eBooks: Digitalising the struggling book industry
A steady decisive shift towards electronic books, or eBooks, is shaking up the book industry. Daisy Souza reports.
Almost 100 Angus & Robertson and Borders book stores closed last year in Australia, forcing Australia’s largest booksellers to turn to electronic books to survive in a dynamic industry.
Publishing house, Pan Macmillan however, wasn’t going to be deterred.
Pan Macmillan sensed the gradual shift and launched Australia’s first digital only imprint, Momentum Books, in February of this year. Momentum Books offers 22 titles that are only available as digital books.
Joel Naoum, one of Momentum’s publishers, said the industry is experiencing radical change.
“The whole book industry is under strategic review and the book industry in Australia isn’t doing all that well,” Naoum said.
Although eBooks only make up about five-percent of total market sales in Australia, their popularity is growing rapidly. In the US alone, eBooks generated about $87 million dollars (AUD) in revenue, tripling the number of sales from the previous year.
Hard copy books can cost a lot more to publish due to printing and distribution costs. In comparison, digital books are what children’s writer Andy Griffiths describes as a “low-cost, low-risk way of publishing.”
The transition to an eBook “just made total sense” when Griffiths began his website ‘Andy from A to Y’ in an attempt to answer his fans questions. It quickly became too big to contain and the digital book Andypedia was born.
Andypedia has hyperlink capability, allowing for related story titles, character names and themes to be linked to one another. This approach is more interactive and often appeals to younger children.
“It just gives a different reading experience,” Griffiths said.
“People definitely seem to be embracing eBooks at a rapid rate.”
The accessibility of eBooks is an undeniable advantage. No longer do readers have to trawl through bookstore after bookstore in the hope of finding a particular book amongst hundreds of others. With eBooks, readers have thousands of options at their fingertips and are able to find exactly what they want, with just one click.
Griffiths pointed out how valuable this is for Australians living in more remote areas.
The lowered risk of digital publishing meant that publishers and authors had the opportunity to produce and publish works they would usually write off.
“It’s certainly got me thinking about books…it lets me do off-the-wall things I wouldn’t have thought of doing before,” Griffiths said.
This is what Naoum described as the “philosophical” aspect of digital publishing.
“There is a sense in Australian publishing that most books that are successful are big top 40 or ‘blockbuster’ books,” said Naoum.
The reduced cost of publishing eBooks means publishers can be more lenient in the projects they take on and experiment with new authors. As Naoum articulates: “we can take risks without it being risky”.
In order to remain relevant to readers, booksellers must try and respond to the demand for eBooks. Jon Page, of Pages and Pages Booksellers in Mosman said it’s important that bookshops offer eBooks.
“An eBook is another format just like a hardback, paperback or audio. Readers do not read one format exclusively they will read a mix and bookshops need to offer the complete range of formats,” said Page.
Annie Nelson, a TAFE educator, described how beneficial eBooks are for students and a mix of professionals.
“[It’s] very convenient for a programmer to have a language book open on one side of the computer screen while writing code on the other,” she said.
“A textbook I use costs over $160 to buy as hard copy at the Co-op bookstore in Sydney. The (slightly shorter) eBook version is about $30…I suggest to my financially challenged students to just buy the eBook version.”
Of the 22 titles Momentum Books offers, most are under five-dollars, the most expensive retailing nine-dollars.
There is one point, however, that publishers, authors, readers and booksellers can agree on; that there is always going to be a place for print books in the realm of the written word.
Page certainly thinks so. “I think the printed book is still the optimal format for reading and especially if you are a book collector like me.”
Additionally, Nelson believes some books aren’t suitable as an eBook.
“I think an eBook of Matisse’s paintings, for example, just wouldn’t sell as well as a hard copy one. People want to see the painting printed out,” Nelson said.
Naoum agrees that while the eBook is perfect for ‘disposable reading’, one could never give an eBook as a gift.Even as the popularity of eBooks grow extensively, it will become more difficult to admire a row of collectible cloth-bound Kindles on a bookshelf.