The read­ing rev­o­lu­tion

We are en­joy­ing books as much as ever — just in dif­fer­ent ways, re­ports Luke Slat­tery

The Weekend Australian - Review - - News -

IN the be­gin­ning was the word and the word still rules. Un­til re­cently it was feared that por­ta­ble de­vices and their gim­micks — from on­line shop­ping to Skype — would threaten the sur­vival of long-form read­ing.

But the op­po­site has oc­curred and Aus­tralian pub­lish­ers are in­creas­ingly buoy­ant about the eBook rev­o­lu­tion.

EBooks are un­der­stood to rep­re­sent more than 10 per cent of the Aus­tralian book mar­ket, although some in­di­vid­ual pub­lish­ers, such as HarperCollins, put the fig­ure at 12 per cent. In the US, eBooks ac­count for about 20 per cent of to­tal book sales, while in Bri­tain the pro­por­tion of eBook sales is about 16 per cent.

Mal­colm Neil, con­tent di­rec­tor at on­line book and e-reader com­pany Kobo, an­tic­i­pates that by the end of this year the eBook mar­ket in Aus­tralia will dou­ble to 20 per cent. In no time at all, he says, eBook sales of new re­leases will ex­ceed print sales by a wide mar­gin. ‘‘ Tablets will have be­come lighter and more af­ford­able and many read­ers will be us­ing them, and e-read­ers will be ubiq­ui­tous and in­cred­i­bly af­ford­able,’’ he says.

Ma­ree McCaskill, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Aus­tralian Pub­lish­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, is equally san­guine about the health of pub­lish­ing and the fu­ture of read­ing. ‘‘ The year ahead is go­ing to bring a lot of ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ments in terms of mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion and for­mat de­vel­op­ments,’’ she pre­dicts. ‘‘ EBooks and tablets are in­creas­ing their use across all sec­tors of the read­ing com­mu­nity but the move from print to dig­i­tal is like our econ­omy — multi-speed.’’

Michael Hey­ward, pub­lisher at Text, has no doubt eBooks will change the way we read, but he is not con­vinced one form will sup­plant the other. ‘‘ There is al­ready ev­i­dence that the death of the book­store for pa­per and ink books has been grossly ex­ag­ger­ated, which is to say that we seem to be mak­ing a col­lec­tive de­ci­sion that we want our towns and cities to have pub­lic spa­ces where we browse for and dis­cuss what we read.’’

Fiona Inglis, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Cur­tis Brown lit­er­ary agents, agrees that ‘‘ dig­i­tal and print will sur­vive hap­pily side by side. Pub­lish­ers will test the mar­ket with dig­i­tal and then, if there is a real de­mand, be more in­clined to in­vest in a print for­mat.’’

As a com­mer­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive for writ­ers in this emerg­ing mar­ket, she sees in­creas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for publi­ca­tion. ‘‘ We’ve done deals for short sto­ries and novel­las that would not be as easy to sell if pub­lish­ers only had the op­tion of print for­mats. We also rep­re­sent a num­ber of es­tates. Many of their ti­tles have been out of print for years but have now been reis­sued in dig­i­tal for­mat and for print-on­de­mand. It’s won­der­ful that th­ese works can be made avail­able af­ter many years out of print.’’

From her po­si­tion as dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing di­rec­tor at in­de­pen­dent Aus­tralian pub­lisher Allen & Un­win, Elizabeth Weiss sur­veys the new dig­i­tal land­scape with a keen eye. ‘‘ We are now well into the eBook rev­o­lu­tion and it’s clear that the eBook is here to stay,’’ she says. At Allen & Un­win, as with most Aus­tralian pub­lish­ers, most new re­leases have a dual life in both print and elec­tronic form.

‘‘ It’s now a sig­nif­i­cant and nor­mal part of our pub­lish­ing pro­gram,’’ Weiss ex­plains. ‘‘ We have staff em­ployed specif­i­cally to work on eBooks. When we want to pub­lish a book we’re not hav­ing a dis­cus­sion about whether or not to pub­lish an eBook edi­tion, it’s a dis­cus­sion about the terms of publi­ca­tion be­tween pub­lisher and au­thor, and pub­lisher and ven­dor.’’

The eBook rev­o­lu­tion has al­ready prompted some pub­lish­ers to open dig­i­tal di­vi­sions whose cat­a­logues are fo­cused on genre fic­tion: ro­mance, fan­tasy, sci­ence fic­tion and crime. At Pan Macmil­lan, for ex­am­ple, a ded­i­cated dig­i­tal im­print, Mo­men­tum, was launched last year. It of­fers the same edit­ing ser­vices as the par­ent com­pany (in marked con­trast to most self­pub­lished eBooks) yet prints only eBooks with the op­tion for print on de­mand.

Shona Mar­tyn, pub­lish­ing di­rec­tor at Harper Collins, is an­other be­liever in the coex­is­tence of dig­i­tal and tra­di­tional books. ‘‘ Peo­ple are read­ing as much as ever, just in dif­fer­ent ways,’’ she ob­serves. ‘‘ Above all, dig­i­tal does not spell the end of the print book.

‘‘ The read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on e-read­ing de­vices is, for­tu­nately, equal to the ex­pe­ri­ence with a tra­di­tional book and dig­i­tal of­fers the ad­van­tage to down­load books as and where you are. Fic­tion read­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, have re­sponded en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to the e-read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and we have seen a sig­nif­i­cant up­surge of sales of back­list ti­tles as peo­ple ‘ dis­cover’ a new au­thor and then buy all pre­vi­ous books by them. Sales of non­fic­tion, where books are kept in a home li­brary or given as gifts, are cur­rently slower but we are see­ing sig­nif­i­cant growth year on year as more peo­ple have de­vices.’’

Ben Ball, pub­lish­ing di­rec­tor at Pen­guin, is find­ing ‘‘ the dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal are in­ter­re­lated’’, with each ‘‘ pro­mot­ing and sup­port­ing the other’’.

‘‘ With our two cur­rent dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives — our ro­mance im­print Des­tiny and our short-form line of Pen­guin Spe­cials — we’re see­ing grow­ing dig­i­tal sales, but also a print de­mand,’’ he says. ‘‘ We’ve re­cently printed John Gar­naut’s Spe­cial on Bo Xi­lai and China’s fu­ture ( The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo), and Gideon’s Haigh’s The De­serted News­room, and are print­ing a num­ber of the Des­tiny ti­tles (and) we’ve had our first few proper re­views of Pen­guin Spe­cials, in The New York Re­view of Books and The Aus­tralian.

‘‘ At Pen­guin, we think it’s im­por­tant to bring to dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing our tra­di­tional skills as well as our abil­ity to in­no­vate. So we’re still ter­ri­bly se­lec­tive about what we pub­lish dig­i­tally. We have the same sort of ed­i­to­rial con­ver­sa­tions we have over a phys­i­cal book, and ded­i­cate as many re­sources to them. Dig­i­tal-first pub­lish­ing is a new thing, but we’re still af­ter the old things — a great writer who can il­lu­mi­nate an ex­cit­ing idea or tell a grip­ping story.’’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.