Thursday, May 14, 2015

How E-Books Have Changed the Publishing Industry

Dear regular readers: sorry about this, my final econ project had to have a QR code, so I made it lead to this.

In 2007, the landscape of publishing changed forever. The publishing industry has continued to change for nearly a decade, and many aspects of it are still in flux now. Publishers are trying to figure out what customers want and are willing to pay for, and how much of that relies on adapting to the new inventions of digital publishing. But although digital publishing has spread to nearly every part of the publishing industry and revolutionized information distribution, many still prefer printed books, which, it seems, will not be leaving the market any time soon.
When the first Kindle was introduced in November of 2007, it was marketed as easily portable and convenient. People could buy books online, as long as the Kindle was connected to the internet, and have them delivered instantly. The text size was adjustable, and annotations could be made with features for notes and highlighting. The initial release of the Kindle was wildly popular, selling out in only five hours. The invention of the Kindle, an entirely new way to access literature of all kinds, shook the publishing industry to its roots and changed it irrevocably.
            But the Kindle Fire had several disadvantages. Books could only be owned, not borrowed. It was difficult to navigate between chapters—the reader could not simply flip the book open and thumb through the pages. For readers who enjoy rereading passages at random, this was a major problem. While some of these problems were later resolved—Amazon now offers a service allowing customers to borrow books, which are removed from the device when the time is up—many readers still preferred the familiarity of paper books. Of the eighteen girls surveyed for this paper, fifteen own an e-reader and eleven report that they do not use their e-reader for pleasure reading. Most respondents report that they prefer physical books, saying that they prefer the way books feel and that e-readers “ruin the experience.” Nine out of seventeen, however, did say that their e-reader was more convenient than physical books (one declined to answer the question), although this is not surprising considering that most, if not all, of those surveyed use their e-reader mainly for school textbooks, as the data came from a pool of students whose school requires digital textbooks.
            Although people may prefer physical books, the advent of e-books, which can be both cheaper and easier to access, has definitely had an impact on the publishing industry.  But rather from being a death knell, digital books have inspired companies to tweak their policies and change their modes of operation. Without printing costs, e-publishing holds possibilities for companies to grow their readership and expand into new territory.
One reason people prefer physical books may be the tangibility of bookstores themselves. There is something terribly impersonal about having a book digitally delivered to an electronic device, where it looks exactly like every other book on the device does. Bookstores and libraries function as community centers, and as Scott Timberg points out, “Every time a shop selling books or records, or renting movies, closes, we lose the kind of gathering spaces that allow people oriented to culture to meet and connect; we lose our context, and the urban fabric frays." Digital books may also be a factor in the mass bookstore closings of the past few years. Employment numbers in newspaper, book, and directory publishers fell 39.5 percent between January 2002 and January 2012. Newspapers have strongly suffered in the transition from physical publishing to online publishing. Online publications generate money primarily from advertisements, rather than from subscribers, earning money every time the page is clicked on and the ads viewed. One online subscriber, however, is worth about $26, while a print subscriber pays something closer to $539. The money saved in printing expenses cannot cover the difference. 
Although people have been reading stories on the internet since the internet was invented, digital publishing signifies a monumental transition in consumer media. While common reading material for the internet includes fan fiction and short free stories, digital publishing allows copyrighted works to be downloaded in a matter of minutes. It also provides the opportunity for piracy, allowing works to be downloaded with greater ease. While legislation has been passed against digital piracy, it is often inadequate and ineffective. As Urs and Gasser point out in Born Digital, “There may be a need for radical changes to the copyright law in response to changes in media forms, but simply piling on more protections to the age-old framework, which is ill-fitting to the digital era, is not the answer." Born Digital suggests that laws should be modified to allow people to freely share their work on the internet while regulating how that work is used and creating a level playing field. Digital copyright laws, while a work in progress, are slowly advancing to meet the needs of the new age. They are accompanied in this by piracy prevention techniques, which have been refined to match the needs of this new society. As technology progress, society adapts to it, and although copyright violation is easier now, anti-piracy software is steadily progressing, as are copyright laws.
            The internet allows for a wider distribution of work for free, as well as making it easier for authors to get in touch with potential agents and publishers. But although it is easier to contact an agent, it has become much harder to get books published physically. Publishers are more picky about selecting manuscripts, and agents habitually narrow the number of clientele they take on. For some, however, publishing on the internet has provided new opportunities. Many contemporary authors start off writing derivative works, or fan fiction, using websites such as and Archive of Our Own (also known as AO3). One author, who writes under the pseudonym of Michaela Grey, has more than forty works on Archive of Our Own, where she posts stories chapter by chapter and receives feedback from her wide circle of readers. Grey’s second published novel, Coffee Cake, started out on Archive of Our Own and will debut on May 11, 2015. Through her writing on the internet, Grey has ensured herself a wide readership and she regularly interacts with her fans, who are excited to buy Coffee Cake in both print and digital format.

            Although the nature of books is rapidly changing and much is still in flux, it is doubtful that printed books will be eliminated from the market. Many still prefer them to digital books, and as an art form physical books have endured countless revolutions in American society. Digital books may be the literature of the future, but the printed word is here to stay.

Carreiro, Erin. “Electronic Books: How Digital Devices and Supplementary New Technologies are Changing the Face of the Publishing Industry.” Publishing Research Quarterly 26.4 (2010): 219-35. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. ProQuest.

Palfrey, John and Gasser, Urs. Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. New York: Basic Books, 2008. Print.

Petrelli, Daniela, and Wright, Hazel. "On the Writing, Reading and Publishing of Digital Stories." Library Review 58.7 (2009): 509-26. ProQuest. Web. 29 Apr. 2015. ProQuest.

Tian, Yu, and Chen, Jingliang. "A Research on Architecture of Digital Publishing Management System." Computer and Information Science 3.3 (2010): 66-70. ProQuest. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

Timberg, Scott. Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. Print.

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