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The Growing Ebook Industry and Market

Aug 17, 2007
STEPHEN King is one of the few authors who tried to jump onto the Internet bandwagon. He sold one of his latest novels in "batches" - readers had to pay to read them. But "e-books" are still in a state of infancy. Publishing buzz about "digitised books" has yet to catch fire. Stephen King, like many others, gave up.

But that does not mean "e-books" are dead. In fact, if you are a believer in the ICT revolution, it is going to be the "in-thing" in the near future. E-books will change the face of modern publishing. Look at the writing on the wall. The Internet is changing the way we communicate, work, interact and shop. And the onslaught is only beginning.

In the US alone, there are 203 million Internet users and China registers 103 million more. That is merely the tip of the iceberg.

In fact, the Internet is changing newspapers as well. The 400-year-old industry has no choice but to make adjustments. Every major newspaper is moving trying to take advantage of online space. Or could it be that they have got panicky in reacting to the threat of online possibilities? And remember, advertisers, too, are attracted to the Internet. Television will have to compete with it for advertisement revenue.

Last year, Internet advertising in the US alone registered RM38 billion, perhaps a fraction of total advertisement expenditure, but growing significantly.

The book industry, too, is panicking. Let's look at what the Big Three in the Internet Kingdom are doing - Amazon.com, Google.com and e-Bay. Amazon celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Currently, it has 49 million active users and last year it registered RM26.3 billion in revenue. E-bay, too, is 10 years old. It is currently the biggest online auctioneer.

It has millions of items on sale, grouped into more than 40,000 categories or sub- categories. Last year, 150 million registered users worldwide bought and sold goods worth RM155 billion.

One must not forget Google. It prides itself as a "search company" but, lest you forget, its power is making book publishers and traders jittery. If Google and gang are given the right to hawk books on the Internet, why buy books in their traditional form?

In fact, publishers are up in arms against Google's idea of scanning books digitally. Big publishers are suing. Recently, the Association of American Publishers filed a complaint in the New York District Court. They believe Google is infringing copyright laws. The move was initiated by the Big Five in book publishing - McGraw Hill, Pearson Group, Penguin, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley and Sons.

Google's idea is to scan books from major libraries. Using one of Google's services, you and I can now look for certain relevant passages, facts and quotations in the digitised version of the books. It saves you the trouble of looking up Shakespeare or T.S. Eliot in your library in case you need a quote. Google's defence has been the concept of "fair use" - a legal doctrine allowing copyrighted materials to be used for purposes of learning and research.

Google, apparently, has other ideas - it is developing the Google Print Library Project which will scan millions of books in the libraries of some of the most renowned universities in the US. Little wonder that even the US Authors Guild is hostile.

The legal battle will make us look again at copyright laws as we understand them, and ask if they are obsolete and demand due attention in line with the Internet revolution. Who will eventually benefit from the outcome? The public at large, Google argues. The publishers and writers beg to differ.

Its detractors argue that Google acted in its own economic self-interest. After all, this is a company with a market capitalisation of RM380 billion. It started with a simple idea - to make a cyber- space search easier. Imagine if it could expand the horizon of search to copyrighted book contents. Google is also exploring the possibility of "book rental" on the Net. In fact, a major publisher is said to support the idea.

Basically, consumers rent an online copy, say, for a week. Amazon.com, too, is looking at another possibility. Its Amazon Pages will offer for sale a page, a section or a chapter of book to be read online. In another revolutionary approach, Amazon is looking at the possibility of enabling buyers of traditional books to get access to an online copy.
About the Author
Joe enjoys good books to read, listen to and view from his computer monitor. Check out his latest bookstore tidbits at: Books Database Store
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