Hachette, is the largest French publisher, and the fifth largest publisher in the USA and the second largest publisher of school textbooks in the World.
Seven PM this evening, Arnoud Nourry, managing director of Hachette was interviewed by Frédéric Martel on French national radio station France Culture. He explained that in discussions with colleagues from other (unnamed) publishers he realized that they, himself included, had been both wrong, and surprised, by the development of electronic publishing.
The common belief (he said) in the industry was that electronic publishing would be limited to dictionaries, large picture books, cooking, travel and schoolbooks, but that paperback literary fiction would remain for a long time on paper. They had made this assumption because they believed that formats that would benefit from interactivity and connectivity were the ones that would take to electronic formats the most freely.
Nourry stated that First Quater of 2011, one in five books sold in the USA was an e-Book, and that "most" of these were paperback literary fiction - black on white content, intended for small simple readers like the Nook and the Kindle.
What has particularly been discovered is that the main adopters of e-Readers are the large volume readers (those who read a lot of books, not those who read big books! - translating as I listen folks), and that as soon as they have acquired their reading devices, the transfer much of their consumption to electronic formats.
This took the publishers by surprise, as they thought that the iPad would lead the way, with interactive and video content.
He went on to talk about their publications for schools, which are now systematically published in both paper and electronic formats - and in electronic format they are enriched with interactive content. He did not give details of the levels of adoption.
He went on to discuss the negotiations that Hachette has had with Google over Google's project to digitise all books that were out of print, and after lengthy negotiations Hachette has an agreement with Google that (while it doesn't really bring them in line with French copyright law) at least acknowledges the author and publishers rights. Every time Google digitizes a text originally published by Hachette, Hachette obtains a copy of the digital text for which they have full distribution rights.
In discussing Hachette's relations in negotiations with the big electronic publishers - Google, Apple, Microsoft - he was very positive about the future of Hachette, both because Hachette is very large, and because Hachette is protected by French law, and because Hachette has a positive attitude to the electronic future and a desire to seek, negotiated partnerships with the big players [I'm interpreting rather than translating here - these are my impressions from a rather vague and lengthy exchange].
The discussion moved on to the future of booksellers and in particular of bookshops. Neither I nor the interviewer was much convinced by his position that the bookshops were likely to suffer less than publishers from "dematerialization", indeed that they may benefit, as they have a key role in sorting and classifying books for the purpose of recommending them to readers. His supposition was that a bookshop would become a space where people go to discuss and discover. He did have examples to back this up. I invite you to voice your opinions on this...