The concept of electronic books or ebooks has been around for a while now, early contraptions were being designed and made since the late 1930s. In 1971, Michael S. Hart created the first electronic document by typing the US declaration of Independence on his computer in text format so that the document could be viewed on other devices. The e-book reading devices were meant to store technical or reference documents that would have become too heavy if printed as paper books for the intended users. During this time, most of the projects related to e-books were undertaken at the behest of the government agencies. Sharing of documents became easier with the Internet services being introduced in the late 1980s and e-book Readers became more reader-friendly. In 1992, Sony introduced the ‘Data Discman’ which could read books stored on CDs. The cost of this device then was more than USD 500, which was too high for it to be viable and was discontinued within a couple of years.
e-Book reading devices like Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, etc. soon became popular as alternatives to paper books. The reasons for this change of habit are several, e-books are cheaper, extremely portable, customizable in terms of font and color, each device can store hundreds of titles/books, saving of space, users can also index information, get details about other books from their favorite authors or download sample chapters. These devices are literally putting the library or the bookstore in our hands, and all this without moving out of our chair. From the long-term perspective, one can also argue about the environmental benefits of adopting e-books, as no paper and no transportation is required for e-book publishing.
How have the publishing houses dealt with this onslaught of technology?
Publishers have been using digital technologies for writing, proofreading, graphic designing, and printing for quite some time. However, what has really changed in the last decade is the impact of these technologies on the way we communicate, promote, market, and especially the way that we read digital content. The omnipresence of smartphones and the internet means that we have easy access to our preferred choice of digital content.
In terms of cost comparison between e-books and printed books, e-books are cheaper to publish. While we can take author fees, marketing costs, and publishers staff salaries for both types of published material to be the same, e-books have negligible costs associated with retail and wholesale margins, printing/re-printing of copies, paper, storage, maintenance & logistics.
A more recent development has been the emergence of self-publishing, wherein authors instead of waiting to be accepted by large publishing houses, publish their material themselves through self-help portals.
With the digital age, publishers have had to adopt more stringent policies towards intellectual property piracy caused due to indiscriminate sharing of online digital content. This has led the publishers to organize workshops promoting the author and books, conferences, and webinars. Adoption of technology that studies data pertaining to existing and potential customers, trends, and preferences of the target audience is also playing a key role in the survival of publishing houses.
The total global publishing revenue stood at USD 122 billion in 2018 and was expected to touch USD 129 billion by 2023. Of this, e-book share is approximately USD 16 billion, which indicates that e-books still have a long way to go.
Is it likely that e-books will completely replace paperbacks and publishing will go completely digital? In the immediate future, it’s unlikely, after all, there are still quite a few people who like the feel of a real book in their hands and the publishing industry is banking on the likes of us.