Print Books Versus eBooks? (We're Asking the Wrong Questions)

By: John Parsons

print books versus ebooks we're asking the wrong questions royle printing

I’ve written many times on the relative virtues of print books versus eBooks. It turns out, I’m not asking all the right questions—and neither are publishers. Print and digital are usually seen as separate channels. They complement one another—Harry Potter book fans tend to watch Harry Potter flicks—but seldom work together as a hybrid media experience.

These thoughts prompted me to try something different. I imagined a situation, as my new Kickstarter campaign explains (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jeparsons/a-very-different-kind-of-book), where a printed book can serve as a single point of reference to guide the digital experience. For lack of a better label, I’m calling it a “multi-book.”

Cal Poly Professor Emeritus Harvey Levenson and I first discussed this idea in connection with the next edition of his popular book, Introduction to Graphic Communication. We talked about using QR Codes, but dropped the notion quickly. QR imposes onerous requirements on page designers, and are generally limited to a single, typically disappointing web experience.

Our “multi-book” experiment attempts to answer a big question: Can a print/digital book hybrid can be a positive, symbiotic experience? Successful or not, the project also raises questions for all information and entertainment publishers.

Ask Better Questions

First, we need to know the reasons why print is intrinsically a good thing. It can’t just be that we’re used to it, or the fact that we like its tactile properties. Print has to provide real measurable benefits. Here are some basic questions. (Cue the many additions from my friends in the printing industry.)

  • Does a printed book require technical expertise on the part of the reader? Other than basic literacy, normal vision, and the ability to turn pages, the answer is no. Print books are low-impact when compared with their digital counterparts.
  • Can a printed book stand on its own, independent of an online connection or an external source of electricity?Certainly, yes. There must be available light, but otherwise a print book doesn’t need outside help.
  • Does a printed book have a good, commonly understood user interface? After centuries of “UX development” for books, the way we interact with them is pretty well settled.
  • Can printed books serve as an “anchor” for guiding a digital experience? If we admit that digital has a role (see below) then we owe it to ourselves to discover how a low-impact medium like print can leverage the more volatile world of digital media.

Dealing With Disruption

On the digital side, there are also some important, and largely unasked questions. We all know that digital media is more immediate, searchable, and infinitely revisable. (More on that later.) What we may not be considering is:

  • Does digital media need a common guide or point of reference? There are umpteen different ways to find related content and combine it in meaningful ways. That may be the problem: too many digital options and too many ways to sow confusion. Our project is based on the premise—still unproven—that a printed book can serve as that stable, low-impact launching pad for digital.
  • Will users be willing to download a mobile app to access digital content? This was one of the many reasons QR Codes failed: app downloading was a bridge too far. Our project does require you to download Ricoh’s app, but there’s another important factor: If the printed medium is inherently more valued and long-lived (i.e., books, not grocery flyers), then users are far more likely to go through the download process one time.
  • Is a hybrid print-digital approach right for every book? We’re optimistic about using this for education and training, where related digital content is more plentiful. Other types of books would dictate less—or at least different types of digital content. They would also need different types of digital engagement—like audience development venues for a trade book author or publisher.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. (Better still, I’d love your support on Kickstarter!) Either way, it’s going to be an adventure.

Author: John Parsons

Source: intuideas.com URL: https://goo.gl/vVgBP8

Is The e-Book A Dead Format?

By: Simon Rowberry

is the e-book a dead format royle printing

Nowadays, the ebook has a reputation for technological conservatism - so it is easy to forget that there was significant anticipation for the Kindle’s arrival ten years ago.

In a 2009 editorial, The Bookseller declared the device was “a giant leap for all”. The Kindle was frequently compared to the iPod’s transformative effect on the music industry. No wonder - the ebook format promised several advantages. Users could adjust typographic settings for improved accessibility; there was an increased level of portability; and the move to digital distribution promised the ability to purchase publishers’ extensive back catalogues.

But despite the early promise of the ebook, many are questioning whether it has lived up to these expectations. In recent years, the ebook has faced significant backlash amid reports of declining sales in trade publishing. The Publishing Association Yearbook 2016 noted a 17% slump in the sale of consumer ebooks while physical book revenue increased by 8%. Over the last couple of years, audiobooks have replaced ebooks as digital publishing’s critical darling on the back of a rapid increase in revenue. In this climate, several commentators have asked “how ebooks lost their shine.”

However, few of them offer more than woolly opinions. On the surface, the narrative of the ebook’s demise may appeal to bibliophiles who cherish print - but the reality behind ebooks’ recent plateau is more complex.

The Publishing Association’s data is still adjusting to new publishing models. Just as the music industry needed to adapt to the rise of streaming, initiatives such as Amazon Charts are reacting to the rise of ebook subscription services and audio/ebook hybrids that don’t map to traditional metrics of publishing success.

The ‘ebook plateau’ argument also ignores emergent sectors of digital-only sales, including self-publishing, where new genres drive a vibrant and divergent market. Amazon facilitates most self-publishing sales, and the company steadfastly refuses to provide sales data for books published exclusively on the Kindle. So a potential increase in sales for emergent digital-only genres is hidden by the headlines about traditional publishers.

The fall in revenue from ebooks is a direct consequence of legacy publishers’ prioritization of print sales at the expense of digital books. The Kindle’s North American launch in 2007 marketed new ebook titles at $9.99, a discount of at least $10 on the hardback equivalent. This approach was unsustainable, but it set readers’ expectations for the cost of ebooks. Agency ebook pricing has brought ebook prices closer to print, but at the cost of the perceived value of digital publications. As expectations of an ebook’s value were lowered by the initial discounting, the recent resurgence in print sales cannibalizes ebook’s growth.

There have been plenty of discussions around the ‘ebook plateau,’ but the technological challenges for ebooks go under-acknowledged despite their precarity. Both EPUB and the Kindle’s proprietary format are based on 20+ year old technology in an age of rapid technological obsolescence. The recent merger of the Independent Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF, the organization maintaining the EPUB format) and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) may prove to be a pivotal moment in digital publishing history and poses a significant challenge to the ebook format.

W3C will continue supporting EPUB, but the non-profit is also piloting Portable Web Publications (PWP), a self-described “vision for the future of digital publishing based on a fully native representation of documents within the Open Web Platform.” In other words, PWP moves ebook reading out of dedicated apps and into native web browsers. This has many advantages, but how will books cope in the complex attention economy of web browsing? Given the scope of the format, digital books will become just another type of publication to use PWP and as a consequence, the standard will not just serve the needs of publishers, a core design element of EPUB despite its limitations.

If PWP supersedes EPUB, Amazon will be the primary company to maintain an ebook format, as it is invested in proprietary specifications and continues to release updates for Kindle Format 8 (KF8). Amazon’s resistance to EPUB may have been prescient if PWP replaces EPUB as the industry standard, but this relies on Amazon itself maintaining interest in the Kindle. It is still possible to read ebooks on a first-generation Kindle, a feat unthinkable for platforms such as the iPhone or videogame consoles, but elsewhere there is evidence that Amazon’s interests are turning away from books to a range of other ventures not limited to videogame streaming, winning Emmys, grocery shopping, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things. Their tablet line is now just ‘the Fire,’ having dropped the Kindle moniker in 2014. The Kindle brand, and books, are now just one small part of the Amazon juggernaut.

For the moment, reports of the ebook’s death are exaggerated. If the disinterest of Amazon and resistance from the book trade continue, however, there is a chance that the ebook is killed off - in my view, prematurely. Publishers should see ebooks as complementary to print rather than as competition. Letting the ebook die may benefit print sales in the short-term, but the wider transition to digital media consumption presents a longer-term threat. Books need to remain visible and distinct from other genres of writing in the competition for attention. Publishers may wish to build upon the success of ebook/audiobook bundling to build a sustainable future for the ebook.

Author: Simon Rowberry

Source: thebookseller.com URL: https://goo.gl/wMxv9h

Down with eBooks, Up with Print

Down with eBooks, Up with Print

By: Mercy Pilkington

It’s an old song, but it’s still ringing out from the global marketplace: ebook sales are down, print sales are up, and we think the kids are to blame. In all seriousness, the very early days of the digital publishing revolution showed us that ebooks could hold their own in the book publishing arena, or at the very least come in a close enough second to not be scorned as a flash in the pan. But while ebooks have never fully overtaken their print brethren, new data from Nielsen shows they’re really not even close.

According to a report on the UK market by the Guardian, “More than 360m books were sold in 2016 – a 2% jump in a year that saw UK consumers spend an extra 6%, or £100m, on books in print and ebook formats, according to findings by the industry research group Nielsen in its annual books and consumer survey. The data also revealed good news for bricks-and-mortar bookshops, with a 4% rise in purchases across the UK.”

Once again, those pesky kids have been blamed for driving the continued adherence to print. The children’s market has never taken to ebooks in the way the supporters had hoped. Studies have long found that children want to read on paper when they’re reading, and play on their tablets when they’re playing. Of course, many parents have been holdouts, too, claiming in surveys that they want the “book experience” for their kids and therefore driving sales. Remember, children might like to read on paper, but at the end of the day Mom and Dad are the ones reaching for their wallets.