As publishers we would have to be crazy not to keep a very close eye on the progress of electronic books - e-books - or books published on the internet. We've become used to finding our music online, and now movies and TV shows are becoming increasingly available for download. Magazines are going 'web-only' - big US mags Premiere and FHM are just two that now exist exclusively online. But how will this electronic shift affect books?
The main argument for resisting the switch from paper to electronic is the loss of physicality - books are desirable, people like to hold them, and they're a lot easier to read than LCD screens. But witness the Sony Reader (above), which uses a 'paper-like' display to make reading e-books easy and pleasurable. 'Suppose Apple released an electronic-paper iTome,' suggests Jon Evans in his Walrus magazine article Apocalypse Soon. Based on Apple's previous successes you'd have to assume that such a device would be desirable, tactile, and easy to read. Then the world of electronic books would become very interesting indeed.
It's a debate that will continue, but one that will need to be settled very quickly if the book industry is to continue to compete with other entertainments. You can read the full Jon Evans article here. He also discusses giving electronic books away for free in a Guardian blog here. Credit to Grumpy Old Bookman for the links.
From our own point of view, we published a free-of-charge Christmas Short Stories e-book last year that was downloaded more than 1,200 times within the space of a week or so. But how many of those 1,200 actually read the thing, and how many of them went on to actually buy a Tonto book? (It was, after all, a promotional exercise.) Crucial questions, but certainly we will continue to experiment with electronic books. If nothing else, it will save a few trees.
PS. On a tenuously-linked subject, I went across the road to the Cluny last night to see singer-songwriter Kate Walsh. Kate, once of this parish and now living in Brighton, has made good use of the web. She was the first unsigned artist to have a number one hit on iTunes, and subsequently her album Tim's House (so-named because it was recorded at friend Tim's house) has become a hit CD, prime-time Tesco ads and all. Of course, much of her success is just down to the plain fact that she is bloody brilliant. You really must visit her MySpace page for a listen and a look.
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