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Asian publishing and e-books

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By Dennis Posadas

Asian publishers need to go into e-books, if they are to make it forward into the next few decades. But our love affair with Gutenberg, especially nice covers, type fonts, and acid-free paper, coupled with a cup of coffee, is really hard to break up with. Although except for the paper, you can still have the covers, the type fonts and the cup of coffee with your e-book.

Eventually, when e-book reader prices drop, this will no longer be a significant obstacle much like our affection for vinyl LP's and cassette tapes gave way to MP3 tunes.

More importantly, what often becomes a barrier to publishing is not the editorial department anymore, but the economics of book publishing. Publishing's editorial standards are still high, yet many books that deserve to be published get waylaid simply because it is not economical to publish them. E-books are a way to lower the costs of publishing, as the cost is limited to editorial, copyediting and design and no longer includes printing and storage costs.

Nowhere is this more true than university presses. Notwithstanding the fact that Harvard Business School Press is probably the king of the hill in terms of profitable university presses, it is the exception for this sector. University presses are not exactly paragons of profit. Their operations are often supported by razor-thin grants that are hard to come by in these recessionary times, except perhaps in universities with large endowments or state and grant funding. They are chartered to publish and protect the production of new knowledge and culture; but often, their only strength is the name and reputation of the university itself.

Their weakness is often how to appeal to the masses and distribute their books to a wider audience, something that often gets submerged because of their primary aim to publish scholarly (and therefore often limited audience) books. Potentially, that audience is not simply limited to students, academics and scholars. It can, for example, include university alumni based anywhere around the world, historians and scientists; and in the case of Asian university and trade presses, Asians and their kin who simply want to reconnect with Asian ideas.

Events seemed to have conspired to make university presses and their commercial counterparts very profitable if they choose to go that path. For some universities in Asia, especially those that are state run, profit can seem like a dirty word; but if you want to pay your staff properly and fund infrastructure, then simply taking allocations from grants, alumni or the state simply won't cut it.

Indeed, Asian university and trade presses should take a look at the sea of opportunities that are being afforded by e-books. For many Kindle owners, for example, ordering an e-book is a much more convenient proposition as opposed to ordering a hard copy by mail.

Apple's new iPad and Amazon.com's Kindle are now engaged in a battle of epic proportions for market share. To protect its turf, Amazon.com has now increased Kindle book royalties to 70% for authors and publishers. Presumably, Apple will match that amount. Even authors stand to benefit. Authors can of course self-publish their own e-book, but except for a few well-written ones, many self-published books are a waste of time and money.

Which brings me to the point of this oped. Asian university and trade presses need to explore releasing e-books for both Kindle and iPad, which will probably become the two standard platforms for e-books. Paying iTunes and the Kindle store the 30% while retaining 70% is not a bad deal in exchange for access to those e-book platforms. A payment scheme can be developed where Asians abroad can subscribe for a fee, and pick maybe 10 e-book titles of their choosing annually, like they do in book clubs for example.

The troubles of Amazon.com with Macmillan, for example, in e-book pricing, will be just the start of developments in this arena that promises to point attention away from print and into the e-book domain. Opportunities to become sustainable and profitable abound in this new world of e-publishing, if Asian university and trade presses can take advantage of it.

Asian readers, scholars, authors and publishers can benefit from this new approach. For so long, the industry has been glued to the printing press. Maybe it is time to let Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos into the hallowed halls of publishing in a big way.

Dennis Posadas is the author of "Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable" (Singapore: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009).

© Japan Today

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7 Comments
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Apple’s new iPad and Amazon.com’s Kindle are now engaged in a battle of epic proportions for market share.

How is that again? iPad isn't even a released product yet, and won't be for a few months.

But I don't get the point of this piece. There's many clear advantages to e-publishing (and to e-book readers) and as these get cheaper and more book-like I am sure most people will move to this as a way of reading. But what is there in this piece about Asia specifically? Why is Asia different from the rest of the world so that they need to specifically be called out to embrace the ebook? I don't get it at all.

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Maybe it is time to let Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos into the hallowed halls of publishing in a big way.

Publishing paper books will survive, as mechanical watches did survive the rise of the digital ones. Readers still will look for sensations the paper book provides.

Different though, it will be for books that we read for pure education. Books where content is all that counts. For those (I think) the eBook will overtake the traditional paper books in the years to come.

For the traditional publishing business a storm is brewing. No author of an eBook needs a publishing company as eBooks can be created with a standard PC at home. Once Amazon and iTunes become direct sales channels for authors, the traditional publishers are in for a rude awakening.

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Having a real book in your hands is comfy. And they do not crash, freeze, or need to be charged.

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I would have bought an eReader but the price of them is too high still and more staggering is the price of eBooks. The prices of both have got to come down - if they do I think demand will go up and they could possibly make even more money. Stack them high and sell them cheap!

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I thought this article would mention that the Sony Reader used to be sold in Japan just a few years back. It eventually went the way of the PDA but the same thing was sold in the US and seems to be popular until now, as shown by new models.

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goddog

Having a real book in your hands is comfy. And they do not crash, freeze, or need to be charged.

I agree about real books but you must admit, you can carry more ebooks than you can real ones. Especially comfy on long flights when you can jump between several different books.

pawatan,

I was wondering why this author targeted Asia, too, has this is a pretty general article. For his resume, perhaps?

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This is sure going to encourage book piracy (like the movie, tv, software, and music piracy so rampant online). Why pay $7 when you can download a book for free? Maybe I will get myself an ereader after all!

That said, I would never want to replace the books that I love with digitized copies. If I really did get an ereader, I would use it to preview or read books, but still want hard copies of books that I really like.

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