Culture  The demise of the book?

E-books and the publishing industry

In 1922, E.E. Cummings’ The Enormous Room, repeatedly spurned by the book industry, was finally self-published and went on to become an established classic, dedicated to the 15 publishers who rejected it. Most recently, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, first published online as Twilight fan fiction, went from e-book to print publication, quickly becoming a worldwide bestseller. As new platforms for text expand, questions arise about the future of the book, along with fears that reading habits are decaying.

A plethora of new services are available for budding authors. Print on demand services allow authors to publish their own work through a subsidy service, directly catering to readers. By becoming self-publishers, authors control production and sales of their work as well as retain rights. Self-publishing companies such as CreateSpace and Lulu often advertise higher profits to authors, as they demand a smaller percentage of book sales. But the very openness of such services creates high competition, making it difficult for authors to make a name for themselves in the self-publishing industry. This drawback causes many authors to rely on traditional publishers, who often provide better marketing services.

The selection process of traditional publishers acts as a quality filter for the sea of aspiring authors. Relying on publishing houses to provide readers with a varied selection is not as elitist as is often perceived. Small press publishers with a more alternative focus fill the gaps larger publishers ignore, encouraging innovative authors. Small presses publish 78 per cent of new titles each year, and account for 50 per cent of all books sold in print. The multitude of options available ensures a balance between promoting struggling authors and meeting market demand. Publishers also offer the necessary resources for authors by paying an advance, thereby investing in the success of a book. Editors, publishers, and literary agents are all part of an author’s support system, helping them navigate the market.

With a 117 per cent increase in ebook sales from 2011, there is a palpable fear among book-lovers that print media are slowly being obliterated. Although print media and their readers have been arguing this point incessantly for the past decade, and though it has now become cliché, there is truth to the idea of the enduring appeal of a book’s physical presence. Though this may be pure nostalgia, I believe the book will always have staying-power. The print industry continues to survive despite fears of decline. Printed books have an intrinsic social quality to them; libraries and bookstores remain places for readers to gather and printed books are still the only format that can be shared among friends.

Given the evidence of the printed book’s staying power, proponents of reading should focus on the beneficial effects of e-books. A 2007 study found that half of North Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 never read for pleasure. Television and the internet have expanded to take up large chunks of time at the expense of reading. E-books might be the best chance to reverse this trend. Amazon recently reported that its customers, on average, buy three times as many books after buying a Kindle, indicating that e-books are not replacing print books but supplementing them. Statistics also show that the fastest expanding group of readers is between the ages of 9 and 11, promising a bright future for the book. Whether self-published or released by a large company, we should emphasize getting people to read in any format they choose.