The Ebook Price War: Where the book do we go from here?

The ‘print versus ebooks’ debate is irrelevant. The real war is between traditional publishers and self-publishers.

Standing on the sidelines, it seems like Amazon, Apple – on behalf of self-publishers – and the Big Five publishing houses are too busy nuking it out with each other to become the top dogs to realise the damage that is being done to the literary landscape. The only path to victory appears to be the complete annihilation of the opposition. If Amazon and Apple win, are we destined to see ebook stores full of novels, described by Andrew Franklin, founder of Profile Books, as being ‘unutterable rubbish?’ If the traditional publishing houses win, are these same ebook stores going to be stocked with good quality books which fail to find their audiences because their price points are too high? Are these two extremes the only paths available?

The Problematic Price War

In the late nineties Esther Dyson, a technology investor, predicted that as Internet access increased, traditional content creators would struggle to get paid in an ‘increasingly competitive marketplace where much of the intellectual property is distributed free and suppliers explode in number.’ Advances in computer and software development over the past decade have largely proved Dyson to be correct. Technological advances halve the costs of digital based businesses every twelve months. As Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price, puts it: ‘whatever it costs YouTube to stream a video today will cost half as much in a year.’ This means that companies such as Amazon and Apple can provide cheap hosting so anybody can self-publish a manuscript, and because these author-publishers don’t have the same overheads as large publishing houses. They can therefore afford to sell their books at a lower price point in an attempt to generate interest and compete with other self-published works.

Historically, publishers sold books to distributors and retailers who would then sell to the consumer. However, the rise of self-publishing and ebook sales in this digital age has forced publishers to sell directly to individuals. Gone are the days when carefully curated book shops and libraries are our only source of reading material – now publishers are forced to sell side-by-side with unknown ebook novelists. Author Chuck Wendig irreverently refers to this as a ‘self-publishing volcano’.

The problem facing publishers such as Penguin Random House is that the cost of producing the content has remained the same. Money must still be invested into sourcing content, editing manuscripts and producing digital copies. In 2012, Penguin’s Global Digital Director Molly Barton said ebook production was only 10% cheaper than physical book production. Publishing houses can’t afford to sell these ebooks at significantly cheaper price than print editions, which, when then sold alongside self-published novels, appear over-priced.

Where next?

So, if traditional business models aren’t working for major publishing houses, could the adaptations of one or more of the following prove a better choice?

Pay-Per-View

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Credit: Total Boox

 

Yoav Lorch founded Total Boox, an e-reader application, to challenge what he described as the ‘buy first, read later’ business model, describing it as ‘a burdensome remnant from the world of printed books.’ This platform – and others such as Valobox – allow users to create bookshelves and populate them with as many ebooks from the catalogue as they want, for free. Users are only charged for what they actually read. Books have a set price, but if a reader only reads 10% of the content, they only get charged 10% of the price. According to Lorch, publishers can use analytical tools to ‘understand what’s engaging for readers, and how the books are consumed’ rather than merely monitoring book sales.

Valobox could have been particularly attractive to publishers as it incentivised readers to share books that they’d enjoyed. Readers used widgets to share their favourite books on social media, blogs or websites and received a twenty-five percent discount. Co-founder Ann Lewis pointed out that ‘if users take over marketing, publishers are happy for them to get a reward,’ particularly as this discount didn’t affect the royalties paid to the author and publisher.

Freemium/Premium

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Credit: 24symbols

 

Spanish company 24symbols have build their e-reader application around this model more famously used by Spotify. By providing a quality free service with limited access to the platform’s catalogue – with embedded advertisements – readers will find the premium content attractive enough to pay for access the entire catalogue ad-free. Founder Justo Hidalgo argues that publishers need to start thinking of books as a service and find ways to meet readers needs in how they access, read and share content. The challenge for this business model is that studies suggest that only between 5-15% of users are willing to pay for content on these platforms.

Dynamic Pricing

In 2012 Karol Gajda founded OnlyIndie, an independent online book store which used a dynamic pricing structure to generate interest and create demand for the platforms catalogue of books. Having successfully tested this model on his own self-published travel book, he concluded that it could work for other authors too. The price for every ebook on the site started at $0 for the first fifteen downloads. After that the price rose by a cent with each download up to a maximum price of $7.98. Feedback from buyers suggested they ‘loved the idea’ because it was a ‘fun way to buy from indie authors and support indie work.’

Whilst the venture failed, Gajda highlights that ‘something is only worth what someone will pay for it’ and that rather than focusing on finding the perfect ebook price, more concern needs to be given to building and engaging audiences.

Crowdfunding

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Credit: Unbound

 

Launched in 2011, Unbound has brought readers into the conversation about what books should be published. Authors pitch ideas on the website and readers are encouraged to support the ideas they like by pledging money. If a book reaches its funding goal, the company uses the money to edit, print and market it. Profits are split equally between the author and site. Co-founder John Mitchinson believes that the Internet is a wonderful piece of technology but ‘until now, the publishing industry has treated it like a threat – when actually the web can facilitate incredible communication with the most important person in the whole process – the reader.’

As bizarre as this method sounds several of these crowdfunded novels have achieved critical acclaim, with Paul Kingsworth’s debut novel The Wake long-listed for The Man Booker Prize.

Subscription

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Credit: Safari Books Online

 

Safari Books Online is one of the first companies to adapt this approach for books. By focusing on niche markets such as design, IT and technology, users pay a set amount each month to access an unlimited catalogue of ebooks, conferences, videos, and unfinished manuscripts. Andrew Savikas, the company’s former CEO, commented that this model creates an ongoing relationship with readers rather than securing a one-off sale. A wide selection of content, he argues, ‘encourages consumers to sample content they may not know about, much like Netflix’ without cannibalising the sales of print books.

With the success of subscription services like Netflix and Apple Music, it seems unsurprising that experts predict that this business model is likely to dominate digital publishing in the future. The 2014 Digital Books and the New Subscription Economy report by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) found that 80% of publishers believe that the ebook market will ‘inevitably’ shift toward subscription models. As for the report’s publication, only 7% of publishers surveyed had found that this model contributed significantly to their overall revenues but over half expected that this would increase over the following five years.

Unlike with television subscriptions, publishers will face some challenges in adopting this method. Last year, subscription service Scribd withdrew access to a selection of romance novels after discovering that certain genre audiences read more ‘voraciously’ than others, causing the company to make a loss. Tailoring subscription or top-up packages for specific genres may help services combat this.

The Future

At present few of the Big Five appear to be supporting this model, partially because the industry has such a diverse range of content. Not all areas would be profitable in an ‘all-you-can-eat’ subscription model. HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster made parts of their back catalogue available on the subscription platform Oyster in 2014, whilst Macmillan placed 1,500 ebooks with the German subscription service, Skoobe. Oyster has since closed due to a limited catalogue and insufficient subscriber numbers to remain profitable, and with print books appearing to hold their own against ebooks in recent years, there is limited stimulus as yet for publishers to seriously engage with this business model.

However, change must come to the industry. Engaging in a price race to the bottom will only hurt the literary landscape by removing quality in the face of quantity. As Fergus McNeill, author and app developer points out, this means finding a way for the the industry to be sustainable for readers, authors, and publishers which doesn’t include selling content for free or at the lowest possible price. ‘Because,’ as he puts it, ‘in the long-term, free is just too high a price to pay.’

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The Future of eBooks

 

When eBooks first started to appear in the mid 90s, they were ‘hailed by many as the next great technological step for books.’ Has this remained true after these many years? It’s been said that print is still the preferred way people like to read and that eBook sales are not as big as people predicted, however there are multiple reasons for why this is and what can be done about it.

Pricing

While many of us have seen the growth in eBooks, sales have recently been slowing down. In 2011, Alastair Horne said only 6% of the market consisted of eBooks in the UK and 6.4% in America. Most have said this is to do with pricing because it’s hard ‘getting the public to

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Amazon Kindle Logo. Credited to Amazon.

accept sensible pricing.’ It certainly doesn’t help that online retailers such as Amazon discount the prices on books, to the point that buyers might get used to that price and think all eBooks should cost that much. Amazon also creates deals, such as the first book of the series being free to increase sales at the expense of the pricing. Recently, Amazon was doing a deal for Laini Taylor’s trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in which for a limited time only all of the eBooks would be on sale for £0.99. Many people, including myself, logged in to Amazon and got it.

In 2010, Amazon was in a war with Apple and five other publishers to dominate the eBook market. Before Apple launched its iBooks store for eBooks, Amazon Kindle was the main platform and so they had the freedom to set the prices themselves (a maximum of $9.99), however, when Apple finally opened its online store it caused a few problems. Five big publishers, such as Penguin and HarperCollins, created a contract with Apple that would only allow the publishers to set the price of the eBook and Apple would get a certain percentage of each sale. Every time another retailer would drop down their prices, i.e. Amazon, the publishers would drop Apple’s eBook prices too so as to compete with Amazon. These five publishers then got Amazon to agree to a similar deal, consequently

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iBooks Store Logo. Credited to Apple

raising eBook prices to ‘needlessly high,’ (levels) as said by Amazon. But the five publishers and Apple both lost when the US Department of Justice charged them all with collusion and so eBooks prices are now back at what they started.

Self-publishing

For many years, after self-publishing was first introduced, it developed a stigma and it effected self-published authors greatly. This was because without the help of publishers most of the books were badly edited, badly written and had bad cover design, and readers didn’t like this. For example, Adrienne Woods’ book series, Dragonian, is full of foreshadowing, which an editor would have noticed and advised to change, and which many people have complained about, but it seems this stigma has, for the most part, disappeared.

Though this stigma seems to have vanished, not many self-published authors actually do well. It’s been said that only about 40 indie authors are successful, though impressively some of them, like Amanda Hocking, have been in the top 10 in the Kindle Million Club and some have even been picked up for real publishing contracts.

Some self-published books are very good, but it still seems that it’s the bad ones people keep buying. For example, the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James started simply from a fanfiction about Twilight but then the author self-published it where it got massively popular, until finally a publisher picked it up. I believe this might have been because James already had a dedicated fandom who would continue to buy the book(s). Bad books becoming really popular might be the reason behind the stigma of self-publishing and it could be helped by the good self-published eBooks out there.

Self-published eBooks have gone up in price, whereas before they were £0.99 some have

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February 2014 – January 2016 Ebook Unit Sales. Credited to AuthorEarnings, 2016.

gone up to £2.99 and Adrienne Woods’ books are nearly £4.This is most likely because of the increase of self-publishing over the years. Between February 2014 and February 2016, self-published eBooks have increased approximately by 16% and the sales for the big five

publishers have decreased by 12%. On Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling eBooks more than half, 56 to be exact, were self-published. This data clearly suggests that more and more people are buying self-published books, perhaps because they are cheaper.

E-book Piracy

Although eBooks prices are becoming cheaper, many people still believe eBooks should be free and some believe it so much that they turn to piracy. In every eBook, there is a copyright page, most of them at the back, that clearly states one cannot copy and/or distribute the eBook though many people claim to not know this law. But is it harming the industry? It’s been reported that only 1% of 12-year-olds and older were reading e-books illegally in the UK in March to May 2015. Therefore, many people believe that piracy of eBooks won’t ever become a big thing because readers will always prefer ‘legal services over illegal ones.’

Subscriptions Programmes

So, what can we do to prevent eBook piracy and increase eBook sales? There are ways of still reading very cheap eBooks without it being illegal. Project Gutenberg is a free online library with more than 53,000 books to choose from and download, with the option for a not needed, but appreciated, small donation to keep them going. It is a great example of a project which is free and is still going, though some have not been so lucky. Oyster books was an online streaming service for eBooks and was named the ‘netflix for eBooks.’ Its users would pay roughly £10 a month to read as many books as they’d like. Sadly, only two years after it started it shut down. Many have said this is because it was ‘deeply flawed’ because of its lack of bestsellers in the library and because it only managed to grab 5 big publishers, which caused problems when people wanted to get a book from another publisher. Others which seem to have worked are Kindle Unlimited and Bookmate, all very similar but none have done particularly well. So, does ‘netflix for eBooks’ really work? For now, it seems not, however publishers should learn from the ones who haven’t worked and try and make it better.

What can publishers do?

There are many ways of increasing eBook sales and there are already some projects for this that are sort of working. For example, Amazon has two different options to buy their kindles, the ‘with special offers’ which is cheaper and the ‘without special offers,’ which is about £10 more expensive. What many people don’t realise is the only reason the ‘with

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Screenshot from Kindle’s Buying Options in the Amazon Website.

special offers’ option is cheaper is because the buyer is agreeing to be bombarded with adverts during their reading. Despite this, the satisfaction rate of these kindles is still great with four stars.

Another thing publishers could do is to create bundles and deals that have both print and eBooks and charge it a little bit more. I believe this would work because many people like to have both versions, myself included, and because like Katherine Hayles said,

‘digital and physical copies rely on one another.’

Amazon already does this by what they call Kindle Matchbook in which if someone has bought a physical book then the consumer can buy the e-book version for $2.99 or less, though sadly it has not been applied to the Amazon UK yet.

What is the Future of eBooks?

The future of eBooks seems to clearly point that they won’t ever be free because there are still people willing to pay for them, and there are many different, creative ways to increase the sales, like kindle unlimited and such. I predict that though the way we consume eBooks won’t change, I believe publishers will join together and come up with a platform that works well for them all and that maybe this will be a really good version of ‘netflix for eBooks.’

 

Digital Publishing: Authors utopia or nightmare?

 Today, an average of 41.8 million people use the internet on a daily basis creating a new world of publishing. Digital publishing has undeniably, democratised the industry, creating opportunity for new, previously rejected, authors. However, is it truly a utopia for authors? Or has it, in fact, made the industry more challenging than ever?

Total Control

Digital publishing has opened up the ability for authors to self-publish. Technological advances have ‘levelled the playing field to an unprecedented degree’ for authors. Self-publishing has allowed authors to take total control over their work, something that was simply not possible with traditional publishing.

Editing platforms such as CreateSpace and Ingram Spark have enabled authors complete authority, allowing them to freely edit without restriction. For example, CreateSpace has effectively eliminated the need for publishing houses as ‘CreateSpace authors and publishers will earn industry-leading royalties on each sale while continuing to own the rights and have creative control over their work.’ Authors can now have control over what happens to their work, how it is published, and where.

These self-publishing platforms, coupled with print-on-demand technology, allow authors to upload their work and then publish it straight to online storefronts like Amazon. It has enabled ‘indie authors–as well as the smallest boutique publishers and micropresses–[to] sell their books through the same online retail storefronts that today account for roughly 50% of total US print sales.’ Works from Faber&Faber are sold alongside self-published works giving authors an equal opportunity and access to a larger audience. This technology has opened the door to independent authors who traditionally would not have been able to afford upfront printing costs.

At what cost?

However, although this technology has allowed more authors the opportunity to have their work seen, it is difficult for self-published authors to make a significant amount of money. Amazon offer 70% royalties to their authors, which appears a good rate but getting your eBook to sell in large quantities is very difficult. EBooks are sold for a fraction of the cost of print books and so need a higher turnover to break even. A survey of 1,007 authors found that ‘less than 10% of self-publishing authors earning about 75% of the reported revenue and half of writers earning less than $500.’

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The few authors that do make a reasonable outcome tend to have large outgoings, many of the books that have succeeded in the market have been edited and designed by professionals. Book cover designs can cost anywhere between £100-£1000 and copy editors usual charge around £26.50 per hour. Even the platforms designed for self-publishing can be costly with ‘Lulu [charging] about $500, Createspace about $700.’ Self-publishing is usually marketed as free but many authors end up paying out to ensure their work is of good quality, so either way self-publishing can be costly for many authors.

Content

Although it can be costlier, digital publishing has allowed opportunity for content that may have previously been refused. Self-publishing has allowed experimental genres, such as Fan Fiction, to be explored and it is these genres that are proving the most popular ‘56 of Amazon’s overall Top 100 Best Selling ebooks… were self-published indie titles.’ According to AuthorEarning ‘self-published indie Science Fiction books, indie Thrillers, indie Suspense novels, indie Urban Fiction, and even Cozy Mysteries by indies’ are amongst the top selling eBooks, showing the ever growing market and scope for new authors to be successful in.

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AuthorEarnings February 2016 report showing the popularity of indie published books.

Amanda Hocking is a great example of seizing this new market, at the beginning of 2010 she was an unknown, paranormal fiction writer with seventeen unpublished novels. Yet, by the end of 2010 she would have four recognisable novels and have sold 1.5m books, making $2.5m. Uploading her novels onto Amazon and Smashwords has made her a household name and even secured her a press deal with St Martin’s for over $2.1 million. This is a clear indication that self-publishing has allowed authors the freedom to publish work that publishers would not accept and authors are making millions from this previously restricted content.

New Kids on the Block

Alongside new content the digital world has also created a new type of author. Commissioning editors are starting to steer away from traditional authors and are now offering book deals to young, social media stars thanks to their extreme popularity and a celebrity-like status.

Surely this is good for authors? Young stars are being given writing opportunities they may never have been offered, creating new content, and a new type of author. Books by Youtubers have flooded the market, 5 out of the 10 books in BookScan’s Autobiography: The Arts category are by YouTubers and GoodReads even has a top 100 Books by Youtubers section.

However, this is creating a new problem for authors hoping to become noticed. Financial pressure from the market is causing publishers to pick content guaranteed to sell and ‘if the publishers’ budgets are being sunk into luring already-prominent names, there will inevitably be a horde of brilliant unknowns, tapping away at their keyboards, forever unheard.’

Youtubers are being picked by commissioning editors thanks to their huge online presence which transcends across social media and the internet giving the most popular, like Zoella, an avid following of about 5.8 million. Controversies such as Zoe Sugg’s ghost writer scandal, demonstrates the pressure publishers are feeling. As Sugg’s ghost-writer points out ‘whether you like it or not, this is the financial reality of today’s publishing industry.’

Publishers are picking content based on popularity, and it is selling well, which leaves authors with a market that’s even more difficult to be noticed in.

#FindyourFriends  

The good news for these “horde of brilliant unknowns” is that there is no reason why new authors cannot create their own audience just as Youtubers have. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are all free marketing tools that can generate great interest and hype for authors and their work. Hashtagging and interacting with fans builds a following behind these authors and creates an often small but loyal market for their novels.

Mark Dawson is a prime example of using marketing to its full potential as he admitted ‘in order to be successful at this, you need to take off your artist hat and put on your marketing hat.’ Dawson has used social media to its full advantage, using it to build a rapport with his audience. He has created, much like the Youtubers, a loyal and secure audience and it has worked with Amazon paying him in excess of $450,000 a year. If authors can embrace the digital world and take full advantage of it, as a marketing platform, they can become successful and most importantly noticed.

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Lost at Sea

Unfortunately, success stories such as Dawson’s are not in the majority. Amazon’s Kindle claims to have 105,688 new releases in the last 30 days and 1,412,329 books now available Kindle unlimited. This huge volume of work means it can be all too easy for authors work to be lost in the market. In 2016, only ‘40 independent authors have sold more than a million copies of their e-books on Amazon,’ a worryingly low number for a market so large. Even if authors are using social media to create a brand there is still a high chance they will become lost in the market and make little income.

Likewise, authors who choose to self-publish often find themselves isolated from the industry and there is often elitism among publishers against self-publishing. Andrew Franklin, the managing director of Profile Books famously said at the Writing in the Digital Age conference that ‘the overwhelming majority [of self-published books] are terrible – unutterable rubbish.’

 Bestselling authors who are talented and hard working – like Thor and Grafton – are inclined to believe that publishing is a meritocracy where the best work by the most diligent writers gets represented, acquired, published and sold.  But this is demonstrably untrue. –David Vinjamuri 

Many publishers in the industry share this view, making it difficult for authors to have their work recognised. Online success is often ignored in reality as ‘self-published books are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker,’ which excludes a huge number of authors and their work from getting the recognition they deserve. Author Talli Rolland explains ‘I found it difficult to get my printed novel into bookstores, despite solid e-book sales figures.’ This highlights the difficulty many authors face when trying to get noticed in the industry and it’s a constant struggle to get self-publishing acknowledge as a viable medium.

So which is it? Utopia or dystopia? 

It is undeniable that the world of digital publishing has created new opportunities for authors. The internet has allowed authors control over every process of their work from the editing all the way up to marketing and there are success stories. It has created a more democratic system, one which has room for all authors and every type of content.

However, success in digital publishing comes at a price, the industry is more competitive than ever and equal opportunity for all means the market is continuously growing, making it increasingly difficult to become noticed. Is it a utopia? Certainly not. But, if authors are willing to work hard and embrace the new, interactive, fast paced world of digital publishing there is, at least, the chance for them to become the next Fifty Shades of Grey.

 

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There is more to Storytelling than Print: Our culture has evolved.

Since Amazon revolutionised modern publishing with the introduction of the first e-reader, the Kindle, the modern day reader has seen the ignition of a digital publishing fire that appears, years later, to still be far away from extinguishable. In a steady movement away from the traditional paperback novel since this point, fiction has experienced an explosion of digital storytelling that has seen print described as an archaism and even the decline of e-reader sales to only 47.9m units, as revealed in a report published by The Bookseller.

Continue reading “There is more to Storytelling than Print: Our culture has evolved.”

Amazon’s Iron Grip on the Book Industry

In July 1995, a year after being founded as Cadabara, Amazon.com–an online bookseller–went public on the world wide web. The launch of Amazon.com marked a huge turning point in bookselling. Today, Amazon is no longer just a bookseller, but a creator of eBook tablets, phones and most recently a hands-free speaker named, Echo. It is also the world’s largest Internet-based retailer, selling everything from Shoes to Dog Food. Despite the revival of Print sales and Independent bookshops increasingly becoming a choice for purchase for readers alike, Amazon still has an Iron Grip on the Book Industry. No matter how hard the Book Industry tries to remove themselves from the Iron Grip that Amazon has on their industry, they can’t, simply because they can’t afford to do so.

Amazon’s Market Share

In 2014, Amazon’s market share for eBooks stood at 67%, with just 33% market share coming from other eBook sellers. Their market share for all books sales–online and physical stores, print and digital–is only 41% in comparison to all other booksellers who have 59% market share. However, in just Online Sales of all books (print and digital), Amazon has a 65% market share and other online booksellers only have 35%. Although their market share doesn’t dominate all book sales, these figures aren’t positive. Amazon has no such competition online or in eBook sales. Something that isn’t positive when shopping online is a quick and easy way to buy a book with little effort involved.

Amazon vs. Hachette

In 2014, Hachette–one of the Big Five publishers­–contract with Amazon expired. Amazon wanted to extend the contract, but with new conditions. The main condition being that Hachette lower most of their eBooks to prices $9.99. Hachette did not respond, clearly unhappy with this term. 3 months after Amazon contacted Hachette about extending their contract–still without a reply–Amazon extended their contract anyway with the old terms. Except there was a catch. Amazon ceased all preorders on Hachette books, one title effected was Robert Galbraith’s (AKA J. Rowling), The Silkworm. Books that usually were delivered within a week or less, took 2 to 5 weeks to be dispatched and some Hachette titles weren’t surfacing when searched for. As a consequence of this, Hachette and their authors had fewer sales on their books. Associated Press reported that Hachette said that 5,000 titles were affected as a result of Amazon withdrawing preorders and listings of Hachette’s books. Amazon fought very dirty, ‘“First, Hachette was willing to break the law to get higher e-book prices, and now they’re determined to keep their own authors in the line of fire in order to achieve that same end. Amazon has made three separate proposals to take authors out of the middle, all of which Hachette has quickly dismissed.”’ The dispute between these companies came 2 years after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and Big Publishers (Hachette included), for illegally colluding to get Apple to raise eBook prices, in hope of forcing Amazon to do the same. Apple and all Publishing Houses involved lost the case.

John Green, best known for his bestselling Young Adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars, criticised Amazon in book dispute in an Associated Press’s, The Big Story article saying, ‘What’s ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence.’ Amazon came under fire for the way it tried to negotiate with Hachette. Before the long-running battle began between the $10billion dollar Publisher and the $122billion dollar retailer, Amazon was famous for being in the media very little. This battle threw them into the limelight and they didn’t particularly come out well because of it. They also didn’t win their fight, with Amazon caving in and allowing Hachette to have more responsibility over their eBook prices.

The Aftermath:

Books Bite Back

6 years ago, when the evolution of technology was growing at a rapid speed, it was predicted by some that physical books were going to die out in the next five years. They were wrong. In the past year–5 years after that prediction­–print book sales made a 2% increase. Print books are still going strong. Nielsen commented that one of the titles to thank for the increase in printed book sales was the late Harper Lee’s, long-anticipated, To Kill a Mockingbird squeal, Go Set a Watchman. Adult Colouring Books and Celebrity book releases also played a substantial part in the sale figures of printed books rising.

In the same year, Waterstones stopped selling Kindles and eBooks outside the UK, which added shelf space for more books and as a result saw a 5% rise in sales.

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©Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

EBooks took a hit

Whilst printed books made an increase in sales, eBooks did not. EBooks sales from the ‘Big Five Publishers’ declined by 2.4%. This decrease came after just over a year since the Amazon vs. Hachette dispute was settled. In which Hachette wore Amazon down, and got it wanted: the freedom to have control over some eBook prices. This new-found power the Publisher gained has meant an increase in the pricing of their eBooks, in a move they called, ‘critical to its survival’. This step is said to be a contributing factor for the decline in eBook sales.

Amazon won’t go down without a fight

Amazon is determined to hold on to books forever. Book sales only account for 7% of what Amazon sell as a whole. Amazon sells an incredible amount books, yet this figure seems rather insignificant. Is it insignificant when you consider the sheer size of Amazon and the fact that it sells almost everything?

As well-known and previously mentioned, Amazon started out as a bookseller. Is this why Amazon are so determined to grip on to the Book Industry? No matter the cost it has on their reputation? Books overall make up just $5.25billion out of Amazon’s $75billion annual revenue (7%). Amazon’s determination to continue having a share in the book market has now resulted in them branching out into Brick and Mortar bookshops. A move Amazon have made to become a leader in increasing print sales. The first store opened in Seattle in 2015, with three more having opened since then. Rumours are now floating around suggesting that Amazon is planning to open a considerable amount more, three to four hundred as reported.

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©University Village

Amazon and Indie Author’s

Amazon has a finger in every pie; in book-selling, book-buying, and due to their Kindle Direct Publishing program, in book-publishing as well. ‘Self-publishing has its success stories, but has also caused concern among many in the industry. The fear is that Amazon could end up doing to independent authors the same thing it has done to publishers — make them reliant on a system and then use its leverage to negotiate relentlessly.’ Self-published writers, more commonly known as Indie Authors, release books that don’t have
Bowker-issued International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) attached them. As a result of this, according to the website AuthorEarnings.com, when sale figures are monitored, and market share percentages are released by Nielsen and Bowker, they fail to include the portion of Indie Author’s books that make up the sales in the eBook market. Furthermore, as discussed in Author Earnings, October 2015 report, when non-ISBN sales are included in eBook market statistics, the US eBook market is 50% larger than statics that only include the Bowker-issued ISBN sales. Despite not being included in conventional eBook sales statistics, Indie Authors clearly sell a lot of books, and if they are publishing or selling them through Amazon then they are making Amazon an incredible amount of money as well. 44% of all Kindle eBooks being purchased on Amazon in January 2016 were released by Indie authors.

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© AuthorEarnings.com

Can anyone break Amazon’s Iron Grip?

Amazon has played a big part in bookselling for 20 years and they are worth billions and billions of dollars, so the likelihood of anyone being able to break Amazon’s Iron Grip on the Book Industry may seem unlikely.

However, there are some factors that can have an impact Amazon and their Iron Grip: eBook prices are too expensive for what they are. I personally switch between a Kindle and Printed books. If I see a book as a Kindle edition and it costs over £4 I won’t buy it. It isn’t a physical copy so therefore paying for something that will get pushed back on my Kindle as I buy more books and then become potentially forgotten isn’t something that appeals to me. However, I would pay that and more if it were a physical book. Kindle versions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm were pulled unexpectedly in 2009 because of a copyright issue. All of those who owned those books lost their notes and highlights, and never got them back. Proving that the value of eBooks just doesn’t match up to the value of printed books. Independent books stores are becoming increasingly popular because they provide an experience that you can’t get online. Thirdly, can e-readers progress any further? New versions of Kindle’s don’t progress very much from older versions. Products that can’t keep up with technological advances die out eventually, BlackBerry for example who have now stopped designing phones because they couldn’t keep up. And lastly, Amazon suffered a setback in their public image because of the way they handled their very public battle with Hachette.

In hindsight, Amazon will probably have an Iron Grip on the Publishing industry for a long time, but there are some things that Amazon simply can’t recreate when it comes to buying and reading books. And as print makes a “comeback”, perhaps people will stop reading their e-reader, go into a bookstore and relive the excitement and experience that comes with trawling through a beautiful bookstore and finding that perfect read.

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A User’s View of Scholarly Publishing: Are Words for Web?

Books or Computers

In a society where using technology is as natural as smiling and where the world can be explored from a screen, many industries have had to rapidly adapt or risk becoming obsolete.

What do we expect when reading for academic purposes as a result of our phone-in-hand culture? Industry experts have said, “Digital technology has become inevitable in societies that are increasingly based on knowledge.” So, why is the library still so print-heavy?

Books or Digital?

While perhaps there is sentimentality or an ideal reading experience taken from print, print certainly has its drawbacks. Whilst paper creates an impression of lastingness, it will become damaged and eventually deteriorate. Paper is expensive, it is un-ecological, it will spoil, and it is space – as well time – consuming. In a chapter of Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier, Rob Kling and Roberta Lamb wrote, “Electronic publishing seems to have immense benefits – in providing economic payoffs to university presses, in making many academic practices more convenient and thereby increasing productivity, and in improving the diffusion of knowledge by reducing barriers between authors and readers.” However, a study directed in America by Student Monitor, and that appeared in The Washington Post, shows that 87% of textbook spending for the 2014 first semester was on print books. Further from this, in 2013 University of Washington lead a study that showed that 25% of humanities students bought physical versions of free eBooks. From this it could be deduced that technology is yet to banish print as an out-of-date medium of writing. If you would like read more studies, click here.

A Window of Digital Opportunity

A library, online
A library can be but a few clicks away. © Molly Jensen, 2016

In the user’s view, text availability is one of the big issues with printed scholarly texts. As students will express, it can be difficult to get your hands on specific research or additional sources. When an assessment is looming, and 50 or so students want to reference that one amazing source, which your lecturer hinted was their favourite and the perfect accompaniment, a sort of library war begins to take place. It is the library’s job to have an appropriate amount of copies of books, but this isn’t always possible due to costs and storage. One potential way to tackle this is by making texts available in an online library.

Ecosystem of Study

When thinking about whom scholarly publishing is for, we first think of the consumer; who is often either a student or a researcher. Other readers will spring to mind: lecturers, librarians, or a member of the public who has a specialist interest in a specific area, and other academics in similar fields of work. Scholarly publishing should be made easier to allow access to necessary materials.

Online libraries can be difficult to sift through in order to find that golden nugget of research. The preferred reading format, print or electronic, has been researched by the OAPEN-UK project (oapen-uk.jiscebooks.org). It was found that of those who preferred reading from print, 88.6% of people found the text in print. Contrarily, of the people who prefer electronic, only just over half, 54.9%, were able to find the text in a digital format. This could suggest the challenge of navigating digital libraries, as well as a lacking in resources.

Libraries try to fill a massive, insurmountable need for knowledge, yet they work under a maximum-capacity rule, and this is a problem. Credit: Free Stock photos ,
Libraries try to fill a massive, insurmountable need for knowledge, yet they work under a maximum-capacity rule, and this is a problem. Credit: Free Stock photos, CDC Library, 2005

It is often the case that reading lists cannot be fulfilled by an academic institution’s own library, vastly due to expense. This could lead to a student missing a vital section of research that would have greatly added to their assessment. But, does a student expect to spend money on additional texts? Should a student wish to purchase a scholarly text, the price can become rather daunting for your average twenty-year-old, who has been using pasta with sweet corn as their main nutritional source for the last week. Supplementary textbooks are often readily available in libraries (as well as to purchase), however research monographs are expensive due to their specific fields of interest, making them scarce in libraries. This becomes a problem for a student of the arts and humanities who requires this niche research in order to complete their own work.

It is in an institution’s prerogative to support the learning of its scholars. There is a potential solution to this – interlibrary loans. The OAPEN-UK project found that when accessing a book, only 4.1% of people used an interlibrary loan, compared to 35.2% of people who bought their own copy. Normally a library, or student, has to pay to put in a request for an interlibrary loan once they have reached their quota, depending upon the university policy. Interlibrary loans can be time consuming, and even unfruitful. An especially difficult time to attain an interlibrary loan is when assessments are due. As the library becomes busier and more loans are requested, the process becomes even longer.

In Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier, Robin P. Peek writes “Paper has served us fairly well over the years. Before an acceptable alternative was available there was little reason to give serious discussion to abandoning it as a vehicle.” In an academic utopia, every library would have a printed copy of all the texts that anybody needed or wanted. But this is unfeasible. A library has to pay for the books it has, and a library only has so much money to spend. However, it is hypothetically doable with a suitable online library or even open access e-books.

What about Open Access? 

Peek describes, “A scholar wants people to read his or her work. For a work to be read, it must be found.” There is one very controversial suggestion that aims to solve library issues – Open access (OA).

As Martin Paul Eve explains in his book, Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future, “The term “open access” refers to the removal of price and permission barriers to scholarly research. Open access means peer-reviewed academic research work that is free to read online and that anybody may redistribute and reuse, with some restrictions.” Many people who have reacted to this issue have claimed that OA is pragmatically unmanageable. On an economic scale how can OA be executed? How would labour that sustains OA be subsidised and who would pay for that? Certain websites have been created to push the OA movement. It could be argued that, should all scholarly publishing move over to a digitalised platform, there would perhaps be little expense and upkeep to be done, except on an editing level. This is the fantasy that OA is trying to fulfill.

Will an evolution to digital take place in academic publishing? Credit: Jorghex, 2007
Will an evolution to digital take place in academic publishing? Credit: Jorghex, 2007

The issue that academics take with OA is: why should they pour their time and efforts into a book, for it to be free? Where is the incentive? If the incentive stops, the writing stops. If the writing stops, the learning will be damaged.

Largely, the costs within scholarly publishing lie within the editing process. We place a massive amount of trust and value within scholarly texts and this must not be tarnished by avoidable errors. The value of academic publishing would become stale should the reader encounter mistakes within the texts, thus shattering the trust that the reader has placed within the author. On top of this, an editor is not simply a person who scribbles over a manuscript; they manage a project from concept to completion, and that kind of service is invaluable.

Eve continues to explain; “open access relies upon the potential of the internet to disseminate work almost indefinitely at a near-infinitesimal cost-per-copy. This is because, in the digital world, the majority of costs lie in the labour to reach the point of dissemination rather than in the transmission of each copy. Open access was not, therefore, truly feasible in times before this technology; OA requires the digital environment and the internet.” A model of free business has been advocated in the digital age. With an ever-expanding online web of knowledge, free information is perhaps being thrust upon businesses. The business of scholarly publishing is not exempt from this tsunami of thought – the thought of “freeconomics”. Knowledge on all matters is accessible at the click of a few buttons, and if scholarly publishing wishes to withstand the test of time, it must evolve.

In an interview for this article, William Hughes, Bath Spa University English Literature lecturer and academic writer, said:

“Online publishing, for me, doesn’t carry the same prestige as print. People want to own something physical and produce something physical.

If there was a consensus across the writing and printing spectrum, the shift would have happened by now, digital is not a superior medium of publishing yet. It might become one when the computer literary generation take over. Those who are enthusiastic about digital publishing, will want, and get, everyone else to do it.”

A Final Word

Peek states, “Technology often moves faster than society is prepared to deal with the changes.” When we increasingly receive much of our news and information through the internet and digital media, it only makes sense for academic texts to be made available digitally. Peek predicts that, ‘Someday digitalized publication will be the scholarly norm, not because it is the “high-tech” thing to do but because it is the logical thing to do.’ Digital technology feeds the cultural demand that society has for information. But before this shift takes place, a suitable medium must be designed which is applicable for all forms of publishing.

Will Amazon Eventually Kill all High Street Bookshops?

Established in 1994 as a simple online bookstore, Amazon has grown to become one of the world’s largest retailers. In 2012, The Codex Group found that 41% of new book unit purchases came from Amazon, as well as 65% of all new book units worldwide; highlighting the online giants’ dominating force in the book industry. The Bookseller revealed 2012 to be the first year in which book purchases online were higher than from high street outlets. This highlights a drastic change in the retail environment, marked by a consumer shift to online shopping that is extremely threatening for high street booksellers. Many see trends such as this as the long awaited curtain call for booksellers, as customers flood to Amazon’s extremely low prices and convenience. However, there is evidence to suggest that the local bookshop is not quite finished yet.

Amazon’s Appeal

The largest thorn in the side of high street books shops is Amazon’s extremely low pricing. Just one example is David Walliams’ new book The Midnight Gang; sold at Waterstone’s for £9.99, whereas Amazon offers it for just £5. On average, according to Slate magazine, you can expect to save between 30-50% if you buy books from Amazon, rather than a high street outlet. Effectively, Amazon has made buying from high street shops a luxury.

Another element is the availability of customer reviews, one simply has to scroll down to see a list of reviews for a book, and this influences buyers immensely. Stock limitation is a major issue for physical bookstores as there is only so much space available. An article from Bookmasters notes that as a result, popular titles may have sold out or the outlet may just not have what you want. Buying from Amazon avoids this issue completely.

The E-book Market

An explosion in e-book readership in recent years, influenced by the presence of tablets and e-readers (especially the Kindle) has had a very detrimental effect on the high street bookshop. This is simply due to that fact that the vast majority of booksellers do not trade in e-books; therefore, any reader who moves to e-books is effectively money out of their pockets.  A survey taken in 2016 by The Codex Group found 32.4% of the participants were e-book readers. 30 years ago, this 32.4% would have been just another part of the print market.  When you consider that the same study found that Amazon accounts for 74% of all US e-book purchases, you realise the scale of the company’s influence in the phenomenon.

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Copy right – GoodEReader

Amazon Books: Amazon’s Physical Stores

In 2015, Amazon unveiled the first of the three currently open physical bookstores known simply as Amazon Books. The stores are stocked with titles selected based on data collected from Amazon.com and Goodreads. The sentiment of the stores are to merge the online and physical shopping experience. Aside from buying items there and then, you can also order them online from the store, download a book to your Kindle, or add a product to your Amazon wish list. This has created a completely new way of shopping where Amazon has used its online advantage against regular bookshops. Interestingly, aside from an about page, Amazon has said little and less regarding the new venture; not even so much as a press release regarding their intentions for this move, which is widely speculated.

An article featured in New York Times in 2016 begged the question “So why does [Amazon] need physical stores at all?”. A distinct prevalence of electronic Amazon gadgets throughout the store was mentioned, raising the possibility that the stores are merely fronts to showcase these electronic products in the same manner as Apple Stores.

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Copy right – University Village

According to a source for Bookmasters, Amazon has plans to open 300-400 stores across the U.S. Tech Reporter Greg Bensinger, states that if these plans came into fruition, then it would put Amazon as the number 2 in the U.S behind Barnes & Noble in terms of physical outlets. This is a very threatening image for bookstores, as the online giant would transform into a high street giant.

Amazon’s Expansionist Growth

Part of Amazon’s success stems from its refusal to be pigeonholed to a specific area and this makes bookstores nervous. The New Yorker noted in 2014 that of Amazon’s annual revenue of 75 billion dollars, only 7% came from book sales. This lack of reliance on the book trade draws into question whether Amazon truly cares about the industry, unlike traditional booksellers who rely on it utterly.

Amazon’s expansion over profit-orientated growth is another cause for concern. According to figures from The Wall Street Journal between 1995 and 2015, Amazon amassed over $400 billion in sales, however less than $2 billion in profit, which may account for the huge product discounts. Some are concerned that this is part of a long-term strategy to price the competition out of business, then amp up their prices when consumers have nowhere else to shop.

Despite their current success, there are signs that Amazon cannot keep up what they are doing forever. Amazon often offers free or discounted shipping especially to Prime Members. NYU Professor, Scott Galloway, notes the Amazon cannot sustain this practice, dubbing it “an Achilles heel of Amazon” as by offering free delivery, Amazon must pick up the bill themselves.

What State is the High Street Bookstore in?

High street bookshops have taken a big hit in the past decade. According to The Guardian, in 2005 independent bookstores witnessed a 40% drop and are still declining today. Book selling chains have also suffered, James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstone’s, oversaw major cutbacks; the closure of underperforming shops and many staff redundancies were the only solutions.

Daunt stated to Management Today, that a major issue is that financial setbacks of the past have led to the online presence of Waterstone’s to suffer. This appears to be a widespread trend, making it no wonder that the sector suffers so much in today’s online orientated retail environment.

The Benefits of High Street Bookshops

Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books, argues that Amazon’s interest in brick-and-mortar stores highlights the value and relevance physical bookstores hold in today’s world. This may very well be true, as selling through this avenue does hold a number powerful draws. The ability to look and feel through books cannot be underestimated; it is a very enjoyable process for book lovers, evoking an emotional response to the store. Bookshops also create a great sense of community, bringing together readers and creating face-to-face dialogues between them; something that Amazon is currently incapable of replicating.

Bookshops are great places to discover new books; in 2013, Enders Analysis estimated that random discovery of books produces as much as two thirds of the UK’s total book sales, most of which took place in bookshops.

 The Importance of Bookstores

Features editor at The Bookseller, Tom Tivnan stresses that authors hold huge value in bookshops for the discoverability of new books. This especially speaks to mid-range to fresh authors who lack an existing following. Resultantly, authors and publishers alike want to keep bookshops alive.

Joe Henry, the director of Book Market Research, determined at the 2012 Bowker’s annual conference that the value bookshops brought to the book industry was around $450 million in that year alone. Furthermore, The Bookseller noted that consumers over 35 (60% of the population of the UK) value bookshops over online outlets; this is important as wealth is increasingly being pooled in older demographics. The magazine also estimates that when a bookshop closes, around a third of its sales move to another bookstore and the rest disappears from the industry completely. This professes dire consequences for the printed book industry if the high street bookshop died.

Booksellers respond

Waterstone’s and other booksellers have been countering Amazon by adopting one of their tactics, selling more non-book products. These usually include; post cards, maps, stationary and items to that extend. James Daunt notes that the trick is to sell items that complement the general selection of the shops and encourages book sales.

Offering bonus material is another strategy. In 2013, booksellers including Waterstone’s and Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, have signed exclusive deals with publishers to obtain bonus material for copies sold in their stores.

Another way that bookstores have been able to one-up Amazon is by holding special events for reader-author interaction. For example, the independent store Booka has become a point of attraction for many book lovers across the Midlands, who come to hear writers such as Michael Morpurgo and Martin Bell giving talks and answering questions.

booka.jpg
Copy right – Bookabookshop

The effectivity of this technique for booksellers has been in persuading readers to turn away from Amazon remains to be seen, however, it is an interesting example of how high street bookshops can exploit the physicality of their outlets in a way that Amazon cannot.

 

Why Bookstores are not dead  

Though high street bookshops have suffered massively of late, the damage seems to be plateauing. Flavourwire noted a level of growth in bookshop sales in 2015 which was the best in recent history and according to a study by The US Census Bureau in January 2015 this was a growth of 2.5%, totalling at $11.17 billion, compared to $10.89 billion of the previous year. Although bookstore sales are not quite back to their former height of $17 billion as they were in 2007, The Guardian states that amount of closures has decreased from a rate of 7% to 5%.

Unless Amazon has any other tricks up its sleeves it is clear that the local high street bookshop is, at least for the time being, not finished yet and very much alive and kicking still with much to offer the modern reader.

 

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The Academic Screen; The Next Step for Higher Education?

We teach the next generation to decipher words on a page, but as the form of what constitutes a page shifts, so does the nature of reading.” 

– The Huffington Post

For those reading for academic use, there is a never ending variety of research material available. But in the last decade it would seem that the higher education system has changed, encouraging the use of digital books as a learning resource.

In terms of higher education, academic reading constitutes articles, textbooks and monographs. University libraries across the country now store digital copies of this academic material, but what does it take for a student to opt for the digital version rather than the printed?

Cue the eBook.

Reading digital books (otherwise known as eBooks) have become a part of our reading culture. Today many college and university student’s own devices that will allow them to access and store digital books. It would seem as though using the digital alternative to print, for academic purposes at least, is the natural progression given the way our society today. For example, just look at how you are reading this article.

bookshelf
What does the future look like for University libraries? © Flickr

Access

Accessing information can be stressful for students and being dependent on libraries and bookshops is not always ideal. Today, students in high education especially, need a quick fix.

An advantage to using eBooks in the higher education is the ability to access academic material that may not be available to read in print. For example, old articles might be damaged or fragile and therefore not open to the public. In this scenario, it is not a case of either or, but the only option.

Having access to eBooks can also broaden a student’s research material. Academic scholar Sarah Emily Duff, reports on behalf of The Guardian her own experience with academic resourcing. She regards digital books as a contribution to education as they allow ‘us to open up access to our research to a far wider audience’. Duff seems to point out an important aspect of eBooks – they are universal.

Will digital books overtake print?

Since the rise of digital books, the publishing world has over debated the famous “print is dead” theory. However, could there be some truth with regards to academic reading?

Academic websites are rapidly growing and students are responding to this. Universities across the country subscribe to a variety of websites like Project Gutenberg and Jstor, simply because they understand the demand for easy access to information.

Project Gutenberg is an online website that offers their users 53,000 free eBooks to choose from. I can’t imagine the library would let you take out that many at a time. This organization specializes in creating digital books to preserve cultural work. Websites as such essentially become digital archives for books that libraries have no room for, or like mentioned before, are not allow to stock.

Do not be mistaken, education is still about quality over quantity, but hypothetically speaking, being able to access a lot of research will surely enable students to find quality, quicker.

Libraries have their limits.

Taking out libraries books has its limitations regardless if you are an academic or not. Sometimes libraries do not anticipate the demand for certain books, or the quantity some readers may need. Being able to access countless amounts of reading material online is something that overcomes this issue, and favors eBooks over print in the higher education system.

Although, as much as easy access is an advantage, it also raises the concern as to trust.

Just like reading online, eBooks have readers concerned with how much they can trust the information in front of them. This is something that compromises the integrity of eBooks and should be a concern to the academic reader.

In February early this year, statistics were taken with regards to eBooks sales on Amazon. Indie books sold the most, being responsible for 45% of sales. Considering indie books are self-published, it is evident that there is a high percentage of material out there that can slip through a system of authoritative review.

So should we trust them?

For work to be published in print, an academic reader would associate this with trustworthiness and authority. Surely what an academic reader is looking for in order to validate their own work and ideas.

The editing process of a piece of work is put in place to ensure quality and legal accuracy. For eBooks, the academic reader is forced to take on the publisher’s role and ensure that what they are reading is creditable.

It would seem as though eBooks offer a great number of advantages with regards to access and building knowledge of a subject. However, it would seem that you would need to accept a lack of reliability with eBooks, which is not something students should be lenient on.

 Interaction

Interactivity is something eBooks offer to their readers as a way to engage with a piece of text, changing the traditional reading experience and providing readers with more options than ever before. But does interaction support academic readers?

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Education is a click away © Flickr

To understand what is meant by interactive reading, it is best to think of it as being more than just reading; it is two parties engaging with one another. Pedro Martinez-Estrada and Roger Conaway state that ‘electronic tablets offer the user a variety of functions other than the reading of books’. What is meant by this, is how reading has ironically become an aspect of digital books and not the main focus like with print.

With the advantages that come with interactivity, there also comes the drawbacks.

In a recent study 92% of students said that they prefer to hold a books in their hands. Writer Paul Theroux supports this data as he believes ‘something certainly is lost [with regards to digital books] – the physicality of a book, [and] how one makes a book one’s own by reading it’.

In a lecture given by publishing researcher, Alistair Horne, he discussed the progress eBooks have made and also the setbacks that they have faced in previous years. Statistics have demonstrated that eBook sales have been decreasing whilst bookshop sales increase. It would seem Horne’s research aligns with Theroux’s theory.

The invention of the amazon kindle in 2007 was a big game changer in terms of digital publishing. You can download thousands of eBooks for a much cheaper price and carry around your own library.

Drawing upon interactivity, Kindles not only allow you to highlight, bookmark and find definitions, but even adjust visuals such as font, sizing and layout. The role of the publisher is yet again handed over to the reader but in a positive light.

Even though one can also read eBooks on other portable devices such as mobiles, laptops and iPads, the Kindle was specifically designed with a reader in mind. So what does this say about interaction? There is a need for it.

Matt Goolding, the Head of digital marketing at Ribbonfish, states that this generation is ‘geared better towards multimedia than in previous generations’. Essentially, advocating technology as an inevitable next step for the higher education system given that it has become a part of everyday lives.

Reading habits

book
© Pixabay

If we were to consider reading habits, it would seem that print is the best choice for higher education…

According to Alison Flood’s article for The Guardian, European scholars conducted a social experiment to understand how information is retained when reading on a kindle. Two groups were given the same story however one group read on kindles and the other on paper. Results showed that reading on paper allowed you to remember the most about the story.

To apply the result of the experiment to the question at hand, it would seem to discourage the use of eBooks for higher education. Retaining information is a prominent aspect of learning and therefore it is in the best interest of an academic reader to absorbs as much information as possible.

kindle
© Pexels

Despite the well-known stereotype that young adults are physically attached to their digital devices, many survey’s and research has shown that students actually prefer print when it comes to learning. Michael S. Rosenwald for The Washington Post reports that ‘readers tend to skim read on screens, distraction is inevitable and comprehension suffers’. Since technology is a part of our social lives, is seems only natural that the ability to differentiate between leisure and academic is blurred.

To Conclude

Digital books were a popular faze when they were new, and now they seem to have found a niche in the education system. Though it seems they have not necessarily become a significantly better option than print in terms of learning, it will most definitely remain as strong competition for print. Essentially they will become the vinyl equivalent; not completely extinct, but no longer the popular trend.

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What is the point of eReaders?

According to reports, Amazon controls 79% of the eBook market here in the UK. ‘When Apple announced the iPad with its iBookstore many people thought the inferior Kindle would be toast, but by letting people read Kindle books on any device, Amazon has preserved, and even arguably gained, marketshare.’ It is quite clear that many big companies see the eReader venture as a profitable one as there are many to choose from, even outside of Amazon, with Apple as ‘the second most-used e-book platform, with 9% of respondents saying it was their preferred choice’ and Google as the third most popular, being used by 8% of people.

However, since 2012 when eReader sales figures reached their peak of 40 million units worldwide, the numbers have begun to decline, last year only selling 20.2 million worldwide. So, what is the reason for this and would it be too far to think of eReaders as becoming redundant?

Why would you purchase an eReader?

One of the main selling points for Kindles and other eReaders is that they have a back lit, ‘glare-free screen’. This means that no matter where you are, what light you are in or how you are reading from your Kindle, you will always be able to do just that – read. Another aspect that many eReaders boast about is their lightweight feel and increased durability compared to tablets like the iPad, and let’s face it, we have all experienced or know many who have had to pay a huge fee to get their Apple device’s screen fixed. Another selling point is that eReaders also allow readers to store all their books in one device easily, usually without any annoying notifications popping up alerting you to your storage that is nearly full.

The newest release from Amazon, the Kindle Oasis, boasts that it ‘reads like the printed page’. But, it’s not the printed page, and with most of us used to smartphone, laptop and computer screens, why do we actually need this feature especially when, for a little more money, you could have a lot of components that are frankly, much better and anti-glare screen protectors are available for any device at a small fee.

Do you need an eReader?                                                                                                

Despite its shortcomings that seem to range over all the devices created by Apple, for example, software update issues, durability issues and charging problems, the Apple iPad sold over 58 million units worldwide in 2012 at the same time that eReaders reached their peak sales figures. Last year, in 2015, these numbers dropped, but only slightly with Apple still selling nearly 55 million iPads. These figures alone show that Apple has a much wider audience and is bringing digital print to a larger number of people even if that is not one of their main goals. The way we’re consuming books is constantly evolving and with a bigger screen, access to the internet and millions of apps and a camera are only some of the versatile aspects of an Apple iPad and many other tablets now available on the market. Despite Apple’s high price tags being common knowledge, there are many other tablets available if you are willing to shop around from the likes of Sony, Samsung, Microsoft and Amazon who released a range of Kindle Fire devices. Darren Laws, CEO of UK Publisher, Caffeine Nights says that “Amazon’s next challenge, and that of the publishing industry, will be how to transition older readers to newer technology than eReaders. This may take some time or be a natural progression as the market matures, so dedicated eReaders may be around for a while yet.”

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©️ MediaShift

The introduction of the independent Kindle App available on tablets and smartphones have allowed consumers to completely bypass Kindle eReaders altogether. The app, which is free on the iOS App Store, Google Play Store and the Microsoft Store allow both Apple device users and android users to gain the same experience of reading without buying a Kindle, with the option to change the colours, brightness, text size and ability to highlight sections of text which you can return to later. In fact, most tablets have their own app already installed on their devices so it is not even necessary to download another app for your digital reading needs. For example, Apple devices come with iBooks, and android ones have Google Play Books ready and waiting for users to read from.

Hang on, do you even need a tablet?

The answer is no, not if you don’t want one. With smartphones being released all the time with bigger screens than ever before (like the Apple 6 and 7 plus, and Amazon Fire Phone), the inconvenience of reading on a screen that is small enough to fit in your pocket is becoming less of a concern to avid readers. Currently, an enormous 2.1 billion of us have a smartphone of our own all with the same apps included on a tablet that make reading easier for us. According to research, only 18% of older readers say that they can read a digital book just as well as on a tablet whilst this figure jumps to 32% for those aged between 18-34. With titles like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which remained a bestseller for weeks, all the way to The Three Little Pigs by Nosy Cow, the content existing on apps like iBooks is extremely wide and versatile even allowing users to download audiobooks. In fact, last year, an author named Iain Pears created an app that he claimed was actually necessary to understand his novel, Arcadia. An app that is free to purchase, claims that ‘the strands of story could be mixed or kept separate offered a liberation from those shackles known as genres’ showing that this innovative invention brings a greater and more interesting experience to readers who use smartphones.

Of course, there is always the option to completely ignore digital reading and stick to paperbacks, the tried and tested form which still remains its popularity. With no need for a power source and print being easier on the human eye, it has many qualities that other methods cannot produce. Dr. Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University says, “I don’t foresee the extinction of print books with the rise of digital reading, especially if print publishers are sensible and don’t try to fight the convenience of digital technologies.”

Illegal Downloads

Unfortunately, for authors, publishers and booksellers, whether their audiences are using an eReader or a tablet, a smartphone or a laptop, typing in a book title on a search engine will pop up thousands of results, some of which are sure to be what you are looking for. The Booksellers Association released a video earlier this year featuring Nic Bottomley, the owner of independent bookseller Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, located in Bath, ‘urging people not to illegally download creative content such as e-books, or risk destroying the industry’. However, whilst these illegal pdf, mobi and epub files are not always the easiest to read due to the reader not being able to change text size, font etc., a survey indicated that infringers ‘downloaded the works illegally because it is easy (60%), quick (48%) and free (44%)’, factors that are enough to tempt many.

The Future of eReaders

The future of eReaders is uncertain because the industry has already taken multiple routes to improving readers’ digital reading experience. Matt Graham, Technical Consultant at app developer Apadmi in London pointed out: “I think eReaders will maintain their popularity. Amazon has by no means killed the eReader, because its tablets and phones do not replicate any of the USPs of an eReader, namely very long battery life, the ability to read in bright light, and no eye strain when reading for prolonged periods.” In the two years after this statement, Amazon has begun developing their eReaders in a more sophisticated direction, shown by their newest release, the Kindle Oasis, and innovation has begun to close the gap between eReaders, tablets and smartphones with the release of the YotaPhone, the world’s first dual screen smartphone, with an e-ink screen featuring on the back and five days’ reading possible on a single charge bringing those USPs mentioned by Graham to the smartphone industry.

 

 

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eBooks and eReaders: help or hindrance to Special needs education?

Living in a world where eBooks, eReaders and Tablets are thriving, there is a range of evidence detailing the advantages of each one. We know that convenience, portability and adaptability are all advantages for those who are able to access them with ease, but what about those unable to do so?

Ever since the introduction of electronic devices and books, there have been debates regarding how effective they are for those who do not necessarily have the same abilities as others; and whether or not they are suitable for those with certain educational requirements. The purpose of eBooks/ eReaders is to allow users to experience a greater sense of involvement with each piece of content; yet is this possible for every single user? If so, what is there in place to make them helpful to those with special educational needs, to allow them to engage with learning on an equal level as other students?

Special Education: What is it? Why do we need Assistive Technology?

“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others… Disability resides in the society not in the person.”

Special education is the term used to describe teaching within schools that has been specifically designed for students with learning difficulties and disabilities, and is more often than not, something where extra tools are needed to assist each individual’s needs. Students with SEND – Special Educational Needs and Disabilities – are often affected in the way they behave; their ability to read and write; their concentration levels; and their physical abilities.

It is one specific type of education where eBooks, eReaders and Tablets are invaluable in allowing students to gain an equal education, like others, and enabling learning in a way best suited to their abilities.

For many SEND students, being able to gain a worthwhile education can sometimes be affected by the lack of bespoke teaching resources available. This can often be seen as something which even furthers society’s idea that these students are different, incapable and often outsiders to others within education. For many students, mainly at Primary School education level, this hindrance has had significant impacts on the way they interact within society, since they are being excluded from those students who, society value as ‘normal’. (DISCLAIMER: This word is an awful comment to use for there is no evidence or fact, as to what makes a person a ‘normal’ human being. The OED defines normal as; Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional)

Interactivity and Assistive Technology

Assistive technology is defined as…

“Mainstream technology that can be used with either no or minimal adaptation by a person with a disability as an accessible technology. It is also seen as technology that provides social inclusion, such as communication and interaction, for people with disabilities”

In order to understand the benefits of eBooks and eReaders for those within special education, it is important to understand each item. An eBook is defined as, “an electronic version of a traditional print book that can be read by using a personal computer or by using an eBook reader”. For the majority of eBooks, it often means adding the ability to interactive with the text and alter it in ways suited to the user. It is this type of alteration, specifically designed to suit each individual user’s requirements, which is associated with the concept of inclusive technology.

Having technology that allows for alterations to be made, such as; text size, spoken words, and voice controls – makes it highly suitable for those with special educational needs, especially when it comes to learning the national curriculum. Whilst searching through the different features of each inclusive technology, it becomes very clear both as to how useful technology can be, and how much many take for granted the endless possibilities available to every single user.

 Apple and Special Needs Education 

“Innovative technologies allow every student to experience the fun and function of iOS”

One of the leading technology companies, which specialises in eReaders/tablets, is the world’s most renowned brand Apple. They are a company most known for their iPhone and iPad ranges which provide users with a real sense of interactivity, along with the chance to carry out a wide range of activities with ease. This is especially true for their iPad range, for it is one which is extremely useful for SEND students, as its features provide so many different possibilities for them to gain an equal education similar to their peers. The fact that Apple have a section on their website dedicated to those with special needs, highlights both how useful and important, inclusive technology is for students, and how different companies focus on every single consumer’s needs. Of course, for brands like Apple or Kindle, there is – and always will be – a need for them to sell products to as many as possible, but the fact that they are willing to use their power to meet the needs of those SEND students, highlights the importance of tailoring software to be accessible to every user. Apple’s bespoke software designs are ones which provide an invaluable opportunity for students to gain an equal education because it provides the chance to make adaptations suited for every different need a user may have.

Within Apple’s extensive list of features – of which can be adapted for every user – there is a feature known as ‘guided access’. This is probably one of the most effective features for SEND students because, not only does it allow for them to easily navigate a task, but it allows students to stay focused working on a specific task. Teachers are able to manipulate the device so that students are unable to exit the app used for the task until required.

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Apple’s Guided Access

This is something that is further proof of the ways in which inclusive technology can in fact be a help to those requiring extra forms of assistance within their education.

The limitations of bespoke educational materials

As much as it is okay to state the many advantages of the available inclusive technology, there are also a series of disadvantages which come with the attempts to make education more accessible for SEND students. One of the main disadvantages is the issue surrounding Braille. The concept of Braille is, “to designate a system of embossed printing for the blind… In this system the symbols for the letters, etc., are composed of raised dots arranged in different ways.”

In order for eBooks created in Braille to be useful for those students with sight impairments, it would require schools to possess eReaders/ Tablets which are specifically designed for those reading in Braille. This in itself has both a limitation with regards to the cost that is involved in purchasing these forms of specialised technology; and the fact that there is a limited amount of specialist devices available. It has been shown that one single line of Braille would cost an average of £2000 to create. Furthermore, the range of eBooks which can be accessed within Braille are of an even lower rate than the available devices. This fact – despite the many different and wonderful advantages of using inclusive technology within schools – is something which is sadly, a hindrance to the education of SEND students.

Nevertheless, there may be a small glimmer of hope from the competitors of Apple, for Kindle – alongside the University of Michigan – have begun plans to develop more bespoke Braille e-Readers. Although they are not something which will be widely available within the next 5 years, the fact that they are in the process of trying to make digital publishing accessible to all users is an incredible breakthrough; especially for students.

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University of Michigan’s Braille eReader

Another limitation is the issue of copyright. In a perfect world it would be incredible to say that every publisher is willing to create eBooks in order to allow for them to be adapted; unfortunately this is not the case. Copyright, alongside a publishing company’s willingness to adapt, quite often limits the availability of books adapted to suit the needs of all readers.

Copyright with regards to eBooks is a topic which is not truly set in stone, as it is one which cannot always be fully controlled or monitored. At first, when eBooks started to increase in sales DRM – Digital Rights Management – was put in place to help control what a user does with the content they have purchased. Now for a school, using several different iPads to share the same content to students, having a DRM in place would often limit the amount of devices that could be used at once. Even though DRM is, “intended to inhibit unauthorized access to or copying of digital content files”, it is a legal implication which could prevent SEND students from all being capable of accessing the same educational material, in the format specific to their needs.

Conclusion

Aside from the obvious legal implications which are going to affect any piece of published content – digital or print – it is very clear e-Books and e-Readers are a significant help to those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. With the ever-changing world of digital publishing, alongside advances in technology, there will hopefully be a time where all users with very different needs, will be able to make the most of eBooks and eReaders to help improve their education, and ultimately their lives.

 

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Feature Image: © Michael Coghlan