(or electronic publishing – challenges and limits; guest post by Sonja Ocic)
(Second article in a series of posts written by my dear Sonja Ocic – if you have missed the introduction, click here for the first part of the text.)
One of the features that have been created by the rise of the Internet was electronic book, a digital reproduction of traditional printed book, which could be delivered directly to the user through a publisher’s or author’s site, or sites for sale. Electronic books are digitized, virtualized versions of books that can be read on a PC or special equipment – electronic book reader. Some of the advantages of electronic books are: 24 hour availability (no need to wait for bookstore or library to open or require a reservation if the book is already taken), e-books can be accessed from anywhere on the planet and they can’t be lost or stolen. Many programs that are used to display the contents of electronic books allow the reader functionality on which he is used to when reading books printed on paper: marking and underlining text, writing comments and marking pages.
Of course, there are always critics, so some of the common objections are that the electronic book is not suitable for continuous long reading from the computer screen and that the book access require special equipment. However, unlike the computer screen, the screen of an electronic reader actually keeps your eye-vision safe – a special screen that has no reflection allows us to read without any trouble under the sun or under any lighting conditions. As numerous positive sides of a reader, users state that is lighter than a mobile phone, it can fit around 35,000 books, wireless upload of individual titles (buying) takes less than a minute, it’s easy to handle, it has the option of changing the font types and sizes, and the whole device is 3mm thick and looks like medium-scale book. Through e-reader, you can buy books, newspapers and magazines and it can be used for about a month without recharging the battery. Also, the reader remembers the page where you left off and has the option to bookmark pages that are important to us. Today there are many models of readers and Amazon Kindle reader stands out from the rest with its quality and distribution, but all other e-readers are equally good options for reading (similar to different models of smartphones). On the other objection that reading an e-book require special equipment, it should be noted that it’s now possible to read e-books via any mobile device such as phone, tablet, and of course, a computer.
Fact that paper format loses its popularity is proved by the Amazon press release which state that based on the number of units sold, electronic format is more popular than paper, and also by the statement from one of the leaders of Barnes & Noble way back in 2011 who said that publishers have two years to adapt to the situation and realize that electronic books have become the center of this industry.
However, until 2008 electronic publishing has not made profit to those who have invested in it. Since the late 80’s, there was widespread feeling in the publishing industry that digitalization will have a profound impact on publishing although there was no clear idea of what kind of impact was it going to be. A large amount of money has been invested in the digitization and computerization by the publishers themselves, but also by other organizations that had interest in publishing.
In the mid 90’s there have been many fevered speculation about the impact of digitization in the publishing industry and the disappearance of printed book. As the Internet quickly became the main communication network, many thought that it was possible, if not probable, that the printed book would quickly go away in the same way that Vinyl records have and become little more than collector’s item. Many consulting firms in the late 90’s predicted that within a few years, e-books will prevail in the market. Expectations have also risen due to the initial success of the publishing experiment – electronic publishing of Stephen King’s novel Riding the Bullet. This novel could be downloaded at a price of two and a half dollars, and the result was beyond all expectations: in the first 24 hours there were 400,000 downloads. However, it turned out that this was not the case with other works. Publishers who have experimented with the publication of books in e-book format have experienced the disappointment due to the very low level of acquisitions.
Because of all this, in the late 2000’s there was a big skepticism about the possibility that the digital revolution will transform the publishing industry. To explain why e-books in the beginning have not been received as many expected, employed in publishing houses cited a number of reasons. First, there was a hardware problem in the first reading device that has been developed and which was too expensive and too hard to use. Secondly, there was a problem in the format: there was a variety of formats that were not adapted to different reading devices. The third problem was a copyright, as there was a doubt where to turn for the rights for the content of certain book to appear in the electronic form. Do the rights belong to the publisher or author and how much money is needed to pay and to whom? Most of the contracts between authors and publishers have been signed at a time when there was no idea of the electronic book content, so there is no provision in the agreement on who controls the rights. And as the last reason, prices are cited: publishers and sellers determine the price of electronic editions close to printed prices. This was partly an experiment, and partly a confirmation of the fact that part of the savings in the delivery of electronic book content are not as great as the pioneers of electronic publishing claimed. Costs such as fees, marketing costs, publishers costs were still there.
In the early 2000’s only are rare in the publishing world believed that electronic publications could provide quick financial success. It turns out that the cost of translation in electronic format is much larger than it could be assumed in the 90’s, so the earnings in many cases barely managed to cover the costs. All in all, the prevailing belief is that in the foreseeable future, the printed book remain the main source of profit. A key challenge for the publishing house was how to protect their printed editions, and how to adapt their content to new forms.
However, drastic changes in electronic publishing happened with the emergence of Sony’s reader in the US in 2006 and Amazon Kindle reader in 2007. Already in course of 2007, before the Kindle which was launched on 17 November 2007, sales of e-books has increased by 50 percent compared to the previous year, and once the Kindle became available, sales grew even more dramatically – increasing four times. The rapid growth has resumed in the 2009. Still, the growth in sales of e-book then was not of great importance for the US publishing houses because it brought only one percent of their total income. Despite that, the release of Kindle reader on the market was huge. After a decade of disappointing sales of electronic books, Kindle stimulated sales just enough to force the other hardware manufacturers to sit down and pay attention.
Data show that the classic printed books lost their primacy way back in 2011. Amazon, the largest bookstore in the world, sell dozens of electronic books every second and the American National Institute of Standards and Technology predicts that by 2018 nearly 90% of books sold will be in the electronic format. As in any industry, in recent years there are many debates on the subject of electronic publishing: we have, on the one hand, digital optimists that have not been shaken by the disappointments in the last decade, and which remain firmly convinced that the revolution of electronic books will happen in the end, on the other hand we have digital skeptics who remain loyal to the traditional printed book, which praise its materiality and meaningfulness, and doubt it will ever be essentially replaced by electronic files that are read on the screen. Somewhere in between, there are digital agnostics – those who do not declare themselves about how the future will unfold and who continue with their lives while the technological revolution take its course. Which type are you: optimists, skeptics or agnostics?
How debate about electronic publishing is further continued and what are real benefits of electronic book publication, you will find out in the third part of the guest post series Digital Gutenberg. The author, Sonja Ocic who works at Clio publishing company as a rights manager, holds a master degree in General Literature and theory of literature, master degree in Cultural Studies and just to show that there is no end to her ambitions, Sonja is currently finishing PHD at the Faculty of Political Sciences. You can expect the next post Digital Gutenberg in 4 weeks time but in the meantime, feel free to share or like this text, see other interesting posts such as hunger artist, whether is it possible to earn money being a poet, or buy an amazing book of short stories “Stories. For reading. And retelling.“