Digital commerce has exploded over the past two years, integrating the e-book into the publishing arena, allowing expanding access to materials for readers worldwide, and even offering the ability to conduct studies into how mankind reads. With digital publishing, publishing is becoming a more democratic system as the e-book builds an online platform for self-publishers and smaller publishing companies. The individual bookseller/writer can incorporate themselves into an industry that continues to be undeniably cut-throat, but which hazily suggests a future where the publishing industry is no longer dominated by publishing house giants.

One of the great advantages of the e-book is its promotion of environmental sustainability. Despite publishers’ strong environmental policies, the amount of paper used to produce books every year is still staggering. Not only could e-books really reduce the 300 million tons of paper the world uses per year, but they could aid in reducing carbon emissions by consequently eliminating the energy used to manufacture and ship books worldwide. E-books would mean faster production, faster release, faster global distribution, and, consequently, faster delivery to the reader. With the vast network of social media groups, advertising is easy and instantaneous. And with the approximately 360,985,492 people worldwide who used the internet last year, and the 175 million who log onto Facebook every day, e-book online advertisements would be seen daily by thousands of eyes.

…the number of physical books we shipped has declined by two million…

With the economic crisis, publishing markets dipped severely, creating an opportune moment for digital publishing to sweep in and firmly establish itself. The sudden e-book boom this year, and its expected continuation could help publishing companies recuperate. While there was a 1.9% decline in the publishing market this year, hitting the lowest drop rate in more than three years, digital books sales rose by 55% and e-book fiction sales in 2011 rocketed from £16 million in 2010 to a whopping £70 million. Nevertheless Neill Denny, the editor-in-chief of the publishing magazine The Bookseller, wonders how long the  statistics will grow, venturing to suggest that digital publishing will resemble an S-shaped curve: being slow to start, rising quickly, dipping slightly, and levelling off.

Despite the opportunities e-book brings, perhaps it is hurting the publishing industry more than turning it golden. Large-chain publishing houses and bookstores are threatened as the e-book promises to not only radically change, but perhaps even obliterate the book ecosystem. The recession and the rise of the e-book have culminated in an overall decline in UK publishing sales over the past two years. Consequently, as of 29 June, Cambridge University Press has been taken over by MPG Books Group. Five years ago, CUP was a leading world publisher with a global market. Now, after 400 years of prestigious printing and with the rise of digitalization, CUP spokesman Peter Davidson revealed that “in the past two years the number of physical books we shipped has declined by two million”. While MPG will continue to publish the quality academic work that CUP did, is this what we ultimately want? Should major publishing houses be so easily wiped off the publishing field?

…ultimately deteriorates the quality of writing…

Bookstores used to be key to advertise new titles. With online content, however, such advertising is nullified and bookstores are getting quieter and quieter. Bloomsbury group UK sales director, David Ward, says that companies need to make bookshops the destination by offering both physical and digital books to be purchased in store and with more “beautiful and desirable” editions to attract customers. Yet can this compete with buying books (physical or digital) online from the comfort of your own home?

While it is so easy to upload or purchase an e-book, and while this is undeniably one of the beauties of digitalization, there is the legitimate question of whether such an easy upload/download process ultimately deteriorates the quality of writing on the market. The current publishing market is unquestionably splitting into two veins: traditional publishing and self-publishing. Yet while self-publishing has its own values, should Amazon and other self-publishing sites tighten a hold on the e-book market? In allowing a market to be so free in content and quality, are we unconsciously slipping into a technopoly that will prove to be destruction of culture? 


About The Author

Pamela Carralero graduated with a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Royal Holloway University of London and is currently pursuing an MSc in Literature and Transatlanticism at the University of Edinburgh.

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