Now This is a tutorial for all those who want to convert their ebook (eg. from .epub format to .mobi  format ). I will be using the KindleGen software for the conversion This conversion is necessary if the ebooks are to be used on the Kindle devices.

Lets get started !!

Installing KindleGen on Linux :

  • Copy the link given below and then paste it in the of the web browser.
  • www.amazon.com/kindleformat/kindlegen
  • Check the box besides I agree and click on “Download Now“.
  • KindleGen_iagree

 

 

 

  • Create a new blank folder called “KindleGen” in your “Home” directory (eg “Local Disk C on windows” or “Home on linux”) and then enter into that folder.
  • KindleGen_emptyfolder

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Select all the files and then extract them to the “KindleGen” folder created above.
  • KindleGen_afterextraction

 

 

  • Thats it !! You are now all setup for the conversion of eBooks.

Converting an eBook from ePub to mobi using KindleGen :

  • Assume your eBook is at the location given below on your computer:
  • epub_location

 

 

 

  • Enter the terminal and then change directory to the location where the .epub file exists.
  •  cd ‘/home/pandora/Test Ebook/’

  • Then type the following command in the terminal (Note: Replace the word “test” with your epub filename) and then hit “Enter” on your keyboard.
  • ~/KindleGen/kindlegen “test.epub”

  • If the conversion(i.e. epub to mobi ) was successful then a same filename with mobi format will be created in that directory.
  • mobi-location

 

 

  • Now you are ready to run the file on Kindle Previewer .

Okay, so you have purchased an e-book, paid for it and see it land in your inbox. What do you do next and how does one proceed to get the best out of this new beast?

Ebooks are read using one of two methods: a) using a dedicated e-reader and b)using reading software on your tab (like a Nexus or iPad).

An ebook reader is a convenient piece of technology designed to suit the needs of an avid reader- easy to use and carry. Ebook readers take up less space than paperback and one can easily download the new releases at the comfort of their house. But like all electronic devices, ebook readers have their set of drawbacks.

Each ebook reader is different from the other in at least two aspects:
a. There is no standard format in all the various readers available and hence an ebook will appear differently when viewed on different readers such as the Kindle, the iPad, the Kobo or any e-reading software on electronic tabs.
Web based readers also read differently when viewed on different systems. The difference in readability varies according to the Operating System on each of these devices.

image credit: dave.ceylon (flickr)

image credit: dave.ceylon (flickr)

This is because e-books are primarily developed in 3-4 formats i.e. the mobi format, which can be viewed only on the Amazon Kindle reader and on tabs using the Kindle app, the epub format, which can be viewed on many more readers including the Kobo, the Nook and the iPad, besides on many tabs, the HTML format which can be viewed in most browsers just like web pages and the PDF format which allows one to read on the computer screen comfortably. While purchasing an ebook, therefore, it is important to know which type (format) of ebook your reader will support. In most cases, readers will support only one format of e-books and not the others.
Publishers must keep this in mind while undertaking development of ebooks because the ebook developer may be qualified to develop in only one format.

b) Ebooks do not have the concept of a page because a page is as big as the screen of the device you use and how much you zoom in or zoom out while reading. This may seem harmless but it is important that you use the bookmarking feature available in most readers to enable you to go back and check something. When you zoom in or zoom out (increase or decrease font size) you will find that the number of lines or text on your screen change. Viewing the same ebook on a smaller screen (a small phone) will change the view yet again. This is because the text is free flowing in an ebook, which means the text will move on to the next page and so forth when the font size is changed. This irregularity can be tackled by having the text in a fixed layout. Fixed layout refers to setting up a page with a fixed set of text. In such a case the text will remain in place even after zooming it in or out. This option works best with epubs but not with the mobi format.

Ebook readers rarely accept all ebook formats. Similarly, navigation within a book is better aided in some readers and not so well in others. Not all readers offer wireless facility which makes downloading books a hassle. In many cases, the battery life is an added disadvantage. A crack on the screen or software malfunction can easily damage an ebook reader. Make sure that you consider the cost, compatibility and other software issues when purchasing a reader.

– Wileen Barretto

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photo credit: brooksmemorial (flickr)

-Percy Parry

‘The most technologically efficient machine that man has ever invented is the book’. –Northrop Frye

Considering that this statement was made with printed books in mind, will it still remain uncontested with the dawn of eBooks in the recent years? Comparing a book with an eBook is like comparing an analogue watch with a digital one, the latter being more sophisticated than the former. No one can doubt the convenience of the flexibility of the format that a reader gets in an eBook. But nevertheless they will never be able to successfully replace the experience of a printed book. But who says they need to? eBooks are a whole different figure and form by themselves as long as they do not attempt to imitate their printed cousins.

We are still at the very early stages of eBook development. Like the early films and their visual effects, the boundaries in eBook development that will ultimately define its format have yet to be pushed.

‘The issue with eBooks as they exist now is the lack of innovation in the department of user experience. Like the first television shows that only played grainy recordings of theater shows, the eBook is a new medium that has yet to see any true innovation, and resorts to imitating an old medium. This is obvious in skeuomorphic (made to imitate) visual cues of eBook apps. Designers have tried incredibly hard to mimic the page-turns and sound effects of a real book, but these ersatz interactions satisfy a bibliophile as much as a picture of water satisfies a man in the desert,’ writes businessman Kane Hsieh in a piece for Gizmodo.

He continues, “There is no reason I need to turn fake pages. If I’m using a computer to read, I should be able to leverage the connectivity and processing power of that computer to augment my reading experience: eBooks should allow me to read on an infinite sheet, or I should be able to double blink to scroll. I should be able to practice language immersion by replacing words and phrases in my favorite books with other languages, or highlight sections to send to Quora or Mechanical Turk for analysis. There are endless possibilities for eBooks to make reading more accessible and immersive than ever, but as long as eBooks try to be paper books, they will remain stuck in an uncanny valley of disappointment.’

There are always going to be eBooks that mimic a regular printed copy, like eBooks based on older works, or those that would like to do so because of market reasons.

photo credit: courosa (flickr)

photo credit: courosa (flickr)

eBooks have more advantages than conventional books. We don’t read eBooks like we read a printed version. Printed editions have a monopoly on our attention. There exists only a one-way interaction between the reader and the book, that is from the book to the reader and not vice versa. So basically printed editions are static. On the other hand, there exists a two-way interaction between the user and an eBook. eBook software allow readers to translate texts into languages of their choice, a feature which was not covered by printed editions. Some e-Readers allow the user to read in low-light or even total darkness. Many e-Readers have inbuilt software that help with easier interactions between the user and the device. The newer software can display motion, change the size or font of the text, and use text-to-speech software to read the text aloud for the visually impaired or dyslectic people and sometimes just for the user’s convenience. Software are also available that help search for key terms, definitions, allow highlighting, bookmarking and annotation. eBooks also gather a great deal of information about the user’s reading habits, like when he begins to read, when he stops, his pace while reading, when and what pages he skips, when and what he re-reads, what he chooses to highlight, what he chooses to read, etc. For a critic like Franco Moretti, the author of Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History, this data is priceless.

An eBook can be bought, downloaded and used immediately, as compared to the ordeal one goes through when one buys or borrows a book – the ordeal of going to a bookshop, or a public library during limited hours, or waiting for a delivery when purchased online or by other means. Besides, the production of e-books does not consume paper and ink. Printed books use 3 times more raw materials and 78 times more water to produce. Also, depending on the type of digital rights management (DRM) implementation, e-books can be backed up so as to recover them with ease in the case of loss or damage. And there may be possibilities of recovering a new copy without any cost from the distributor. As compared to the traditional publishing methods, it is cheaper and easier for authors to self-publish eBooks. Sometimes the dispersal of a free eBook copy can also stimulate the sales of the printed version.

eBooks allow an author to change sections, change plot points as per the user input, even change the entire setting based on a user’s location. That means eBooks are capable of things that regular books are not. For lack of a better word, eBooks are a whole different entity. In an article in The Guardian, Stuart Kelly proposes that eBooks should be treated differently from regular print books because the fantastic possibilities of eBooks should not be bound to the confines of print and pages. Kelly calls for what the proponents of eBooks have been saying for a while: ‘Let’s treat it like a bold new invention, rather than a standard digital copy of a physical book.’

However, the adoption of eBooks in India has had its peculiarities when compared to markets in the West:

– eBooks in India have primarily found acceptance in the professional and academic genres. This, as opposed to the traditional Anglo markets where purchases of eBooks are primarily in the popular categories

– eBook retail sites are few and buyers have mostly purchased eBooks directly from the publishers

– the high cost of eReaders and similar devices has had an impact on eBook purchase. A mid category iPad will cost around INR 30,000 and a Kindle Fire would cost anything between INR 10,000-15,000.

– Piracy remains a constant threat and readers often prefer downloading a book to purchasing one.

– A large number of people are still clueless on how to “use” an eBook. It will take people some time getting used to the idea of consuming digital content

– Publishers haven’t jumped on the eBook development bandwagon yet. Those, like Penguin and Zubaan that are developing eBooks are doing so very cautiously.

– A lot of material that is primarily in Indian languages cannot be rendered on eBooks. Devices meant for the sole purpose of making books in these languages accessible in the electronic format have failed.

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photo credit: black_coffee_blue_jeans (flickr)

Australia and India have joined the UK and the US as world leaders in eBook adoption rates, according to Bowker Market Research’s Global eBook Monitor (GeM). Buyers in the UK and Australia target adult fiction as opposed to the professional books and academic textbooks that buyers concentrate on in India and South Korea. The report also reveals that the eBook market is set for a rapid increase in Brazil and India. Over 50% people from these two countries said that they were likely to buy an eBook in the next 6 months, which would double the number of eBook buyers in India, and triple the number of eBook buyers in Brazil.

With the rise in adoption of large screen tablets and smart phones in India, Google has launched its eBook store(Play Books), through Play Store, in India. Though the smartphone market share in India is just around 15%, Google’s Android phone make up 56.4% of this number. This development can therefore catalyze the consumtion of eBoks because adoption of smartphones is growing by leaps and bound in the country.

At the World Book Fair Delhi 2013, Rockstand, an eBook and e-Magazine application for mobiles and tablets unveiled their first regional eBook collection for its readers at the Book Fair. ‘This content alone will entice readers in various cities as well as readers who are on the look out for regional content like Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi. They will now have access to all these books on our platform. In total we are introducing regional content in 18 languages soon,’ says Praveen Rajpal, Founder, Director, RockASAP Retail Pvt. Ltd.

Publishers such as RockASAP have developed applications that are available free of cost and allow the book to be read on the user’s smart phone. Like other such devices, the application allows the user to change the font size or take notes. Similarly it has partnered with many publishers to make their books available for sale. There is hope that many other publishers offer such services.

eBooks will become a different entity in themselves in the same way that board games became video games. In the beginning, they were merely the limited versions of the original, physical, editions. They later came to be more user-oriented. While some eBooks will choose to remain similar to the concepts of a regular printed edition, enhanced eBooks will take a form of its own, complete with every technological wizardry and component.

Percy Parry interns with CinnamonTeal Publishing.

Over the years, there has been much debate on the appropriate format that eBooks should have. The eBook format a buyer of eBooks chooses will often depend on the reading device that buyer has, on whether he/she wishes to have the purchase synced to more than one device and the buyer’s preferred vendor of eBooks.

From a publisher’s standpoint, however, the issue becomes much trickier. A publisher has to cater to more than one buyer and therefore cannot predict the reasons for a buyer’s purchase. The publisher has to therefore prepare for every eventuality and this can often lead to many costly iterations and time and budget overruns. In case of books that have some peculiarities, like images that cannot be allowed to flow as might be the case for a book of poetry, the fixed-layout format is often the most preferred format but its performance across multiple devices (eReaders) cannot be predicted. Similarly, certain fonts render perfectly on one eReader and won’t render accurately, sometimes won’t even show, on others. In the case of Indic fonts, this lapse is a significant one.eread

eBooks can be read only on what are called eReaders or computers with software that allow eBooks to be displayed. Many such eReaders haven’t kept pace with advances in technology. Similarly, the technologies that are most often proposed for eBook development – EPUB and MOBI – don’t quite help eBooks realize the potential like other technologies do. Other technlogies like HTML, for example.

HTML is the technology around which most websites are built. eBooks built on a pure HTML-based platform would, therefore, be able to do everything websites can do and can emulate the slick “look and feel” that many such websites possess. And because it is possible to view eBooks built on an HTML-based platform on the ever-faithful, ubiquitous web browser, the need for special software to view an eBook, whether on mobile devices or on your personal computer, is avoided.

The pundits have all backed HTML as the technology that can truly deliver the potential of eBooks to reach out to readers and make reading a more interesting experience. Its power to integrate technologies such as audio and video seamlessly creates endless possibilities for the “book”. After our experiences with eBooks where recreating the same user experience across multiple platforms became an ever-enduring challenge, we decided to experiment with a pure-HTML eBook (with CSS and some Javscript). The result was this.

We experimented with a simple eBook we downloaded from the Gutenberg portal. We coded it a little to make navigation easier and realised that with a little more time and effort, an amazingly responsive experience can be created – one that can incorporate various media should the book warrant such inclusion. For text-based books and books with a few images, it is definitely the right choice – both in terms of the effort involved and the consistency of the user experience across all eReaders. The benefit of not having to use specialised software to read the eBook is also a significant one that should not be easily dismissed.

It is also easy to see why an eBook such as this, that is purely based on HTML, is shunned. It does not easily incorporate any restrictive measures, commonly called DRM. For those who wish to do that, this might not exactly be good news. But for the likes of us, who will trust buyers to do the right thing, this certainly seems the way to go.

We had discussed e-book pricing earlier and it seems like months later, there isn’t much clarity on how to price e-books, or having priced them, whether to offer a discount. I recently came across this infographic which reflected one experiment in ebook pricing. So while it isn’t a snapshot of the industry it does offer valuable insights.

 

a. Publishers are selling for free: I am sure they are trying to achieve something here but what it is hard to tell. Meanwhile, customers aren’t complaining. I have always felt that it is better to lower your prices than increase them or, worse still, start charging after you have provided your products or services for free. I hope there is business model being contemplated here.

b. Low prices need not necessarily mean high sales: People will pay for products and services they perceive as being valuable. The price of an e-book thus becomes an important tool that the publisher and author could use to convey a sense of the value of the book. The challenge then lies in convincing the buyer that it is indeed a book to be bought at that price. The discussion around pricing has hitherto centred around whether e-books should be cheaper than printed books because of the production and warehousing costs involved. A brave publisher could turn this argument on its head and price books higher precisely because the format is digital. Like I said, it will need a brave publisher to pull off that argument.

c. People will pay for e-books: Not everyone seeks everything for free and there are people who will understand the worth of a product and pay for it. A book that is paid for will also be valued by the buyer and perhaps will not be passed around casually. In the end, the price of the book may itself be a good deterrent to piracy. For this, the book has to be easily accessible and well-packaged.

d. Free must go:  The habit of giving away e-books for free not only destroys the worth of the product, it gradually destroys the entire industry. People hope that other publishers too will give away books for free and postpone purchase decisions. In the end, the practice benefits no one as the industry isn’t considered lucrative anymore and talent and expertise flee the scene.

The development of e-books in Indian languages is a road fraught with challenges. These challenges include the usage of appropriate fonts and the ability of the reading device to accurately render the text legible. After working at it for some months now, we were able to develop an e-book in EPUB format that approximated the print version to a high degree.

The book shown below is an EPUB version of a book we published in late 2011. We chose this particular book so that we could illustrate how pictures and text can be both displayed in the EPUB format. The series of screencasts shown below depict how the book can be viewed through the epub3 compliant AZARDI viewer. Since the book is developed in an Indic script, it cannot (yet) be developed using the MOBI format or viewed on a Kindle.

[blaze cats=2]

In a couple of months from now, we will be launching our own e-book development and distribution service via dogearsetc.com and cinnamonteal.in. While the technical aspects of this service are ready, a few loose ends to be tied and we will be ready to go. Although e-book development and sales services are already available widely, although to a lesser degree in India, we decided to develop our own solution with the following features in mind:

= The service will be non-exclusive: Authors and publishers will be allowed to terminate the contract at will. Upon termination, only those titles that have already been purchased will be retained so that those buyers are not affected.

= There will be “agency pricing”: We will not offer any discounts unilaterally, only those offered by the publisher or author. That allows the publisher/author to develop a unique pricing structure for each book without fear of it being upended by the e-commerce platform. Agency pricing is a favoured model these days because it allows the publisher to control the price of the book. While some argue that this may be the publisher’s way of keeping prices high, we act in the good faith that publishers will understand what price will drive sales. This price can be revised as many times as needed by the publisher

= Social DRM will be implemented: The idea of DRM is a tricky one, with forceful arguments for each side. While we do not support piracy, we also think that DRM is not as effective as it is said to be. Add to it the costs of implementation and monitoring and you have a large investment that does not pay for itself. We would rather appeal to the buyer to use his purchase honestly. We have decided therefore to implement a model of Social DRM where the book file is identified with its buyer. Should the buyer pass it around irresponsibly, we will be able to track the book to its buyer and warn him of the consequences of his action.

= The service will primarily cater to the needs of Indian language publishers: Most e-commerce websites available thus far do not cater to the specific needs of Indian language publishers whether in the type of books they hold or the way books in these languages are developed. We have spent a lot of time working on these aspects and are now able to both develop e-books in most Indian languages and display their information adequately on the website in that language, thus allowing it to be searched by various search engines. We hope that this effort will go some way in making books in Indian languages more accessible to readers around the world.

= The royalty rate will be fixed at 75% of the list price: We wish we could keep it higher than that but there are some administrative costs involved that just won’t allow us to retain a lesser amount. We have therefore kept the royalty rate for publishers and authors at a fixed 75% of the list price. We hope we will be able to stick to that rate for a long time.

= Publishers will have the option to pay for development fees or receive a reduced royalty rate: If the books are not developed as yet, we offer this development service and will develop books in the EPUB, MOBI and PDF/A formats. Together, these 3 formats will allow the book to be read on most readers. Publishers will be offered the choice to either pay for the development of the e-books or accept a reduced royalty rate of 50% in lieu of payment.

= Customers outside India will also be able to buy these books: With the e-book market in India not fully developed, we believe that the majority of buyers for such books, especially for those in the Indian languages are based outside India, primarily among the diaspora. Our e-commerce platform has always allowed non-rupee transactions and will continue to do so. Books can therefore be sold to those based outside India, subject to territorial rights of course.

= We will sell in 3 formats: EPUB, MOBI and PDF/A: There will be no restrictions on the formats of e-books sold on our platform. While our e-book conversion service includes development in 3 formats i.e EPUB, MOBI and PDF/A, other formats will also be allowed for sale.

We are very excited about this new service and the opportunities it offers authors and publishers and hope that they take advantage of this to the fullest. For details contact us at contact@ dogearsetc.com or call us at 94226 85530 and ask for Queenie or Leonard.

Photo Courtesy: TaxCredits' Photostream at Flickr.com

As Indian publishers gradually take to eBooks, they will have to contend with the question of how these eBooks should be priced. In the mature markets of the West, there is still no consensus on this issue. Amazon prices its books starting at $1.99 and going up to $9.99 but how much they, or the publishers they represented, were making from the transaction is anyone’s guess. It is widely accepted that in many cases, Amazon was using its eBook catalogue as loss leaders, especially to enhance sales of its e-Reader, the Kindle.

For now, many publishers have priced their books on par with their printed editions. Given the perception that electronic versions of books do not invoke many of the overheads that printed copies do (like storage, transportation, even the cost of an additional copy), the pressure to review this practice and reduce the cost of an eBook when compared to its print edition will soon be large.

So what must an eBook cost? While we do not have the answers, there are certain factors that must be considered.

  1. The price must cover costs:  Contrary to public perception, eBooks do cost money to make, especially if these eBooks are produced for back lists, which is often the case. It isn’t enough to produce an electronic version of the text, the quality of the presentation of that text is equally important and costs time and money. The “conversion” process from raw text to a format that e-Readers can understand is equally time-consuming and expensive. Similarly, there is a cost involved in the storage of these electronic files, the e-commerce infrastructure required to facilitate the sale of eBooks and their dissemination to the buyer’s reading device. If publishers decide to opt to “DRM their books”, that too costs money. The price of the book must therefore reflect all these costs.
  2. The price must “make sense” to the buyer: Even while there are expenditures that must be recouped, the price of an eBook should satisfy the buyer’s sense of value for money. The current perception of many buyers, fueled by the almost intangibility of the eBook, is that eBooks should cost next to nothing. Pricing eBooks on par with their printed editions may therefore not cut it with buyers. Publishers could change that perception by offering more, but given that any extras also cost money, that might be a risky game to play.
  3. The price must trigger a purchase: Ultimately, the price must entice a buyer to purchase the book, whether on impulse or otherwise. Currently there is indication that a low price will do that. In the West, there is general agreement that anything below a $5.00 threshold will increase the chances of an impulse purchase. Given that e-Commerce is only taking off here in India (and that too primarily on a cash-on-delivery model), one can only hazard a guess on what such a threshold might be in India.
  4. The price must reflect the brand: Like some publishers price their printed books very high to convey a brand value, perhaps they could try to do the same thing with eBooks. Joe Wiekert, of Tools of Change, argues that the recent practice of agency pricing might do more harm than good and dilute the brand of a publishing house. Publishers should have the liberty to experiment with pricing and understand the mood of the market.
  5. Pricing must be a part of a larger strategy: Ultimately the price of an eBook must reflect a larger strategy of the publisher. The price of the book might vary depending on whether the eBook is sold alone or is bundled with the print version, on whether the eBook is being used to hook the buyer to new reading habits or on whether the eBook is a part of a larger, penetration strategy where it is being used to reach to new readers and geographies. This the publisher alone can decide.

As the excitement over eBooks continues to build and more publishers develop their titles as eBooks the question of how to price them will be an important one. Moreover, it will set user expectations regarding what should the price of an eBook be. Many publishers will argue that the prices of printed books hasn’t changed much over the last few decades and there is much resistance from the market against adjusting the cover price of books to even adjust for inflation. One hopes that in the case of eBooks, the story is different.

Disclaimer: Our publishing house, CinnamonTeal Publishing, provides conversion services into EPUB and MOBI formats, especially for books in the Indian languages. Similarly we provide an e-commerce infrastructure that allows for the sale of these books. That said, we still do not know which side of the pricing debate we are on.

 

We’ve just got back from the World Book Fair in Delhi. This time around we were more perceptive to the environment and learnt a few things during the 9 days we spent there. But more on that later. However, if there was one aspect of the fair that could not be ignored, it was the constant cacophony around the topic of eBooks.

While almost ubiquitous in every conversation of consequence and even during inconsequential banter, there seemed to be still no clarity on various aspects of ebook creation and their distribution. Far from being a nice thing to have, publishers were told that they would perish if they did not invest in the development of eBooks. One could find any number of stalls, and an even greater army of salespeople strutting around, preaching the benefits of eBooks and their importance towards ensuring the survival of publishers.

Dig deeper and the answers were hard to find.

For instance, although there are enough statistics to prove that ebook sales have spiked, India-specific figures explaining digital consumption of data are hard to come by. Many publishers we spoke to pointed to the abnormally high growth in purchases of the iPad and other similar tablets as indication that the Indian customer is developing an appetite for these devices and will soon read their books off them. While that might be a logical argument to make, there are no figures that prove that ebook purchases are also on the rise, in step with the increase in sales of digital devices.

During a conversation we had, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, a publishing consultant and columnist, mentioned that a renowned publisher of academic journals and books had seen sales of their print editions dramatically decrease while witnessing an equivalent upsurge of ebook purchases. If that is indeed the case, and many other publishers of STM books do vouch for this, bodies like NBT, FIP or FPBAI should investigate this phenomenon further and make sales data available for everyone so that other publishers can plan for the future accordingly. There is yet no sign that such a conversation might happen, where publishers can learn from the experiences of their colleagues.

It also remains to be seen whether the lessons learned in academic publishing can be applied to trade publishing and to what measure. While it is true that in the West the purchases of eBooks have zoomed up, some questions need to be answered. For example, what percentage of titles published are bought in digital form? What is the average price of an ebook that is purchased? What kinds of books are purchased and what kinds see almost no takers?

Most importantly, how closely do ebook purchases mirror current bestseller lists?

The last question is of importance because if consumers buy just those eBooks that they read about often, does it make sense for publishers to convert all their titles to digital formats? Given the fact that bestsellers almost always come from a small group of publishers (and often because of their marketing muscle), does it augur well for small publishers and independents to invest in the development of eBooks? eBooks are even more prone to remaining obscure than printed books, given the absence of a “shelf”, so has anyone bothered to investigate what sells an ebook and what might be the marketing budget required to make it sell? And what that might mean for independent publishers who have a tiny marketing budget to begin with.

It is important to answer these questions because many salespeople at the book fair were insisting that publishers convert their whole lists into the digital format. These publishers are almost pressured into joining the e-bandwagon, with the threat of obscurity and decimation being dangled before them. There is also the lure of cheap conversion rates, some even offering to convert entire lists for free. With a “few” caveats, of course.

But the whole process is rarely explained to these publishers. There is no conversation regarding digital rights, no mention about how this newly acquired asset will be protected. Publishers who are so fiercely protective about the intellectual property they have so painstakingly created are inexplicably naive when it comes to protecting their digital assets. Even more astounding is their reluctance to ask the tough questions. For example, many publishers do not know how to monetize their digital books. In the absence of a comprehensive e-commerce platform, whether their own or that of a third party, there is little clarity of how eBooks will be sold in a secure and user-friendly environment. The inability to recoup investments made during the conversion process might actually dissuade other publishers to convert even those titles that can be adequately monetized.

On this blog we hope to address some of these issues. We hope to get other experts to write on this topic so that clear and coherent answers are provided. We do hope that ultimately there will be transparency on these matters so that publishers can make informed choices.

Disclaimer: Our publishing house, CinnamonTeal Publishing, provides conversion services into EPUB and MOBI formats, especially for books in the Indian languages. Similarly we provide an e-commerce infrastructure that allows for the sale of these books.

by K. Venkatesh

How much have you shifted online? Do you pay your bills online? Has it got to do anything with eBooks? Probably yes and probably no.

In 2001, Marc Prensky proposed the terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” Those born after the introduction of digital technology are digital natives and those born before, digital immigrants. Digital natives are likely to embrace digital technology as if it’s their second nature, whereas digital immigrants need an effort to do that. But to what extent you are digitalized depends on your work. If your work requires the use of digital technology (as simple as a Word document as opposed to a printed paper document), you tend to move to digital, not out of choice but out of compulsion. Only those who have got off their active work are not affected by this digital shift. Sheer convenience drives the change sometimes. It is far easier to pay a bill online, say even at midnight, than to queue up for hours. But the paper as a source of records is on the wane, quite irreversibly. The “Search” function’s incredible convenience of locating data accurately and quickly definitely shifts the fence-sitter towards digital.

At the Hay Festival at Cartagena, Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom (which President Obama requested an advance copy before publication), warned of impermanence in eBooks. The Guardian quotes Franzen as saying “maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing – that’s reassuring,’ said Franzen, according to the Telegraph,” adding, “Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.” Henry Potter recorded his argument that digital is making us smarter. He questions, “If the printed word were the guardian of all democratic values, how is it that the country where, in 1439, a goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press succumbed almost 500 years later to a totalitarian hell, in which books, and the knowledge in them, were suppressed with a relatively small number of bonfires? Ink on paper is no more a guarantor of good government than oil paint on canvas.” Arguing that oil paint on canvas has survived, he points out: “The point is that humanity goes on adding to the available means of self-expression and communication, and very few forms or techniques are eliminated in the process, which is one reason to celebrate the possibilities of this extraordinary moment in history.” Taking Potter’s argument further, our temples (churches or mosques) have survived centuries of change and no one razed a them to build a hypercity. Traditional forms of music and dance are still in practice and its later adaptations have not been able to wipe the older form altogether. The reason for their stickiness is “faith” and a puritan mindset. Often, it is argued that changing forms will not have the desired effect and so traditional music has undergone only mild innovations in form while the original is preserved to the maximum. Technology simplifies our mechanical effort and naturally we have found it helping us. It’s more of a fixed mindset rather than pros-and-cons thinking.

Will eBook take over print completely? There is no scarcity of debate on this issue. Those in favour of print talk about aesthetics of typefaces smell of paper, bedtime reading, and all that gives them a sense of enjoyment. Publisher income is still dominated by print. Those inclined towards eBooks point out the convenience of carrying hundreds of books on a single device, searchability, and bookmarking as benefits. Are these people digital natives and someone who stand contrary to Franzen and support Porter? Are print lovers digital immigrants and echo with Franzen’s point of view? May be and may be not.

Digital technology is shaking the very foundations of business models on which publishing has survived for centuries. The authenticate (editorial), publish (publisher) and distribute (bookstores) form of publishing is challenged by self-publishing and online bookstores. You don’t need all that you needed before to reach the reader. Interestingly, André Schiffrin (Business of Words, Navayana, 2011) does not discuss self-publishing, perhaps because self-publishing was not considered significant when he wrote Words & Money. Alan Rusbridger, in a lecture a couple of years ago, spoke of the breaking down of walls and the dilution of high position held by journalists in deciding what to say, thus challenging the monopolistic structure that has been in practice for decades, if not centuries. Social networks such as Twitter provide voice to the reader who was not heard before. Citizen journalism is a reality and all this is because of digital technologies. The growth of self-publishing could be attributed to authors eager to find their voice and name in a publication, going beyond the publisher and leveraging technology.

Publishers are in a momentous shift, and are increasingly finding ways to maximize profits. So Penguin USA has launched Book Country, a self-publishing imprint for new authors to publish without editorial intervention. It has gone ahead to acquire two titles from Book Country for its regular imprint. It is clear that publishers chase only profitable acquisitions and self-publishing was never on their radar till recently. But the success of Amanda Hocking has turned their attention to self-publishing as a viable source of their most important criterion – income on balance sheets.

Amidst reports of robust eBook sales quarter after quarter and the monopolistic attitudes of Amazon and Google in dictating market forces, the reader is caught in a time warp. A sensible reader always weighs the costs against the pleasure of reading. If the digital form will provide more pleasure at low cost, in their opinion, the readers will embrace it willingly. Certain mindsets that favour only print as authentic, like Franzen’s, and their bias towards the smell of print will make them take to print. Reader habits will be increasingly defined not by reader tastes but how disruptive technologies like Amazon’s self-publishing take prominence. Economics is important in this globalized world and anyone in publishing will pursue only those endeavours that give them maximum returns, with total disregard for reader preference and the reader will be forced to consume what is on offer. The publishers will try to influence the readers’ minds in favour of technologies that are cost-effective for them. Seeing that the reader has not outright rejected the digital forms, the publisher will push them more.

But all those apart, you will read either printed book or on an e-reader depending upon what you like and what is convenient to you. Jonathan Franzen’s concerns will be countered and forgotten, and digital natives will place the argument in their favour. As long as you read, why bother about these debates? Any way you, the reader, can hardly influence it, whether you are a digital native or a digital immigrant, agree with Franzen or disagree with him.

K. Venkatesh is founder of VirtualPaper, a freelance copyediting firm and writes on entrepreneurship and publishing.