Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Future of Publishing

Bricks-and-mortar book shops have been having a bad time of late. Borders was the latest big chain to file for bankruptcy. In the UK, the only book store chain still in existence in Waterstones, and there are very few independent book shops left.

Meanwhile the popularity of e-books continues to rise. Some Internet murmurings suggest that the rise of e-books is directly responsible for the downfall of bricks-and-mortar book shops.

It could be argued, however, that the demise of the book shop is not down to e-books but online retailers like Amazon, as people switch to doing their shopping online, in the comfort of their own homes.

E-books are not going away any time soon, and the publishing industry, like it or not, has to adapt accordingly. Readers do not expect to pay the same price for an e-book as they do for a hardback. Some readers may prefer to buy the e-book instead of the paper book, but some readers might buy both - they might go to the signing session and buy a pristine hardback copy to keep on their shelf, and buy the e-book as well to read on their daily commute. A few savvy publishers have started to issue the e-book version free to anyone that buys the hardback - this seems like an excellent idea, and will encourage more readers to fork out for the hardback. I myself am reluctant to buy hardbacks, as I do most of my reading on my commute to work. If the e-book was thrown in for free, I might be more inclined to buy the two-for-one, so that I could keep the hardback pristine and shiny on my book shelf whilst reading the e-book on my way to work.

There appears to be some fear that e-books will kill off paper books. There is also a fear of piracy. My view all along has been that there is room in the industry for both, and that the best way to combat piracy is to make books freely available, in all formats and in all regions. Get rid of the DRM system, and make e-books available in a universal format that can be read on all e-readers.

A lot of people claim they are suspicious of e-books because they like the smell and feel of old paper books. Yet I've spoken to many such people, who, upon finding themselves in possession of an e-reader, soon come to adore it. I myself am in this category. Liking e-books doesn't mean one has to stop buying paper books. I just find myself buying even more books these days. I still buy paper books, but I buy far more e-books because I don't have to worry about storage space for e-books.

Another interesting factor, though, is that people who were never readers of paper books but are into gadgets, gain possession of an e-reader and soon find themselves vociferous readers. If e-readers are encouraging more people to read, that's another big point in their favour.

E-books might be the future of publishing, but paper books have their place too. Ultimately the aim of the publishing industry is to get more people to read. Format and retail habits should be secondary - as long as people are buying books to read, does it really matter what format they are in?

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