The Age of the Ebook

And so the Ebook has once again made headway in the publishing world. The Publishers Association has announced in a press release that fiction sales in the new digital format have grown by 188% between January and June this year, with non-fiction and children’s books close behind at 171% and 128%, respectively.

The digital revolution is upon us.

Injecting over a billion pounds into the UK economy and stimulating fierce competition between the ranks of retailers of both physical and digital form, much is being said of how these figures will affect the way that books are consumed, and the manner in which they are sold.

It seems that the time of the paperback is at an end, and that the dawn of a golden age is upon us; the age of the Ebook.

Before the conservatives among us panic, it’s important to point out that despite a 0.6% drop in sales since last year, the classic, good old-fashioned, coffee-stained, dog-eared book-y books are still going strong. It is still a certainty that the centuries-old reconstituted-pulp incarnation of the book won’t have to worry about shuffling off this mortal coil for quite some time.

However, a revolution this most certainly is. Or, at least, the cusp of one.

Indeed, it certainly seems that Ebooks are on the brink of tipping the scales in their own favour, but there are arguments that suggest that the format may not take dominance at all. Perhaps, as some suggest, it will be merely be a healthy addition to an already varied and healthy medium.

While with regard to novels and biographies, the jury is still out and the war is only just beginning, there are most certainly several things that show a most definite preference for one or the other. Self-published titles and mass-market paperbacks are flying off the digital shelves, with kindles and their competing devices often clogged with 99p titles, along with books published on Createspace and Lulu by their aunts, neighbours and best friends.

University students also benefit hugely from the new innovations in the digital marketplace, with millions of study textbooks – often priced in the £50-£100 mark and numbering close to the 1000-page mark in physical form, requiring a wheelbarrow to shift and most likely causing more than a few premature visits to a chiropractor – are now available online, and each and every one of them can be carried around in a student’s pocket.

At the same time, fans of the good-old magazine and newspaper are resolutely sticking with tangible, and are yet to see their ink-stained fingers washed clean. Sales of the so-called ezine and digital broadsheets, despite excessive marketing, have not sold in the volumes predicted. For now, at least, it seems that the monthly subscriptions are going to keep streaming in through the letterbox, and not through the wireless router.

So it seems that both have their strengths and weaknesses. Whether the two can learn to play nice and get along, however, is unclear.

At the very least, there are a fair few places in which the hard-copy trounces the digital; the matter of pro’s and con’s between the two are, at least for now, enough to keep both in the running. There are certainly enough disadvantages of the newcomer for a few to be summarised off-hand:

Ebooks are often, at least at this early stage in their development, inferior to their physical brethren. Their format is often odd or lacking, and by comparison to the pristine and glossy books sold on the high-street, downright amateurish. There are also often issues with cross-compatibility issues, rendering elements of text missing, pages mis-aligned, and other trivial errors that can utterly destroy a reading experience.

In addition, authors, publishers and literary agents are often suspicious of Ebooks, often due to the incredible discount-war currently in process between the major distributors. These truly gargantuan cuts in price often render the price of the book almost symbolic, rather than due reparation to those who slaved through the hundreds of hours necessary to bring the book to the marketplace.

There is also, of course, the issue of the battery-powered devices required to read them. Linked with the greatest argument in favour of old-fashioned hard-copies – that real books don’t need batteries – the notion of losing your book because you spilled coffee on it fills some with dread.

Isn’t a coffee stain, after all, a mere dash of character when applied to an ordinary book?

 

In any case, the evolution of the publishing industry is clouded to even the most senior Grand Masters. However, I hold out hope that the Ebook will find its place, right alongside the hard-copy and audiobook, and serve only to bolster the world’s interest in literature.

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