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Tuesday, 14 July 2009


E-Books - is this the way forward for the humble old book?

Will digital downloads ever replace the good old book? Will bytes do away with paper? Will pixels replace ink?

Never - no way - emphatically no way. There's some magical link between author and reader when you hold a book, the smell of the thing, the feel of it in your hand. When you buy an E-Book you don't even get anything physical, anything real. No real paper books are here to stay!!!!

However look at it this way.

When the MP3 revolution started people scoffed that these digital downloads could ever threaten physically owing a CD and yet these day CD's are all but obsolete, or at least quickly becoming so. The charts are now compiled largely from downloads. I'm a huge music fan - I've thousands of CD's as well as a decent vinyl collection. And yet these days I've always got my 80G Ipod Classic with me - it stores a few thousand albums and when I link it up to the car stereo I have bags of choice, not to mention the podcasts it includes as well as video. I still have my CD's but I rarely play them now. MP3's when recorded at the highest rate sound just as good as discs and I've even bought a few albums off Itunes in MP3 format.

If MP3's can win me across then they can win anyone.

The younger generation have no problems with downloaded music - so maybe digital books are the way we've all been looking for to encourage the younger element to start reading again. I've seen the Borders own E-books reader in action and it's superb - weighs next to nothing and it looks so cool. It can also store a couple of hundred books in its memory. Sony also have a reader on the market (pictured) and Amazon are championing the Kindle.

The fact is that these E-book readers are not only limited to digital books but can deliver your daily newspaper, blogs and anything else you care to throw at it. They are, in fact, super cool gadgets and no doubt we are only around the corner from mobile phones (a favourite with kids) being used to read digital books. Imagine it - kids will be able to buy an entire package digitally - the movie, the tie-in novel and the computer game and use them all on the one gadget.

Yep, the writing's on the wall. As much as we book lovers are horrified with the thought of real books vanishing, it is inevitable that digital books will eventually rule the roost. Real books will be around for some time but take an imaginative leap forward say ten years. Will paper books be looked upon as a primitive, not to mention wasteful way to deliver information?

The advantages of digital books are that nothing ever needs to be out of print - course the pricing needs to drop somewhat before market dominance is achieved. And there's no reason for it not too - after all the production costs with digital books are minuscule in comparison to real books. Books will also be easier to sell in different countries, no shipping costs and waiting around for the thing to arrive. Just click "BUY" and in seconds the book is on your PC, reader or phone. There will be a new phenomenon in books then - that of piracy which is an issue affecting both the movie and music industry. But the answer to this is to price the product fairly because the book industry would be ill equipped to survive widespread piracy.

There are so many ramifications to consider but it's no use burying heads in sand - the day of the E-Book is coming. What that means to myself as a writer, I'm unsure but at the same time I'd rather look to the positives. Being able to get my books to readers all over the world at the click of a button sounds good but not having shelves full of books is not so.

Real books will be here for some time yet and digital will probably find a comfortable co-existence but, like it or not, the days of digital books being the main medium are not that far distant. We can either embrace the technology or get swept aside.


Celia Hayes said...

It pretty much is the wave of the future: another IAG member compared Kindle and e-book editions to pulp and inexpensive paperbacks of yore, and ventured a guess that readers would be more apt to try a new and relatively unknown author with a e-book/Kindle book costing $3-5, than the very same book in paperback at 7$ and up.
And, yes - all of my historicals (To Truckee's Trail, and the Adelsverein Trilogy) are available as Kindle editions.

Unknown said...

The key point is in your last sentence and in the comment Frank Loose made yesterday.

This year is my 48th professionally in the world of the printed word. The technology changeovers I have seen, and been obliged to go through, have been enormous. Newspapers, magazines, books, comics -- none are produced the inefficient way they once were. And in many ways, a damn good thing, too.

I can remember when I began writing for Hale in the early 1990s that there was huge resistance by the publisher and his production department to forward an author's computer disk to the typesetters. They'd tried it before and it didn't work, they said. But the proofs of my first book of 160 pages contained no less than 160 errors caused by the typesetter's re-keyboarding of the text. The second had 121.

At that point I managed to persuade Hale to take a disk and it achieved a saving of £80 on their typesetting costs, of which they kindly paid me half.

Today, of course, they have long since bowed to the inevitable and indeed demand e-copy (but still want hard copy, too!). They also no longer pay the author for doing the lion's share of the typesetter's work.

So yes, the moral of the story is that we should embrace change and it can bring improvement. In some cases. . . .

I'm currently mulling whether I should let Lulu offer a downloadable Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope. Given the proposed high price for the print, paperback version, would an e-book completely kill the paper book's prospects?

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Keith - I think digital books could pay off - it's worth trying

Unknown said...

I'm tending to think you're right, Gary, but I don't want to forget that part of the purpose in the paperback exercise is not just to circulate another Misfit Lil story, but to demonstrate to the bigger industry players, with their mass market set-ups, that the slim western paperback does still have a place, just like the Harlequin Mills & Boon romances, for example.

We will only achieve this objective with practical results -- i.e. paperback sales.

The snag is the huge retail mark-up being imposed by the publisher of record, plus very high "shipping and handling" charges.

Last year, an article in the Economist newspaper of London quoted Stephen DeForge, owner of a US POD business catering for academia.

"DeForge says POD is now cheaper than standard printing for runs of fewer than 1200 copies, and the threshold is rising quickly. This week's Kindle bestseller, a memoir by former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, can be downloaded from thin air in less than a minute for US$9.99. A paper copy costs US$15.37 on Amazon's website, and will not be in stock for three weeks.

"Publishing has only two indispensable participants: authors and readers. As with music, any technology that brings these two groups closer makes the whole industry more efficient -- but hurts those who benefit from the distance between them."

Charles Gramlich said...

I enjoy my Kindle, though I personally will never be able to give up real books.

Cormac Brown said...

E books can't take over until the technology is perfected. The durability of the units, the lighting and contrast in different enviroments, etc...

It is inevitable, but I hope the publishing industry doesn't simply implement the standard too soon, the way the recording industry did by limiting the pressing of vinyl records.

Mark E. said...

Look at newspapers ... We began online publishing some time ago and now subscribers can get only the online version if they want. It is the complete paper, not just news snippets. Each page is there, with all the ads and all the stories. It's faster, cheaper and convenient for the reader. Of course, they can also get the hard copy. If they subscribe to the hard copy, they get free access to the electronic version. It's coming ... in fact it's here. As technology improves, the frequency will only increase.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Mark - newspapers are a good point and I've been hearing a lot of news stories about the death of traditional newspapers recently. In fact I predict that before the end of this decade at least one of the UK national newspapers will fold. I also listen to some American podcasts and the situation is the same there with number of well known newspapers vanishing. I've decided - I'm taking the plunge and buying one of the electronic readers next week - can't decide between Kindle, Sony or the Borders one.