The University of Michigan Press (my publisher!) is going digital. In two years, they'll be primarily publishing their books in electronic format, viewable on Kindle or iPhone.
I really wonder what this means for academia. I'm guessing a lot of other major academic publishers will follow suit. Print books are terribly expensive to produce. I have a hard time imagining myself reading electronic books the same way I read print ones. But maybe it's easier for today's college students, or the kids who will be college students ten years from now. After all, you can use a Kindle or an iPhone on an exercise bike, or on a bus, or on the toilet... pretty much any place you'd read a print book. But it's a little tougher to writes notes in the margin.
Also, will a tenure review committee look upon a University of Michigan-approved PDF file the same way they look upon a printed text? In theory, it's the same gatekeeper, the same hurdle. But maybe it feels different.
And maybe it's not the same gatekeeper. University publishers limit the amount of stuff they publish in part to maintain the value of their press. Cambridge is a prominent publishing house precisely because they don't publish everything that comes across their desk. But if the costs of printing (derived from purchasing and binding cloth paper) drop dramatically, do they start publishing more? If so, how many books will junior scholars have to publish to get tenure?