About ten years ago, the ebook industry was growing at around 200% every year. No one knew the impact it would have on our businesses. Since then, ebook sales have levelled out, and print remains the biggest revenue generator for most publishers. Ebooks remain a very important part of the publishing landscape right now, especially as publishers try to recover a share of people’s attention from digital devices currently used mostly for music, video and games.

Meanwhile, another, much more important evolution has been taking place. Ebooks are a by-product of a much greater, more important enterprise: the digitisation of paper literature. Despite the incredible size and depth of the Internet as we know it, it’s still far, far smaller than the world’s paper literature. Ebooks are the most apparent, easily monetised evidence of all our efforts to add that paper literature to the great database of knowledge that is the Internet.

Why is that important? Well, the Internet we all want is one that easily grows into a more and more powerful, increasingly automated way to create and move large amounts of information, and one that helps us make a living in the process. To do that, we have to fill it with information that will be useful for a long time, and that can be easily found and manipulated by machines. As with any database: if we put rubbish in, we get rubbish out. Every ebook is a piece of that database. It’s not only a freestanding product.

So, if you’re working with ebooks, you need to know how they fit into the Internet, both as consumer products and as an Internet technology.

In addition, quite apart from digital products, digitisation is transforming the way we make books. For most of us, the impact of digital decisions on our businesses will be felt more in our workflows, marketing, and administrative systems than in consumers’ hands.

There isn’t space or time here to address many of the common questions and arguments about ereading here, or to go into the fascinating early history of ebooks. I highly recommend an article by John Siracusa called ‘The Once and Future Ebook’. Siracusa talks about the history of ebooks, and where and why they’re important.