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Aussie readers asked for input about future of publishing

Last week, the Internet behemoth Google launched its e-book sales site, Google eBooks, in the U.S. The e-book market is now crowded with offerings from Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Sony, which in turn has spawned a cottage industry for articles about the future of reading and the future of publishing. Amid all this cacophony, it’s small wonder publishers have responded to the rapidly diversifying marketplace with a mixture of fear and confusion.

In Australia, a consortium called the Book Industry Strategy Group is directly petitioning readers about their reading habits, desires, and preferences as a way of gaining clearer insights into the way forward. Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Barry Jones, chair of the BISG, states that the group is “seeking ideas from all Australians on how to face the challenges of the digital age, and to turn them into opportunities.” Jones suggests that opportunities lie in the flexibility and ready availability of e-books as against their print counterparts:

Where Amazon and Apple have got it right is the immediacy of purchasing an eBook. Both the Kindle and the iPad come with wireless connectivity to the Amazon and Apple stores, respectively. In the case of the Kindle, if you have an Amazon account, the Kindle comes preconfigured with your details so you can buy a book at 3am if you so desire. New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton calls this Me Economics, which is really just instant gratification in book buying. But it beats late-night television.

And although Jones throws a bone to those of us who still enjoy reading printed books (which he refers to as “pBooks”), it is clear that the digital arena is where he and his group are most invested:

And what about people who like the smell of books or the feel of books, or the cover artwork, or who just want to scribble over the pages? No, these sorts of people will mix up their reading habits and buy both pBooks and eBooks.

Public libraries are starting to offer access to eBooks via downloads or by access, by borrowers, to subscriptions taken out by the library. We want to hear about these initiatives and your experiences with them.

School kids will agree that carrying an eReader with all their textbooks on it beats carrying a heavy school bag with all their textbooks in it. And textbooks form a large part of the book industry in Australia. Can we hear your thoughts?

The public can submit comments and suggestions to the BISG until Jan. 31, 2011. One hopes that they will be slightly more innovative and nuanced than the sort of shopworn analysis Jones allows himself above.