In a long-awaited report on the digital future of the book industry, the Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom and Ireland has urged its members to participate more actively in digital developments. Described by BA president David Roche "as a wake up call for retailers," the 122-page report, Brave New World, stresses the need for immediate action if booksellers are not to find their roles reduced in the book industry.

The report comes at a time when British publishers are at last moving to prepare for a digital future—both Random House and HarperCollins have recently announced large-scale digitization programs of their titles. Yet the U.K. retail bookselling sector has remained slow to embrace digital developments, including the Internet. Waterstones, the country's single largest chain, launched its own selling Web site only this fall, having previously delegated all its online business to Amazon.

Written by the digital publishing consultant Martyn Daniels, the report predicts increasing divergence within the publishing industry as a result of digital technology. Acknowledging that the academic, STM and reference sectors are already advanced electronically, Brave New World expects trade publishing to follow, but more gradually. The report argues that widespread use of e-books will only come after the acceptance of a standard reading device (or at least convergence among the multiple portable devices) and greater availability of content. However, the report sees a growing market for audio book downloads and argues that the U.K. audio books market is near a "tipping point" of mass consumer adoption of digital players.

The report highlights the opportunities the changing world of publishing and bookselling offers retailers. In particular, it urges BA members to become proactive in the use of digital marketing and promotion, and to specialize in their offerings. Noting that Amazon has "morphed into a formidable potential 'killer store'," it suggests individual bricks-and-mortar stores will still have a considerable role to play in assisting customers faced with a bewildering array of choices. The U.K. already publishes more than 150,000 titles per year, but the introduction of print on demand and increasing Web-based publishing means this number may grow exponentially. As Roche remarked, in such an environment "the filtering role of a retailer becomes even more important." Similarly, development of Web sites, with blogs and podcasts, can help an individual store attract and retain the loyalty of local consumers.

The report is intended to provide a much-needed catalyst for the book trade industry as a whole, since as Roche noted, "If you think of industries prepared for change, neither publishing nor booksellers are high up on the list." To ensure that action results from the report, and to foster increased collaboration between retailers and the publishing industry, a major conference on digital developments will be held in January, co-sponsored by the BA and the Publishers Association.

Recommendations Install in-store Wi-Fi cafes. Install kiosk technology to sell downloads and promote digital content. Develop print-on-demand publishing. Use the Internet for direct marketing and customer management.