Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing

This book tells the story of the turbulent decades when the book publishing industry collided with the great technological revolution of our time. From the surge of ebooks to the self-publishing explosion and the growing popularity of audiobooks, Book Wars provides a comprehensive and fine-grained account of technological disruption in one of our most important and successful creative industries.

Like other sectors, publishing has been thrown into disarray by the digital revolution. The foundation on which this industry had been based for 500 years – the packaging and sale of words and images in the form of printed books – was called into question by a technological revolution that enabled symbolic content to be stored, manipulated and transmitted quickly and cheaply. Publishers and retailers found themselves facing a proliferation of new players who were offering new products and services and challenging some of their most deeply held princ…

Table of contents:



1 The Faltering Rise of the Ebook

2 Reinventing the Book

3 The Backlist Wars

4 Google Trouble

5 Amazon’s Ascent

6 Struggles for Visibility

7 The Self-publishing Explosion

8 Crowdfunding Books

9 Bookflix

10 The New Orality

11 Storytelling in Social Media

12 Old Media, New Media

Conclusion: Worlds in Flux

Appendix 1: Sales data from a large US trade publisher

Appendix 2: Note on Research Methods


“An expert diagnosis of publishers and publishing, robustly illustrated with charts, graphs, tables, statistics and case studies… For anyone bewildered by the transformation of the book world, Mr. Thompson offers a pointed, thorough and business-literate survey.”
The Wall Street Journal

Book Wars is as comprehensive, wide-ranging and deeply considered an appraisal of the book publishing world as one can imagine – and a sober consideration of what the digital age has meant to a print-centred business. This masterful work should be the foundation for all future thinking about book publishing, and much future thinking about how new technologies change – and don’t change – societies.”
Michael Schudson, Columbia University

“Thompson weaves together a remarkable account of how and why one of the oldest forms of media has persisted through the challenges posed by digital disruption. Extraordinary in its breadth and depth, Book Wars unpacks the complex implications of digital production and distribution and draws crucial lessons that are relevant well beyond the world of books, providing a valuable lens for examining the profound changes that internet communication has brought to nearly every sector of the economy, and especially media industries.”
Amanda Lotz, Queensland University of Technology

“John Thompson was there when the digital-driven changes were in full swing, and he uses his bird’s-eye view and thoroughly researched analysis to give the reader the story behind the stories. And it’s a great read too.”
John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishers USA

“An astute deep dive into the current publishing predicament ? how we got here and what lies ahead. For anyone who wants to understand the key challenges facing our industry today, this book is highly instructive.”
Jonathan Galassi, President, Farrar Straus & Giroux

“Thrilling reports from the trade-publishing front lines by a leading (as it were) war correspondent….I once (rather pompously) wrote that we need a ‘contemporary history of the book’. Well, now we have it, for trade presses at least. I just didn’t expect it to be so interesting.”
Times Higher Education

The Independent

“insightful and intelligent”
Publisher’s Weekly

“excellent… Every skirmish, every battle, every standoff is covered objectively with supporting data and entertainingly with the case studies I would have chosen.”
Richard Charkin, Publishing Perspectives

“An important book for anyone interested in publishing.”
The Toronto Star

“John B. Thompson’s Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing is certain to become this year’s must-read for anyone serious about the publishing industry.”
Thad McIlroy, The Future of Publishing

“an extremely authoritative account of the revolution which at one time looked like it was going to destroy the fusty old world of book publishing, but has actually ended up reinvigorating it in ways that no one predicted… for anybody wanting to get into publishing this should be compulsory reading. If you are about to go for a job interview anywhere in the industry, read this book first!”
Authors Electric

“Exceptionally well written, organized and presented… Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing is an extraordinary study and one that is especially and unreservedly recommended for anyone with an interest in how and why the publishing industry works as it does today.”
Midwest Book Review

“If you’re a serious professional author like me, this book is a must-read because it gives historical perspective.  Younger and less experienced writers often lack historical perspective and there aren’t many books on the history of the publishing industry, so Thompson’s book is required reading.”
M. L. Ron, Indie Author Confidential Vol. 5

“Thompson’s work is authoritative and will be of tremendous value to future readers and researchers in understanding how a 500-year-old culture of print was able to absorb and adapt. I’m aware of no other title that provides such a useful account of how publishing professionals have fought to ensure stabilization and reliable delivery of content.”
The Scholarly Kitchen

“magisterial… Thompson has provided an invaluable reference and resource for researchers into the complex and rapidly changing field of book publishing. Elegantly written, thoroughly researched, and remarkably comprehensive, Book Wars tells a fascinating story of how publishers large and small are adapting to the transformational effects of the digital revolution.”
Publishing Research Quarterly

“Thompson’s Book Wars has been the book-about-book-publishing event of 2021…no one else has Thompson’s ability to marshal the facts into comprehensive and illuminating accounts of publishing in all its splendor.”
Publishers Weekly

“Nobody arrives better equipped than Thompson to map how the publishing ecosystem has persisted and morphed in the digital environment… it’s invaluable to have such thorough documentation of the digital publishing multiverse.”
The Los Angeles Review of Books