[LINK] Readers not cozying up with e-books
Tue, 16 Oct 2001 09:24:17 +1000
16 October 2001
Electronic publishing has turned its focus to niche markets at this year's
Frankfurt Book Fair as the industry admits most readers would still rather
curl up with a book than a bulky, expensive screen.
In contrast with the euphoria of last year, when some electronic publishers
predicted paper books would become museum pieces within a generation, the
industry has scaled back its ambitions since the crisis that struck the New
"The electronic book has not fulfilled expectations. It has come back down
to earth," said Sabine Kaldonek, a spokeswoman for the world's largest book
fair in Frankfurt. "The technology still needs working on, and we need to
consider which titles and which content is suited."
Mikael Sandberg, Microsoft marketing manager in Europe for new
technologies, sees most demand for e-books with reference or business
information because the technology allows large texts to be searched by
keywords and annotated.
"We are committed to e-books as a long-term investment," he said. "They
have an added value and should become increasingly popular, but we do not
think publishers should ignore paper books. That would be irresponsible."
The types of digital book that are currently most suited to being
downloaded and read on a personal computer or handheld gadget include wine
guides, travel and cookbooks, academic works, and huge legal texts,
"The uses for the e-book can only grow," he said. "Publishers are trying to
figure out how it can add value to the paper book. For the moment, it is a
Many publishers are still put off converting their copyrighted texts into
digital format by concerns they could be copied and passed on for free
without proper encryption.
Best-selling thriller writer Stephen King abandoned a project to publish
his book "Riding the Bullet" only on the Internet when many readers stopped
paying for installments.
Nina Vogel, public relations adviser in Germany to software company
Gemstar-TV Guide International, which produces a handheld device for
downloaded texts, said both price and security for publishers would
determine future demand.
"The future market depends on the device being cheaper and being able to
have more titles," Vogel said. "That depends on how the legal situation
develops. At the moment, the rights to each title have to be negotiated
individually, which is very time consuming."
Many of the stands in the electronic media section of the Frankfurt book
fair offered specialist technology to allow publishers to encode their
texts to prevent piracy.
Perhaps coincidentally, one of the winners of this year's US$50,000
Frankfurt e-book award was Steven Levy's "Crypto" about developments in
encryption technology and its implications for data protection and privacy.
Ralf Kramer, chief technology officer for German-based Electronic Media
Services, has helped develop a system so that doctors can borrow chapters
of specialist books for a fee.
"We don't want to give away content for free. Last year there was more
euphoria, but this year there is actually more technical progress," he
said. "Contrary to what Stephen King was doing, we believe there are
opportunities in specialised books."
Although digital books have seen disappointing demand, the publishing
industry is selling more paper books via the Internet and printing more
titles using digital methods.
"Books are still in great demand, but the half-life of information is
decreasing all the time and content is getting out of date faster," said
Herbert Neubauer, business development manager for Oce, a company that
makes digital printers. "With digitalised publishing we can produce a book
quickly--and with a small print-run--and easily run off more copies later.
It removes the risk for the publisher."
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read
-- Groucho Marx