time Warner shuts ebook biz

Harmful to print

AOL Time Warner is shutting down its e-publishing arm, iPublish, from the end of the year because the market "has simply not developed the way we hoped".

In the current economic climate, the chairman of Time Warner Trade Publishing Larry Kirshbaum continued, "we can't jeopardize our thriving print business by carrying a money-losing operation indefinitely into the future".

The closure of iPublish - which opened in April last year and was hailed as a "groundbreaking" online venture - will see 29 jobs go.

The news, added to the recent axing of Random House's ebook venture AtRandom.com (which was started several months after iPublish), has caused many to speculate that the electronic book market is a dead dodo.

However, themarket is gradually growing as people hear about electronic books and discover some of their advantages.

The same problems remain: most significantly from the user point of view reading long tracts on a backlit screen is not exactly comfortable; and portable eBook readers are quite pricey.

From the publishing side, security is a major concern - as detailed in the fury directed at Dmitri Sklyarov when he exposed flaws in Adobe eBook technology. Electronic files can be disseminated extremely quickly and with little effort. Running an Internet infrastructure when pickings are slim is costly and charging "as much as the market would bear" for an eBook hasn't helped with demand.

Nevertheless, many companies are still working away at electronic books confident that the logic of books in a digital format will forge a market some time soon. Even AOL Time Warner has said it will continue to digitise books, as will Random House. It is quite likely that we will see a resurrected iPublish in a couple of years. ®

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