JUST as music downloads caught the record industry off-guard, and YouTube fractured mainstream TV audiencesintocommunitiesof individual taste, the staid publishing industry is set to be the next cultural plank rocked by digital technology.

One of the major developments starting to break down the traditional UK model of writers finding a literary agent and then a publisher is the booming trend in publishing-on-demand, which experts say will come of age this year.

Recentdevelopmentsinprinting technology now allow for single copies of books to be published in hardback or paperback at a reasonable cost. Works are produced as they are ordered and dispatched to customers.

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The practice - known as publishing-on-demand - means book buyers can access new works that may not have ever attracted a traditional publisher, through sites such as AuthorHouse and Lulu that publish work by unsigned writers.

With no publisher, or bills for distribution and marketing costs, writers can recoup as much as 80% of the profits from their books, a far higher margin than most authors currently receive.

Gail Jordan of Lulu, which offers a weekly top 100 chart of its titles, said the website was "helping a lot of new authors make a lot of money".

"I think publishers will already be looking over their backs to see which markets are selling well," she added.

Colin Galbraith, 33, has found success selling his Fringe-inspired poetry throughLulu.com.TheEdinburgh-based IT professional, who put Fringe Fantastic up for sale online, has sold 250 copies.

He said: "I didn't know what to do with the poems after I'd gotten them together - it seemed quicker and easier to publish them through an online outlet. It cuts out the middleman of a publisher, so my profit is higher.

"It doesn't look self-published, it just looks like a book," he added.

AuthorHousemanagingdirector Tim Davies said the number of writers using the company's services is growing "very quickly". It now has a catalogue of 600 titles from UK writers and 30,000 in the US.

He said: "People want to see their voice in print, and we can help them do it. All we need is a pdf of their work - from that we can create a hardback or paperback book."

It is believed that established authors may see the profit margin publishing-on-demand can attract and be drawn to this model in the future.

Other digital trends are also beginning to have an effect on the publishing industry, say experts. Increasingly, publishers are using print-on-demand to make sure books no longer go out of print. If the work is held digitally it can be reprinted on order, saving historic booksthatpreviouslywouldhave become hard-to-find collectors' items.

MainstreamPublishing,basedin Edinburgh, has used print-on-demand technology to produce "very small" print runs of around 25 titles so far, and plans more for this year to keep some books in circulation. Director Peter Mackenzie said: "We are very keen to keep works available where possible."

Another trend uses books as pure data, with e-books, audiobooks delivered as MP3 files and new model "e-readers" that allow customers to buy and read thousands of books using a hand-held device connected to the internet.

The Sony Reader and iRex's iLiad e-reader have been available for a year in the US, but several new products due to be released this year are cheaper and give a "paper" look to the devices, making them more like traditional books.

Generational changes are also likely to mean technology-savvy young people will be bigger users of hand-held devices and read more on computer screens.

LorraineFanninoftheScottish Publishers Association said: "This is an exciting time. This is not about the end of books, it is about whole new parts of the book market opening up. Technology is going to bring some very exciting changes to the book market in the coming years."