Irving E. Rockwood's "Scholarly Book Publishing: A Dickensian Perspective" offers, in A Tale of Two Cities mode, some prophecies for the future. Rockwood's concerns lie with the publishing industry; what I'd like to do here is raise some of the questions an academic might have about his vision of the future.
1) Shift to electronic publishing/collapse of the university press system as it now stands:
a) I suspect that there's likely to be a long intermediate period before everything goes completely digital, in which we have a combination of eBook/POD/website/etc. formats.
b) An entirely digital format would presumably eliminate the secondhand book market for scholarly monographs---unless publishers sell the virtual equivalent of a "material" monograph, one that can be transferred between readers, instead of what is effectively a software license. Without the secondhand market, individual buyers may well be unable to afford monographs, especially if publishers like OUP or Cambridge try to maintain their current (astronomically expensive) price structure. It's not clear how far academic publishers can reduce their prices and still remain in the black, even if they are no longer producing books in hardcopy.
c) Publishers will also need to produce books in multiple proprietary formats and somehow ensure that buyers can "transfer" books from one reader/computer to another. For free. If I spend $225 (ack!) on a book from Oxford, that book will be accessible whether I've got it on my shelf or on my nightstand. But if I can't transfer my $225 book from Kindle to whatever, let alone from old machine to new machine, I will...not be buying a $225 book.
2) Libraries as publishers of the future:
a) If a university's press folds, it does not then follow that the university will cheerfully reallocate the funds to the library. At many campuses, the trend has been to cut library funding. Electronic publishing of whatever sort will require more $, not less. (Especially since existing library staff ! = editorial staff.)
b) If libraries adopt an outwardly-directed publishing model, in which Library X publishes the work of scholars both inside and outside the university, this may not be a problem; if they adopt an inwardly-directed publishing model, in which Library X only publishes the work of affiliated scholars, then scholars at SLACS, regional comprehensives, community colleges, and so forth will find themselves short on publishing outlets (with nasty repercussions for their careers, among other things).
3) Press mergers:
a) As in the non-academic market, massive publishing conglomerates may impose even greater restrictions on book projects than already exist, thanks to homogenization, the possible elimination of editorial positions, etc.
4) Digitization & its financial discontents:
a) I'm wondering how a wholesale move to digital publishing will affect library purchasing. Will libraries have to buy permanent use rights or subscriptions, and how much would that cost? (Electronic journal subscriptions, as we all know, tend to be priced well into the ether.) Many libraries already have e-book libraries of some sort--netLibrary, for example--but could these e-books be synced with Kindle or other readers?
b) Again, faculty at SLACs, regional comprehensives, CCs, and even smaller research universities may well pause at the prospect of having to find enough cash to self-publish (and ensure that the book remains available). Server space as part of one's start-up package? Subvention funds? Moreover, while more and more faculty will have the aptitude to produce at least a decent-looking electronic book, time is an entirely different issue.
c) There have been a number of online conversations about peer review in an electronic environment. As Andrew Battista points out, "the fragile financial conditions that most university presses now endure inevitably affect the health and stability of academic departments," since, at research campuses and some smaller institutions, not publishing a book = not getting tenure. A turn to self-published work would explode some of the average tenure committee's current criteria for determining a book's quality, including peer review (or, rather, the fact of same) and the publisher's prestige.