THE IMPACT OF E-BOOKS ON THE BOOK PUBLISHING INDUSTRY
In the United States today, there are a lot of changes taking place due to new, improved, or re-emerging technology. Perhaps the most prevalent of these is E-publishing, which encompasses everything to the emails that most of us write each day, to books published online, to the research articles used to generate this report. E-publishing effects how we connect to the rest of the world through news websites, blogging, email, various wikis, and even how we pick up our favorite author’s latest novel. It is e-book that this paper will concentrate on. An e-book, for the purposes of this paper, consists of any full length publication written for distribution to the public which is generally large in scope (e.g., novels, biographies, textbooks) and is released electronically either as digitized print or as a recording (e.g., a PDF file or a downloadable audio book).
The e-book was invented in 1971 with the advent of Project Gutenberg (http://ebookweek.com/history.html). Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg was granted full rights access to a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer. This computer was one of the original nodes that made up what is now the internet. Mr. Hart had decided that computers would see their real value in the storage, retrieval, and searching of documents including books and other periodicals ordinarily in a library. He manually entered the United States’ Declaration of Independence into the system, and posted it to the network. The first E-book had been created and successfully posted.
In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, e-publishing was very much a technology in development. There were no Kindles or Sony Readers.
Fast-Forward nearly forty years to today. Today a search on Google for “Declaration of Independence” will garner well over 5.5 million results. Amazon, perhaps the best known distributor of e-books, claims to offer more than four-hundred fifty-thousand e-book titles for their Kindle reader (http://www.amazon.com). E-books, while still not nearly as common as the traditional bound publication, are having a significant impact on the world. Within the publishing industry there is a great deal of debate on how to deal with emerging technologies, resulting piracy, the use of e-publishing as a marketing tool, and how to maintain the quality of the published word when pretty much anyone can be e-published, thus avoiding the “filter” of going through a traditional print publishing company to get the job done.
The economic effects have been tremendous within the publishing industry. Author Corey Doctorow says of releasing his novels in e-book format, “I’ve been giving away my books ever since my first novel came out, and boy has it ever made me a bunch of money.” (Giving It Away) Mr. Doctorow goes on to elaborate on the situation. He indicates that his publisher, Tor Books, a subsidiary of German-owned Holtzbrinck, embraced the idea of him releasing the e-book whole-heartedly. Mr. Doctorow indicates that his novels released for free e-book download have done some very important things which have led to increased sales of his books, which have outstripped Tor Books’ original projections in all cases. Put simply, the free releases have gained him an audience, provided him word of mouth advertising, and made him a commodity rather than his writing.
On the other hand, there are those within the publishing industry who feel that e-books are a poorly executed practice whose time has not yet come, and possibly never will. Says author Brian Matthews, “There remain large numbers of readers for whom the book will continue to exercise a powerful atavistic attraction. And not merely atavistic: the book has brilliant mobility. It can be carried, pocketed, lent or borrowed. It can be read on trams, trains and beaches, in bed, at the cricket, covertly in church, easefully on the dunny.” (By The Way) In other words, the printed book offers more to the reader than the e-book because of the tactile, emotional, and social responses that it can evoke.
Additionally, there are other obstacles that the e-book has yet to leap over. The e-book, much like music, faces concerns related to piracy, transferability, the evolution of technology making the format of the published item obsolete, and the ease-of-use for the various e-book readers (e.g., Amazon’s Kindle, the Apple I-Pad, and the Sony Reader). According to Business Weekly, “… e-books can be hacked and perhaps distributed without author or publisher approval. E-books are always susceptible to hard-disk drive failure, and DRM [digital rights management] techniques may restrict the use of the device.” Essentially, the release of a book in e-book format may cause some problems for publishers and authors. The book may be distributed in violation of copyright, or the consumer may lose access to their purchased book because the DRM encoding within their copy of the book may lock the text. Additionally, updates to the reading device’s software may render the book unusable on that reader.
Much of the debate is opinion-oriented, but the truth of the matter is shown in sales figures. According to a case study by Paula Berinstein, the book industry over the last few years has shown a decrease in growth over all (Searcher). However, added forms of entertainment in a competing marketplace are as likely a cause as anything else for this change. What is important is the change in the type of sales made.
We can look at sales figures for e-books and print books, and compare the subsequent totals. In the chart below (Educause), we can see that revenue from e-book sales is increasing at a growing rate just over the last decade, from $5.8 million in 2002 to $20.0 million in 2006:
Concurrently, the graph below provided by The Association of American Publishers at BusinessHistory.com shows overall domestic book sales for both print books and e-books during that same time-frame rising from approximately $22.5 billion to $24.3 billion:
Thus, in 2002, e-book sales equated to approximately 2.63 percent of all book sales within the United States. However, in 2006, that percentage rose to approximately 8.23 percent of all domestic book sales. This increase shows a growth of 5.6 percent over just a four year period. Statistics for more recent years were unrefined and inconsistent, but seemed to indicate a similar pattern.
Of special import to a large portion of Americans is the cost of text books. Educational expenses are immense, especially with the economic problems of today. However, e-books offer a solution to at least part of that expense. Says Terry McGraw of McGraw-Hill Companies (The Future of E-Books), regarding McGraw-Hill’s new CourseSmart e-publishing outlet, “For students, CourseSmart offers a lower-cost alternative and all the functionality of a Web application.” To find a sample to compare, I investigated the site. “Understanding Business, 8th Edition” by William Nickels, James McHugh, and Susan McHugh sells on www.CourseSmart.com for $64.20. A hardbound, new copy of the same book through the same seller (www.mcgraw-hill.com) is priced at $160.63 plus shipping. Purchasing the e-book would save the student over $96.43, and provided them with a text that could be manipulated to fit their studying needs. Several other books were investigated with similar results.
In an effort to get input from a professional in the industry, I contacted New York Times best-selling author Margaret Weis, and asked her, “As someone that’s touched pretty much all aspects of print media at some point, what do you see as the future of publishing, especially with the invention of such devices as the kindle and the I-Pad (released this week by Apple)?” Ms. Weis responded, “I love books. I love books in my book cases. I love to hold books and smell books and look fondly through all my hundreds of titles, wondering which favorite to read again. I have books that date back to my childhood. Each brings memories with it. I don’t like Kindles or e-books. … I know the future of publishing lies in that direction and maybe that’s a good thing. But I want to hold and love a book and keep it for always on my book shelf.” It is this sentiment that I think most readers share, and that this growing niche of the publishing industry will have to address effectively in order to be successful.
E-books will continue to grow in popularity, scope, and market share. E-books are more environmentally friendly, as they do not take the natural resources used to create a printed novel. E-books offer more efficient delivery, and are clearly the better choice for certain purposes, especially reference or educational materials. However, e-books just do not seem to have that same emotional attachment for humanity that thick, heavy, and crisp-paged novels have. Not to mention the dog-eared book that’s been read dozens of times. The publishing industry is evolving to meet the demands of consumers, and to allow authors more opportunity to be published, but there is a balance to be reached, just as the music industry struggles to deal with the advent of digital music, so too does the publishing industry have to learn to deal with the e-book in all its forms.