Can We Stop Book Piracy?

A pirate in 2016 is far removed from the image of Jack Sparrow behind the wheel of a ship; it can be anyone with a computer and a desire to obtain a digital product without spending any money.

It’s surprisingly simple to find illegal copies of any kind of media. Even to an amateur, pirating software, music or even books takes only a google search and a careful eye on what is being downloaded. There are often whole websites dedicated to helping people find what they’re looking for, some utilising forums that allow people to make a request and have someone else fulfil it. A google search for top pirating websites brings up results for Reddit forums listing good websites, fully vetted and tested by others for quality content. On the part of the pirate, there’s very little effort involved to deter them from the activity. What is there to stop people from illegal downloads?

Rates of media consumption across 2015-2016. Source: Intellectual Property Office.

Overview of Piracy

Consumption of media online has slowly risen over the past year, and with it the number of 12-24 year olds who are the primary offenders for online illegal infringement. 20% of those over 12 who consumed TV shows and movies online did so illegally, with 39% of all media consumption being downloaded and 52% streamed. When asked for the main motivations for choosing their method of consuming media – legal or illegal – people responded that convenience and the speed of which they could access what they wanted were the top influences on their media habits. This goes someway in explaining some of the basic reasoning for why people choose to go through illegal means to obtain pirated copies of software, music or books. If it’s easier than the legal method, people will inevitably use it.

It sets up a seemingly simple solution to the problem of piracy: make it difficult for people to do so, and they will have no choice but to go through legal means to buy eBooks or other media forms. This was the thinking behind DRM (Digital Rights Management). Unfortunately, DRM has become a controversial topic, with people doubting its effectiveness in combatting piracy, and blaming it as part of the reason why people would pirate eBooks and software in the first place.

The Issue With DRM

Put simply, DRM is meant to prevent content from being shared between devices and users without the consent of the publisher. In theory, it’s a good thing. Just like alarms in shops, DRM functions by preventing people from attaining something that they haven’t paid for. It’s hard to argue against it without seeming to be arguing for the right to steal content with ease. The issue many people have is that DRM goes beyond stopping you at the doors with a bag full of unpaid goods. DRM locks your copy of Microsoft Word, your Amazon movie or your eBook, and dictates what you can do with it even if you have paid for it legally.

This is the point where people turn against DRM. Consumers can pay for a product and not have complete control over what they do with it, or even in some cases, no say on if they get to keep it once they’ve purchased it. In terms of eBooks, DRM prevents readers from sharing the files or reading the book across platforms by locking it into one format. For example, reading your Amazon-purchased eBook on Apple’s iBooks application is rendered impossible. The lure of pirating eBooks is the ability to eliminate these issues entirely. Pirated eBooks come in every format, from PDF to EPUB to .Mobi, making it a choice of selecting your preferred format and adding it to your virtual library. Without DRM, it’s also possible to share your eBook with friends, much like with a physical book, only without the risk of not having it returned to you.

Bridging the Gap Between Digital and Physical

Source: Amazon

In an attempt to try to make the legal consumption of eBooks more closely match the experience of owning a physical book – and in turn match the benefits that DRM-free eBooks offer – Amazon have created two schemes that change how Kindle books work.


The Lending Library allows Amazon Prime Kindle users to access Amazon’s system of pre-approved eBooks and borrow them for free. The catch is that it only allows one book to be borrowed per month, something that a dedicated book lover won’t find much use for, especially as a £79 per year membership is required in order to use the Lending Library. A further downside is the restricted selection of eBooks on offer, which dampens the benefit of being able to borrow them for free.

Amazon’s Loan or Borrow feature focuses on the issue of not being able to lend a purchased eBook to another person. It works by the lender sending the eBook to the borrower via email, and for the duration of the borrower having it, the lender is unable to view the eBook. This approach cuts out the problem of needing to create a duplicate copy of the book in order to give it to someone else and allows people to engage in the normal behaviour of sharing books with other people. Despite initially being launched in 2010 the scheme remains US-only, and has the drawback of only allowing a book to be given to a friend for 14 days before it is returned to the person that has paid for it. Along with that, it won’t work for eBooks purchased outside of Amazon, leaving the only way of sharing non-Amazon eBooks as sending a pirated copy or physically giving your eReader to someone else.

In theory, Loan and Borrow brings the experience of owning an eBook closer to that of a physical book, but Amazon’s failure to expand the feature globally suggests that it’s just not caught on or popular among readers.

How Much of an Issue is Piracy?

The failure of programs like Loan or Borrow by Amazon, or even attempts to create a Netflix for books, implies that the problem of piracy in the book industry isn’t dire enough to justify an overhaul of how eBooks are sold and consumed.

book infringement.png
Rates of illegal activity for Books in the UK between 2015-2016. Source: Intellectual Property Office.

The UK book market is worth £0.6 billion, £46 million (8%) of that is attributed to eBooks. During March-May of 2016, only 7% of people in the UK who consumed eBooks were found to have done so illegally. It’s a 1% increase from 2015.  Not only is the pirating of books only affecting 8% of the UK book industry, its growth isn’t particularly alarming.

It’s a small percentage of people to have used illegal methods of reading eBooks when compared to the 15% of people who illegally consume movies, or 13% for music. The piracy of eBooks just isn’t as lucrative as other forms of media.

They coverage that book piracy gets is telling towards the attitude the industry has for it. When eBook piracy is discussed online, often it will be the authors who are at the frontlines, pushing for change and scouring the internet for the websites that host the pirated books in order to take them down. They are the ones starting a dialogue with their readers about why they pirate their books, as well as promoting alternative solutions, such as libraries, that avoid methods that take money away from the publishing industry. Authors such as Joanne Harris take it a step further and talk to those outside their readership with the help of platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, addressing the impact book piracy has on authors, as well as calling out the faulty logic of those that try to defend digital piracy.

Publishers’ input on the problem is more muted. They use DRM to try to make it more difficult for pirates to share the books, and they often place a page in the eBooks warning against illegal copies and have an email address to report illegal activity, but beyond that the discussion isn’t as intense. It suggests that eBook piracy is at the stage where, for the most part, DRM does enough to hinder it. Some publishers, such as Tor, have ditched it entirely, but the majority seem content to continue using it as its main method of prevention.

Where Does that Leave Us?

There are many different paths that can be taken in the search for how to expand and enhance the security for eBooks, whether it’s finding a model similar to Netflix and Spotify that brings a wider array of availability to consumers at affordable prices, or following Tor books in removing DRM to allow access across all platforms. Whatever the solution may be, the timing clearly hasn’t been right yet for people to make the move to back it.


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.


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

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

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.


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

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

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.’


Are reader apps shaping a new generation of readers?

According to a recent study, of 1,500 adults, by The Book Trust36% [of those asked] often start a book but get bored and 35% cannot find the time to read.’ Thanks to the abundance of different social media platforms available at your fingertips, the world of digital publishing is having to evolve to accommodate the busy reader. Which begs the question ‘So how do you sell books to somebody who doesn’t normally read? […] Make them shorter, cheaper, more plot-driven and more widely available’.

Nowadays the book itself is seen as more of an object of nostalgia. Due to a society where information is processed rapidly publishers have to create new ways for their consumer to read with as little effort on their part as possible. This emergence of convenience first resulted in the development of the eBook on a tablet or Kindle, however even now they are becoming outdated. Today publishers are utilising the convenience of the smartphone to create reader apps, on which literature can be published and read, without the need to carry round a large tablet or even selection of books. But what are reading apps, and what do they mean for the future of digital publishing?


How did we start reading digitally?

reader apps bookshelf.png  Firstly, let’s look at the beginnings of digital reading. In 2007, Amazon revolutionised publishing and the way we read with its release of the Kindle. The corporate mega-giant promised us an e-reader, a digital book that provided convenience and ease of reading anywhere you could imagine. So great was the need for this reading platform that it resulted in the Kindle being sold out within the first 5 hours of it being available to order and it still continued to be almost impossible to order due to its high demand for another 5 months. However, despite this initial demand, e-readers such as the Kindle have become a thing of the past. Although e-readers may have introduced consumers to a way of reading digitally the future of digital publishing arguably lies firmly in the device we all hold in our hands, the smartphone. Amazon’s strongest selling point with the Kindle was the fact that it offered a way to read your favourite texts anywhere. However, although the e-reader is more convenient than carrying around 10 or so books for whenever you feel the need to read when out and about, surely it is more convenient for us to read on a device that we already carry around, our mobile phones?  This is where publishers turned to smartphone reading apps in order to keep their customers, the busy readers.


But what’s the difference between e-readers and reading apps?

In essence e-readers are a portable tablet or device that contains a library, specifically curated by the reader. This platform allows your consumer to read anywhere, given they have the device present, change font and typography size and thus make the reading experience easier and more comfortable for their individual needs. However, the devices can be clunky. E-readers have come under fire from critics for being outdated as why is it necessary to carry around a separate device? Yes it is more convenient than a physical library itself, but not as convenient as a phone. That’s why publishers turned to reading apps. In theory they work in a similar way to eBook readers as a library is available on a portable device, however the consumer doesn’t need to buy or carry around an extra device as these apps are available to download directly to your phone.


Spritz: The extreme reading app experience

The RSVP method changes word postioning in order for ease of read

Mobile reading apps aren’t necessarily all about reading on a small screen, personalising the size and typography of the text or having the ability to click on URL links. The future of digital publishing has expanded to meet the needs of the commuting mobile reader, and it has resulted in different types of reading apps themselves. One of the most extreme versions of reading apps that encompasses the whole need for speed and convenience is Spritz.  This new app uses Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) where ‘words are displayed either left-aligned or centred.’ RSVP has been adapted by publishers on digital publishing platforms, like Spritz, to increase the speed in which a piece can be read.  This app takes RSVP and uses this particular alignment of words to allow the reader’s brain to distinguish the full word or sentence from just parts of the word itself. Publishers have applied this technique to an app for Android and iOS to create a sensation of speed reading on any E-pub literature. In its purest essence Spritz allows the reader to read a piece of text on a mobile screen at a faster pace than their brains would be able to comprehend if the words were merely on paper, or even laid out in a traditional book style on an E-reader.


But why do we need to speed read on reading apps?

What is wrong with traditional digital publishing that just replicates a book on a digital platform? In essence publishers and authors have accepted the idea that ‘readers today have neither the time nor the capacity to reading especially long works of fiction.’ In a way Spritz solves this problem. Not only does it provide a way of reading that ensures that it is easier to read at speed, but also it is available on your smartphone for ease of access, creating reading as ‘to some, merely an app, on par with Angry Birds’.

However, how viable is this often trivialised digital reading platform for the general reader, rather than just the commuter or business professional? Guardian writer Rob Boffard took on the challenge of reading the lengthy Man Booker Prize winning novel, To Rise at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, which, ‘at 110,000 words or so, it’s not particularly lengthy, but given that the average adult reader clocks in at between 250 and 300 words per minute (according to a 2012 study), it would still take around six hours to finish.’ With the speed reading app Boffard could, in theory read and more importantly comprehend the story within 3 hours. Although this may seem unnecessary this speed of reading and greater comprehension that Spritz allows could revolutionise the way we read. Students could read lengthy text heavy literature on the bus using just their mobile phones. What’s more Boffard illustrated that Spritz works beautifully’ because it uses scientific visual recognition to ensure that the reader understands all the words on the page, and thus less time is lost compared to reading leisurely on a Kindle.

However, despite these fast-paced and convenient benefits to this particular reading app, there are drawbacks. Arguably, Spritz has an incredibly niche and restricted audience as a digital publishing platform. Spritz demands complete concentration as the words flash on the screen meaning that Boffard ended his experience in ‘agony […] My eyes were aching […] fingers had locked, claw-like, around my phone. And although I tried to take breaks, my neck was starting to ask very pointed questions about why I was putting it through this.’ Although the mobile app allowed the lengthy novel to be finished in 4 hours and 11 minutes the intense dedication it took to read the book was far from a pleasurable experience.

So, is Spritz itself as a mobile app going to overshadow e-readers as a reading platform? In short, no. Spritz provides a unique reading experience for a niche type of audience with a specific purpose, reading quickly. As Bofford explains in his analogy ‘At the moment, reading a novel on Spritz is like riding a unicycle from Shepherd’s Bush to Brick Lane. You can do it, but there are far more pleasant and logical ways to get there.’ Although Spritz and other mobile reading apps allow you to read more easily than on an e-reader and is more portable than carrying around a book it is highly unlikely that it would be used to read for pleasure as it gives the reader no opportunity to linger over sentence constructions and imagery, rather provides a tool for absorbing literature quickly.


So, are reader apps shaping a new generation of reader, or merely accommodating a growing consumer base?

All in all mobile apps cannot be ignored in the future of digital publishing. As long as smartphones are in a reader’s hand they will have the ability to act as a viable publishing platform. Rather than reader apps creating a new generation of readers that read on their mobiles, reading apps are actually allowing publishers to accommodate the already growing consumer group that have a need for a platform that is convenient.

However, are apps like Spritz arguably just an over exaggerated form of the convenience and speed that mobile readers want? It would be ignorant to ignore the possibility that reading apps will most likely over take e-readers as the next platform in digital publishing as they provide better ease of reading and are more convenient to the commuting reader. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that e-readers will go extinct, as much the same way that the nostalgia of hardback books didn’t disappear once the Kindle was launched. Rather these new developments in speed reading and mobile apps provide a platform for a specific type of reader to read a specific genre of literature. Evidently, reading will not be lost in a fast paced evolving world as ‘76% say that reading improves their life, and the same number says it helps to make them feel good.’, thus reading for pleasure and platforms that allow leisurely reading will always be an important consideration in digital publishing. Nevertheless, mobile apps provide an interesting new way of reading that publishers are taking full advantage of in the literature they publish on this platform and the writers they seek out.


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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.”

©️ 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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Do We Need Editors Anymore?

The age of the traditional editor is over, and has been for some time. The birth of the web provided new digital platforms that allow authors to publish themselves without the middle man. Over the last ten years, the change in the economics of publishing has shifted the responsibilities of a key role in the industry. From the breaking of the netbook agreement in the 1990s to the rise of Amazon selling both print and eBooks on the cheap, questions of the value of the written word have coincided with whether a traditional editor needs to be employed by publishers. Enter the market of self-published titles on digital shelves and the gatekeepers in their ivory towers look pretty precarious.

So, what’s an editor?

Is an editor one who simply uses a red pencil to whip a manuscript into shape, or a project manager monitoring cash flow and markets?

A podcast from Guardian Books, The Art of Editing barely scrapes the surface of an editor’s job in today’s digital world. Taking us from the mid-19th century to the present day, it discusses how the role has shifted from talent-spotters and copyeditors to a jack-of-all-trades with an understanding of markets, budgets and schedules. Literary agent Karolina Sutton suggests that it’s the commercial drive that affects the editorial role:

‘What great publishers do is they protect that corner of the market. So, what they do is they allow editors to work on manuscripts and they give them more time, and it’s perhaps less competitive; you can develop writers over a longer period even though the financial rewards are not immediate. That being said, it was a lot easier to protect that section of the market a few years ago, than it is now.’

Traditional publishing still relies on its editors to find content, refine it and turn it into a marketable product that generates revenue. But this has evolved. In the 1950s, former editor Diana Athill thought the idea of understanding the finances of publishing was not her job saying, ‘It is sad to think that we did not appreciate the luxury of not having to ask ourselves “is it commercially viable?” in those happy days before that question set in.’

But now, the editor’s role is driving revenue, balancing the costs and potential profits of the content they develop for the business. This idea is far removed from what many believe the role still is.

Do editors hold the keys to the literary kingdom?


Becoming an editor continues to be a dream role for many. Yet the idea that editors sit in beautiful offices and read manuscripts all day couldn’t be further from the truth. Senior editor Miranda Jewess laughed: ‘I wish I could sit and read books all day. That would be perfect. I haven’t been able to do that in a long time.’ Editors now are the shapers and curators of content: part project managers, part list makers.

In addition, as new degrees begin to emerge, such as Creative Writing and Publishing, more young people are coming to the industry with publishing know-how. Publishing houses have applicants from a diverse educational background – not just the same English Literature graduates of the past – with Penguin announcing it was scrapping degree requirements altogether. This has helped shape the shift: new employees bringing creativity and marketing skills to both in print publishing and digital in a new way.

With much of the traditional gatekeeping role of the editor in shaping and editing manuscripts becoming outsourced to freelancers, is digital self-publishing part of the shift too?

The Gatecrashers

The digital age has seen the rise of self-publishing. With the development of digital platforms for writing, authors no longer need to rely on publishers to print and distribute their work now that the cost of printing books no longer needs to be part of the equation. Diana Athill explains:

‘The person with whom the writer wants to be in touch is his reader: if he could speak to him directly, without a middleman, that is what he would do.’

Vanity publishing, as it was known, has been around for a long time, with many notable authors self-publishing, including Lawrence Sterne and the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy.

Its evolution onto the digital platform starts with blogs, when authors could upload their content to their own site and get readers for free. It was also a way for authors to get instant feedback in the comments section to improve their work. This also existed within the fanfiction realm, where message boards filled with stories would (and still can) continue for years, gathering readership and support.

Next, writers were thinking of ways to monetise their work, and subscription websites emerged. This way, avid readers could sign up to an author’s website, pay a small fee each month and continue to read the story. Sites such as function as a simple way for authors to gain money from self-published work.

But it’s the eBook that saw the greatest impact from self-published authors. With the success of Amazon’s Kindle platform, it’s easier and cheaper than ever for authors to distribute their work to readers. And because Amazon’s name is an established and trusted one as retailer, the high volume of potential readers encourages writers to see opportunities for sales. This is demonstrated in a report from Author Earnings which states ‘…“non-traditionally-published” books make up 60% of all Kindle ebooks purchased in the US’ (figures from 2015).

But is it good enough?

Many believe that eBooks don’t provide quality content for paying readers. Author Chuck Wendig, published both traditionally and self-published, discusses the complexities of this in a (colourfully phrased) blog post that hits on some key points. He argues that by allowing the publishing of unedited (or badly edited) material in the form of an eBook, self-publishers run the risk of devaluing not only traditionally published books but their own. This is even reflected in the extremely low prices that self-published authors sell their books at.

As publishing expert Michael Bhaskar says, ‘Good content is far easier to market; indeed, it markets itself far, far better than bad.’

Outside the system

The quality of self-published books shouldn’t impact the role of the editor too heavily. Freelance editors are now available across the internet and are being used often by new writers as they begin to understand the need for quality writing.

A quick Google search shows how editors are in demand. Breaking the process down, authors can now select different editors based on requirements: a structural edit, a critique, a copyedit, a proofread, plot doctoring, etc. This idea of publishing services being ‘unbundled’  has resulted in new approaches, such as crowdfunding-style publishers Unbound, or bespoke publishing services like Whitefox. Book marketing expert Alison Baverstock says, ‘Publishing is emerging as a process…’

As well as the discussion of quality within eBooks, there is also a question of quantity and how that impacts the market. Bhaskar tweeted this from Frankfurt Book Fair:

©Michael Bhaskar


Editors as curators

Hoping to target readers in a more direct way is the idea of content curation. By carefully seeking out and publishing market-driven content, editors can ensure that well-constructed books reach readers. Curation can already be seen on the internet, with websites such as Editors can develop this into book form by embracing digital possibilities with their own knowledge and creativity.

What the digital future means

As innovations in technology continue to develop and be embraced by the entertainment industry – such as Virtual and Augmented Reality – book publishing appears to be falling behind. There are several reasons for this. Senior editor, Beth Lewis said,

They want us to develop an AR app for our books. Who’s going to code it? I don’t have time to learn. The IT department can’t do it. So who?

She went on to say how many trade publishers can’t afford to teach their staff, or hire new staff members, to be specialised in digital roles. And when it comes to imagining new digital possibilities, a recent report into the possibilities of academic digital publishing found that editors ‘lack […] involvement with, and in some cases [have a] sense of fear, of digital technology together with a distinct lack of knowledge in this area.’

But there are some positive results. The audiobook market has been increasing and there are interesting developments here, as highlighted in an essay from The Economist. Nosey Crow has an entire division based on storybook apps for children. The possibilities are out there for new editors to develop.

The development of the internet has changed the way we think of editors. Through the evolution of digital platforms for authors, the editor in both traditional and freelance terms must adapt to shifting requirements. The question of what an editor is or should be has, perhaps, become more complicated as it begins to merge with other areas, such as marketing.

And yet the need for the gatekeepers is still there. The value that editors bring to books, as well as the revenue they bring to publishers, is as important as ever in sustaining the publishing industry. As well as maintaining this quality control and curation, editors also need to look to the digital landscape as a way of bringing exciting new innovations to capture readers of the internet age.




Is There a Point to E-Books?

16 years ago, on March 14 at exactly 12.01am, publishing house Simon & Schuster released the very first e-book. The experimental release was a 67-page novella, Riding the Bullet by Stephen King. Within 24 hours of the release, half a million people had downloaded the e-book, heralding the experiment a success, as reported by Striphas in The Late Age of Print.

Since their initial triumph, have fiction e-books, if at all, found a place in the modern market and are they are as groundbreaking as publishers originally thought? This article aim to discuss if e-books are worth the bother and how well they have fared in 2016.

The Reality of E-book Sales

Subsequently, 16 years on, the e-book represents only a 24% share of the market, whereas the fact is print still dominates the remainder. Last year, print saw an increase of 0.4% to 2.76bn. This increase of sales is attributed to the phase of adult colouring books. Books such as Lost Ocean and The Secret Garden by illustrator Johanna Basford sold an estimated 12 million copies in 2015.

Print sales in 2016 are predicted to rise again, with the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in August. The play, written by Jack Thorne based on an original story by JK Rowling, sold 680,000 copies in the UK in the first 3 days of sale.

This boost in sales for print after years of faltering is the morale boost for those who momentarily saw a future without print in it. Amazon has opened its first bookshop. Sony has stopped producing e-readers. Waterstones have reduced their partnership with Amazon and the Kindle. The adult colouring book craze of 2015 is the perfect example of why people return to print, as Publishers’ Association states:

‘Readers take pleasure in a physical book that does not translate well on to digital.’

Despite these facts and figures, the leading market isn’t necessarily a good indication of who is reading what. E-books are underrepresented in sales figures, as a large percentage sold don’t have an ISBN number: in 2015, 37% of all e-books sold on Amazon were without ISBN numbers. Market statistics from Nielson ignore this form of digital publishing in their Year End Review, but websites such as report true e-book sales, including self-published titles.

Author Earnings uses a computer program called ‘Spider’ to track the unreported sales of e-books on Amazon. This may suggest that, although statistics from 2015 show the sales of e-books fell by 1.6% to £555m, it might not be the case that sales are declining. It may be that sales are becoming less visible as self-published fiction titles are gaining a larger share of the market.

E-book: Is Their Time and Use Limited?

The best-selling fiction genres of the e-book format are romance and fantasy. For some print readers, and Striphas in his book The Late Age of Print,these statistics would fulfill every stereotype of the typical e-book reader: disregarding quality content and only buying ‘crude copies of vaunted originals.’ As an example, 3 of the 5 top-selling Kindle books of all time are from EL James’ controversial erotic romance ‘novel’ Fifty Shades of Grey series.

The very term ‘e-book’ suggests that the digital presence of publishing is reliant on and a subordinate of the print book.

Critics, such as Guthrie in his book Publishing: Principles and Practice, would argue that technologies such as the telephone and the car were invented to replace what had existed beforehand; these technologies found ‘clear identities’ for themselves. (Guthrie, 2011) The e-book’s potential is therefore limited as it ceases to exist without the print book, in which it was invented to theoretically replace.

Similarly, the e-book has been limited in terms of innovation in the last 5 years. As Amazon are producing the leading e-reader, the Kindle; of which there have been 14 generations in 9 years, (Kindle, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, Kindle DX Graphite, Kindle Keyboard, Kindle 4, Kindle Touch, Kindle 5, Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle Paperwhite 2, Kindle 7, Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite 3, Kindle Fire) there is a lack of competition and incentive to inspire innovations. Throughout the 14 generations of the Kindle there has been little change to the reading experience, apart from the introduction of new fonts, new keyboards, a new touch screen and a more rounded tablet experience.

An example of Amazon’s newest Kindle – The Kindle Fire. © Intel Free Press, Flickr, 2011.

With such redundant changes being made to the e-book experience, it could be argued that they are an embodiment of consumer capitalism. Amazon are producing more e-readers with limited uses, hence they are manipulating consumer demand through the large-scale mass marketing of products that people simply do not have a need for.

Furthermore, it could be argued that e-readers and e-books are an easy way for distributors such as Amazon to control consumption through, as Pold and Andersen state in their essay, ‘programming that closely monitors consumer behavior and the effects of marketing through tracking and surveillance.’ This is clear through the DRM (Digital Rights Management) of all e-readers. DRM is an in-built software to police the copyright of all e-books and e-reader formats. DRM is also a way for the manufacturer of the e-reader to track any purchases made on it and make connections with the user. It maintains this link allowing for direct, personal marketing to the user.

Underdog: The Emergence of The Independent

However, with that said, it could all be a very cynical and possibly damaging view of e-books. For self-published authors, e-books are a cheaper and more efficient way to gain access to the market, eliminating the outsourcing costs of editing, design, printing and distribution.

As Figure 1 below demonstrates, in May 2016, self-published titles dominated around 45% of the entire e-book market, whereas Amazon only retained a 10% share. This implies that, despite the aggressive marketing and cut-pricing that Amazon ensures, e-book readers are ultimately more supportive of the typical ‘underdog’, encouraging a more creative process.

Figure 1. Market Share of E-books by Publisher Type: Feb 2014-Oct 2016. © Author Earnings, 2016

Compare this data to that found in a report by Author Earnings, outlining that ‘most if not all of print’s reported 2015 “resurgence” took the form of…sales…at’

So, although print readers could claim to still be reading on the original format, dedicated to keeping print alive, they are buying through an online conglomerate that doesn’t support indie print titles, whilst also showing a lack of support to independent bookshops and retailers. This demonstrates that print readers are more interested in a stable brand.

This ethic is something highlighted by the net book agreement. Put into place in 1899, it allowed publishers to set the retail price of books. In 1995 it was declared no longer in the public interest to have publishers subside ‘works of importance – or potentially important authors’ and was therefore swiftly made illegal. After the collapse of the net book agreement, chain bookshops dominated the market and independent bookshops collapsed.

The number of independent bookshops left on the British high-streets is less than 1,000.  This number is set to fall further unless print readers tear themselves away from the enticing low prices of Amazon to support the traditional book buying experience.

To Be or Not To Be

There is no escape to the never-ending debate that is print books versus e-books. Whatever personal preferences there are to each format of reading; from price, convenience, loyalty or even smell, the important fact is that people are still reading and will continue to do so. There will always be a market for fiction, no matter what format it presents itself in.

The one argument that does stand out, however, is how deeply ingrained print is into Western culture and how important it has been to the development of this culture. It therefore becomes harder to think of alternatives for it. As Professor Kathleen Fitzpatrick states in her book Planned Obsolescence: ‘simply translating texts from paper to screen misses the point.’

Nevertheless, e-books account for nearly half of the UK’s fiction sales. This suggests that although, on paper (or screen) e-books are an underwhelming alternative to print, people are consuming them in high quantities.

Even so, until e-books find a place within the consumer market that enables them to have an identity of their own, free from the technological and innovative restraints they are currently placed under, their value will continue to be scrutinized.