My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 3 January 2015) and will be in print ( 4 January 2015). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-bytesized-reading/article6748610.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )
The past year was a watershed year in publishing. In January, the buzz was around the importance of digital publishing, e-books and self-publishing and how technology had made it “easier” to produce books. There was a fear of radical disruption of traditional business models of publishing. For instance in India, indie publisher Arpita Das co-launched a self-publishing platform called AuthorsUpFront, coexisting with her Yoda Press.
As 2014 progressed, news filtering in from “saturated” book markets like U.S. and Canada indicated that e-book sales were stagnating. In an interview with Publishers Weekly in September, author Margaret Atwood maintained, “There are neurological reasons why e-books did not take over everything. There’s an eye-brain thing that is related to why you can’t read in-depth as easily on any form of screen,” referring to some scientific studies. “In France [e-reading] is three per cent. It’s not taking over the world there at all.”
All though with rapid evolution of technology and new generation of digital devices being created, a reader who is familiar and customises their e-reader/smartphone will not find it easy to keep pace with the changes. (Not to mention the expense involved in upgrading the hardware!) In December, a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) claimed that light-emitting e-readers “negatively affect sleep, circadian timing and next-morning alertness” when used in the evening. However this study did not take into account e-ink e-readers, where the illumination is front-lit, using small LEDs around the screen, pointing inwards rather than outwards. Yet 2014 saw the expansion of readers moving online. E-books sold, but it also marked the establishment of digital long-reads such as DecaStories, The Latterly and The Long Read of The Guardian.
Despite health concerns and technology, according to The Global eBook Report, online learning in schools has started to boom and “techno schools” are mushrooming in all major cities. India is now the world’s third largest Internet user, after the U.S. and China. Of these Internet users, 75 per cent are below the age of 35. Many content-service providers are offering bundles of material (sometimes even the infrastructure too) fine-tuned for schools and university course packs. Jill Abramson, ex-NYTexecutive editor, is willing to pay $100,000 to writers to produce stories longer than long magazine articles but shorter than books.
2014 saw the demise of some innovative publishing start-ups such as Byliner (subscription model) and Paperight (to legally print and copy books using photocopiers). Content creation, discoverability, price points and deliverability are aspects that are being discussed but there is no doubt, irrespective of whatever fears publishers may have, digital publishing is here to stay.
Stocking books (whether via online retail or brick-and-mortar stores) that a customer demands is not always easy to fulfil. This was evident during 2014 the stand-off between Hachette and Amazon when even Roberth Galbraith a.k.a J.K. Rowling’s The Silkworm was not available online. By December three publishers — Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette — had signed contracts with Amazon, agreeing to put their books for online sale. Business considerations forced partnerships that were previously unthinkable. In publishing, these deals mark the transition from multiple players existing in a globalised publishing ecosystem to an integration of service providers. 2014 proved that with the increased penetration of Internet, geographical territorial boundaries are being eroded, especially evident in the sale of rights by publishers. The emphasis is now not necessarily on making books in English available, but those in translation too since readers exist across the world, in multiple languages. India alone is home to one of the world’s largest book markets, with an estimated value of at least €2.5 billion (no precise statistics available).
2014 also marked the year of debut novelists. It was also the year of customising the reading experience. Given the poverty of time that people are constantly combating, reading is the first casualty. So the phenomenal success of Serial (the podcast) and the popularity of Audible and Whispersync for voice that allows switching between reading and listening to Kindle books in the Kindle App, across platforms is a step towards convergence of audio, text and visual formats, and keeping reading habits alive!