So word is out that US publishing company Dorchester is switching to all an all digital format from this week. In the midst of increasingly popular digital books, the move doesn’t seem to come as a surprise to many.
What message does that send for the majority of publishers, who are operating at a much smaller scale than Dorchester? It sounds like the gunshot marking the start of a race where e-publishing is the new arena. The thing is, e-books certainly have a very strong case for them. They can be bought and owned–literally–at the click of a button, amassed into a virtual library that is light and portable, capable of being resized for better reading experience (especially for the elderly), and have the capacity of being animated. And the deal isn’t too shabby for publishers supporting them either; Dorchester says they’ll probably keep existing consumers whilst garnering new ones. Also, the company joins a minority that supports the ‘print-on-demand’ process. All of these points seem to cement the reasons why digital publishing could override falling print sales, (it’s been reported that digital sales are expected to double in 2011).
Still, could there be a flip side? Certainly. Apart from the obvious, (that not everyone has an iPad at hand), many readers will hesitate on buying e-books just because buying print versions are relatively cheaper, almost by half in most cases. Not to mention the much debated notion that a huge percentage of people are still loyal to ‘dead tree’ publishing, with a recent Mashable poll revealing that over 42% prefer printed books to e-books (23%) and both formats (35%). And these results are from Mashable; a website made famous for keeping track of everything social media and high-tech! Importantly, another reason why digital publishers might find some resistance is from other, larger publishers themselves. Random House has announced their continuing unwillingness to forego mass publishing in favor of going digital.
On a side note, digital publishing might not be the only threat for the future of print books. Self-publishing has been steadily rising in popularity, (over 760,000 self-published titles last year!), that pitch up in an impressive array of digital, audio, mobile device, and book formats. Perhaps because of the nature of e-publishing, this minority of self publishers (expected to increase to 25% of all US book sales in 5 years), could also help further the rise of digital and print-on-demand publishing?
Again, though, traditional publishing has some pretty staunch supporters: Financial Times recently ran an article that highlighted how the giant publishing house, Penguin, celebrated not only its 75th year of existence but also a 9% increase in sales in the first six months of this year. Sounds like something a lot of writers can support, including J.K. Rowling, as she has already announced that Harry Potter will remain on paper.
It’s also probably important to remember how difficult it is to truly pick a side on this huge debate though: when we talk about the publishing world we do so with Western countries in mind. Whether it’s outlined or not, we’re talking about sales mostly in America and Britain. But what about states where, like in China, e-books are picking up mass popularity, (so much so that a whopping 91% of 20,000 polled Chinese readers have said they wouldn’t bother picking up a book if they knew there was a digital version), and states like India, where digital publishing hasn’t so much as made a dent in the industry? India represents a prime example of a massive reading majority who love traditional books. We’re talking about the 2nd most populated country in the world at over 1 billion people, yet one where Penguin hasn’t made any e-book publications yet.
All in all though, while digital publishing certainly looks like a formidable force to be reckoned with, it’s probably safe to say that a certain majority of book lovers have yet to be wooed successfully to make that transition.