Being a publisher at a relatively small academic publishing house, I follow this discussion with great interest. Please let me share my view with you:
One can't stop the future from happening
True. That's why I'm here, reading this thread and reacting on this discussion
But to be serious, we acknowledge the importance of electronic reading, hence we set up a online store for ebook hardware. This way we get in touch with tomorrow's readers, which allows us to adapt our strategic focus when it comes down to our core business, publishing.
Loss of income
The real question is, will publishers still be able to add enough value to a publication in the future? Many academic authors are perfectly able to create a book or an article themselves. They can even hire proofreaders or editors through the internet. Except for the recognized name of the publisher, its logo, marketing services and quality control, what reasons would there be for an author to turn to a traditional publisher, even if they offer electronic publishing as well? Publishers will be facing loss of income anyway, even if they do offer electronic publishing facilities.
Loosing ground for competitors
True; if the competitors do offer the publications the customers are looking for; but if the publisher doesn't offer electronic versions of it's books at all, nobody can offer the ebook in the first place, so there still can't be any real competition in that case.
True. I think that book scanning will become a nightmare for publishers and book retailers. You can already see the rise of torrents sites offering pdf files of textbooks for example. With a new generation of ebook hardware coming up that offer A4 sized displays, some people might be very tempted to download scanned documents and read them on this kind of ereaders.
Ebooks is cheaper to produce
Not completely true. Even without the costs for printing, you still have costs for editing, proofreading, designing, marketing et cetera. Most of the time, the smaller part of the costs for realizing a new publication are printing costs. An additional problem is that there is not one ebook standard (which leads to costly conversion problems) and that you have to upload one ebook to many channels, conforming to different standards, and keeping track of ebook sales through many channels, not even mentioning the amount of work to calculate the royalty's for the author when serving many different channels.
Ebooks reach a bigger market
Of course ebooks can be very interesting for people with reading disabilities. But, I doubt if this could be a reason to step into the ebook market from a commercial point of view. Of course, it could create a group of very loyal customers and it would be an ethical step to offer ebooks in this regard.
Ebooks are also easier to distribute all over the world
True, especially looking at Amazon's Kindle and the iPhone 3G, with 'always on' internet connections. It's really fantastic. But keep in mind, that the different screen sizes do offer problems (see my pdf 'statement' below).
Decreased production costs can result in cheaper ebooks
Of course ebooks can be cheaper, but please refer to my explanation above why I think that ebooks will not become really cheaper at all. The question is whether the book's selling price really influences buying behaviour. Of course it will, but Dutch research has shown that price differences (within certain margins of course) doesn't really stop or encourage people from buying books. You can read just one book at a time (ok, there are exceptions...), so I wouldn't not be so sure that a lower price makes people buy more (e)books.
Absolutely, it becomes much easier to distribute samples or even free versions of the book. But in the other hand, this argument is also valid for print books, of which online excerpts are available (view inside the book programs).
Additionally, please let me underline that most of the time, it's the authors
that don't want us to make their book available in electronic form. They fear that it will be illegaly copied or that others can somehow alter their texts. Of course it takes time and we show ebook readers to our authors to convince them, but it's still very difficult.
Besides, some of our publications took many months of writing and designing, you can't just convert those kind of graphic-rich publications into an ebook with the push of a button. It would really help if there would be better conversion utilities (like mobipocket's conversion tools), but then for professional use.
Until then, pdf is in my point of view the only succesful ebook standard; everybody knows and uses it, both readers and designers/publishers, it has become an iso standard lately, and there is a broad range of software for creating and reading pdf documents available.