Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Digital Debate Continues - Julia Roebuck of E-Scape Press Talks About Ebooks

Back in August we began a discussion of the digital debate. Since then a few new ebook readers have been introduced to the market but the jury is still out. Julia Roebuck from E-Scape Press shares her views on e-books.

E-books are a strange thing. They have everything a paperback has (the full novel or text), except a physical presence. And they can elicit all sorts of responses from people - most of all, authors.

For anyone who has ever read an e-book and loved it, you would be hard pressed to tell them their experience is not as meaningful as someone who read the same book in paper. And I'd say in my own experience, some of the best books I've read have been e-books.

Yet there are droves of people who, at the mere mention of digital text proclaim something along the lines of "I like the feel of a book in my hands" and dismiss them.

That is there choice. But e-books have a number of advantages over paper copies:

Firstly, they are greener. O.K, it may not save the planet, but you saving on the production: Energy to print, distribute and storage which can add up.

Secondly, they are usually instantaneous to download - instant gratification for that must-read.

Thirdly, you can often have access to titles not usually available in your own country as paper copies.

Fourthly you can read e-books on your mobile phone (iPhone, Blackberry etc) they can be very helpful to have around if you have to wait in a queue or have a few minutes to fill.

Fifthly, if you read an e-book, no one knows what you are reading - which is one of the reasons erotica is very popular on this format. (And RNA members will glad to know that romance titles are some of the biggest selling e-books too)

In Japan e-books are called " m-books" (Mobile books since they are usually read on mobile phones). The market there was worth over $500M in 2008 sales and it's still growing. Apparently Japanese companies are selling approximately two million e-books per month. Such statistics are not to be sniffed at.

If there is still anyone out there who thinks digital text doesn't sell is wrong. It does. It's just here in the UK it hasn't caught on as much as some countries. The revolution will hit us eventually and it may be the younger generation to turn us.

This revolution however, is not without its controversies:
Many of the larger publishing houses charge the same for an e-book as they do for a paper version. Consumers however, don't like this and argue that the costs of producing an e-book are lower. This is not quite true, and depends on whether the book is being produced as a paperback too. All books must be type-set, edited and proof-read whatever the format. Also, e-books are subject to VAT, whereas paper books are not.

But if consumers expect a lower price, then it may be prudent to respond to that expectation and there is evidence, that lowering the price of e-books can increase sales. One publisher at the Futur(e) book Conference in London last week claimed their e-book sales increased from 25 copies to 1500 when they reduced their prices.

Consumers and publishers have also come to blows over licencing. Publishers want to protect their investments and authors rights and presume that anyone who buys an e-book may copy it, try and sell it on, or in the very least send to every friend they know who might like to read it. To combat this, Digital Rights Management systems (DRM) have emerged. Similar to downloading music, the purchaser registers their computer/mobile devices where the digital text is to be read. But DRM is not the panacea against piracy. There is only so much you can do to prevent copying and DRM only stops the most casual level of piracy. The determined hacker can by-pass it.

But it is not just digital texts under threat. The Harry Potter books have not been digitally published from fear of piracy. Yet, within hours of the 7th book's release, pirates had scanned the book in and were selling it digitally. Yet the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer have been released as e-books and is one of two fastest selling digital titles. Who is the loser?

It could be argued that if a book isn't published digitally, then the consumer will buy the paper copy instead. Whether that is true is unclear, but you do have a small time slot to try and persuade the consumer to buy your book, and it makes sense to try and make that product as easy to buy as possible. If there is a problem purchasing, the consumer may just give up and forget it and move onto the next book.

What is clear is that there is a market out there for e-books and if you don't fill it, someone else will.

For more information on mbooks in Japan:
Julia Roebuck


Anonymous said...

Julia, I find I'm reading more ebooks now than paper books. Purely for convenience- I can download my whole library to my PDA and have books with me wherever, whenever.

Yes, part of the "book experience" is missing- no thrill of a signed copy, or a first edition, or especially with old books that delicious booky smell- but most of what I buy as ebooks would be mass market paperbacks anyway, not so much value in the "book experience" there!

Once I am reading, it is the story I want to experience, not the physical book. I laugh and cry and feel joy or sadness for the characters no matter which format I'm reading.

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