Bloomsbury’s recent announcement about their new Creative Commons-licensed line provides a fascinating point of entry into the possible future of niche-interest books:
Bloomsbury Academic will be using a radically new model. All titles will be made available free of charge online, with free downloads, for non-commercial purposes, immediately upon publication, using Creative Commons licences. The works will also be sold as books, using latest short-run technologies or Print on Demand (POD).
Until we all have Instabook printers on our desktops (just as photo printing became dispersed onto desktops instead of centralized), this seems like a great model: insure the work is available to as wide an audience (online, libraries, etc.) as possible and also provide the option of buying the physical text.
For the moment, people do a ton of reading online (hello NY Times, Blogistan, etc.) so our distribution model is still mostly the same as publishing last century: make a pretty book and send it out there to be read and enjoyed. Since 99% (ok 99 point something-or-other) of our sales are physical, paper books, this is what we’re sticking to. (And, it’s great fun working with authors and artists to make books.)
Looking ahead (or at least sideways) quite a few of our books are available as ebooks and some are out there as free CC-licensed texts that can be played with, shared, sent on, etc., and maybe provoke the reader to look up those authors in the future.