In a guest post by Neil Baptista, CEO of Riffle, he gives us “The final word on ebooks vs paper books.” He also discusses how accessibility promotes literacy and the liberation of ideas through ebooks.
It’s not an overstatement to say that we’re currently going through the biggest fundamental shift in book publishing since the creation of the Gutenberg printing press in 1440. Back then, the mechanization of printing enabled a thousandfold increase in the number of pages that could be printed per day, enabling widespread production of books at a dramatically lower cost. It’s estimated that there were only 30 thousand books across Europe from all time before Gutenberg; less than 50 years later there were as many as 10 to 12 million books. Expanded access to the written word was perhaps the most important catalyst for change and advancement in modern Europe. Along the way, the operation of the press became synonymous with the enterprise of publishing.
Today, new technology is again driving massive change for books. Ebooks combined with the reach of the internet are a revolution in both the means of production and distribution of books. As with Gutenberg, the ebook brings lower costs and broader access as major benefits, but add that they provide unfettered creative control and access to authors, effectively liberating the press.
Before going much further, let’s dispense with the feud over paper versus ebooks as a ‘reading experience’. On one side a physical book is a tactile experience, has no cables, is always fully charged, actually doesn’t require batteries, doubles its viewing area when opened, can be passed on to someone else, has a nice texture to curl up with and doesn’t have bright light that keeps you up. On the other side, ebooks have adjustable font size, they’re searchable, have a built-in dictionary; one can carry a whole library in their pocket, get new books on the fly, leave notes for community reading and ebooks are generally less expensive. Breathe. Both sides have passionate advocates, both sides are of course right. In fact, avid readers generally make use of both options.
But let’s put those arguments aside, step back, and look more broadly at two ways in which ebooks will have an impact similar in scale to the Gutenberg press.
Accessibility that promotes literacy
ebooks are better than paper books at providing access to entire libraries for people in the developing world—those who didn’t have that access or possibility before now.
Via apps on mobile phones, ebooks are enabling access to entire libraries of books for families even in remote areas. Organizations like Worldreader are using technology to make classic titles (think Dickens and Bronte) available to mobile phones throughout the developing world. Their cause is to create a literate world; they understand that literacy is transformative, as it increases earning potential, decreases inequality, improves health outcomes and breaks the cycle of poverty (UNESCO). Worldreader already have over 6 million people actively reading ebooks using their apps. People without any previous access to libraries of physical books now have access to titles from over 150 publishers, in 70 genres and 43 languages.
Similar ideals are held by Project Gutenberg whose slogan is to “break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy.” They’re a volunteer organization that’s dedicated to the creation and preservation of a cultural archive which, through the creation and distribution of ebooks within the U.S., spreads public literacy and extends the heritage of public libraries. The project has been digitizing public domain books to make them widely and freely available in as many formats as possible.
Liberation of ideas
ebooks are better than paper books for authors, both for artistic control, and because previously their books weren’t commercially viable, or blessed by the publishing establishment.
The ebook obliterates the control publishers have had for hundreds of years. They remove the economic requirement of investing hefty sums to do a print run and bypass the publisher as the gatekeeper of which books are offered and available to readers. Granted, there’s obviously enormous value in editing, cover design, public relations and the distribution network that a publisher can bring to the equation, but with ebooks publishers are no longer an essential intermediary between author and reader. In fact, since the advent of ebook self-publishing platforms, there has been a 1000% increase in the number of books self-published each year. Self-publishing, or ‘indie’ publishing, grew from just a handful of titles published in 2007 to over 450,000 in 2014 alone (latest data from Bowker).
Compose the next great american novel, write for a niche community, or dream up some steamy erotica and now you can have your ebook online and for sale worldwide with just a few clicks. Just as blogging did in the newspaper world, this has created tremendous upheaval in the book world. Explorations of how “publishing is broken” and existential debates about what it really means to be ‘published’ abound. However, the removal of the publisher gatekeeper has also spawned significant success for many spurned or previously undiscovered self-published authors, with some going on to sign print deals with traditional publishers and even having movie versions of their books developed. There’s a separate post here that is a more deep exploration of the best known self-published authors whose work has been published primarily because ebooks exist.
By the year 1500, sixty years after its invention, the Gutenberg press had spread to 270 cities in Europe, becoming an agent of change in science, religion and culture. By 2012, five years after ebooks became widely available, the number of self-published books has surpassed the output of traditional publishers and ebook sales have passed print book sales (in units, excluding free ebooks). While it’s too early to track the effects, to provide a sense of the reach ebooks could have, there are over 500 million mobile phones in sub-saharan Africa (mashable) and over a billion mobile phones in India (Wikipedia). The ebook will bring vast opportunities to improve literacy for the 740 million illiterate people and more importantly 250 million children of primary school age who lack basic reading and writing skills.
When I’m not answering questions about the idiosyncrasies of the book industry I’m trying to help people find and read amazing books at Riffle. Get Inspired. Read more. It doesn’t matter to us if you’re reading ebooks or pbooks. Get Inspired. Read more.
This article was originally posted on Medium.
— Marquina (@Marquina) June 28, 2016