Thanks to Ray Bradbury, we discovered that the role of books burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. But it does not seem likely that today’s society will need a Montag that burns paper books for lack of use. According to the latest Survey of cultural habits and practices, which collects data from the period 2014-2015, 59% of the people reading population uses the paper format, while only 17.7% reads in digital. Similar data shows the surveys in the United States: the paper takes 65% of the readers, the eBook to 28% and the audio book to 14%.
Why the e-book has not achieved the success that have actually obtained new formulas consumption of culture and leisure in the musical or audiovisual sector? Will one day appear a Netflix or a Spotify of the book that kills (or makes sick, at least) the paper book?
Is the case of books comparable to that of cinema or music?
Already last year we saw the death of the video physical media in front of the platforms of streaming. Something similar happens with music, precisely in this 2016 in which the industry celebrates the profitability (finally) of platforms like Spotify. Is there an alternative similar to Netflix or Spotify for the publishing industry?
The answer is yes and no. There are three platforms that offer a similar service : 24Symbols, Nubico and Kindle Unlimited. In all of them, the user pays a monthly fee (8.99 euros for the first two, 9.99 for the Amazon service) and has access to content. But it is very different in other respects, in which you can find some of the reasons for the jam of the eBook format.
First, these platforms do not offer the possibility to read for free, which does happen with music in Spotify. Many literary purists might find it an aberration that every 30 or 50 pages of a book should appear on an advertisement page, but that is an acceptable solution, instead, for many users of the free version of Spotify.
Since HarperCollins see this option not viable: “Reading is a much more intimate and private activity than music and film, which also requires more concentration. Therefore, we do not believe that the average reader accepts intrusive advertising while reading. Surely there is an audience for everything, but the feeling is that the vast majority of readers would not like it.”
Second, the musical and audiovisual industries have surrendered to the streaming platforms while the literary resists. There are still few publishers who, offer their digital publications through this service. It is hardly possible to access news, bestsellers … while Spotify and Netflix are the places chosen for many of the major releases of its sectors.
Pau Centellas, the literary agent of Silvia Bastos agency, confirms the reluctance of the traditional publishing industry to the electronic book for fear of cannibalizing its main product, the physical book. In addition, a second reason points us: “If you power the digital format, whatever it is, you put the book to compete with very diverse and much more attractive digital content, especially among young people. On a computer, on a tablet, on a smartphone, the book has to lose.
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The romanticism of the paper book
There is a romantic halo around the paper reading. Many readers and writers defend the paper at all costs, even if they are techies in the consumption of other contents. And is that the reading does offer a different use experience to music or audiovisual. It is not easy to distinguish whether the music we hear comes from a device connected to Spotify or from a CD. Not even if a movie or series is being broadcast on our television from Netflix or from a DVD or Blu-ray. However, we all distinguish reading in an electronic device from that of a paper book.
One of the reasons that many users refer to when it comes to reneging on the eBook is its price. There is a kind of feeling that whoever buys something digital … has not bought anything. The product is ephemeral, while the paper copy will remain on our shelves for a lifetime. Therefore, paying a similar price for one and another format is inconceivable for many users.
In addition, there is the perception that publishers have a much lower expenditure on the production of an eBook than on that of a physical book. Guillermo Chico and Almudena Gil deny this idea: “It is true that production costs are cheaper than in the case of the physicist. But all the costs of editing, distribution, marketing, design, etc. Continue to apply. In their case, they maintain the policy that the price of the eBook is always below that of the physical book, without ever arriving digital formats to exceed ten euros.
There is another piece of crucial importance when analyzing the publishing economy compared to the music industry, for example. And is that the publishing sector has no other income channel than the sale of copies. There are no concerts. A publisher cannot charge for a book signing or presentation. “Without a doubt, it is very difficult for an author or publisher to have income outside the sale of books,” they tell us from HarperCollins.
Self-publishing is free
If there is a field in which the ebook fits at its widest is in the self-publishing. Independent authors opt for this format in almost all cases; most of them include their works in the Kindle Unlimited program and only in some cases publish their books also on paper.
Alice Kellen, a hybrid author, confirms this (that is, she publishes independently and also in traditional publishing): “The experience of being a writer is very different as a self-published author than through an editorial. In the self-publication, the electronic book supposes a very high percentage of sales. In fact, I have not even edited on paper my last two independent novels.”
Along the same lines, Andrea Longarela “Neïra”, also self-published and in Planeta’s catalog, also emphasizes the importance of services such as Kindle Unlimited: “In the case of the great majority of self-published authors I know, It’s not just that e-book revenues are much higher than for physical books, but our biggest source of revenue comes from Kindle Unlimited . In this service, authors charge for the number of pages read and, in most cases, we receive more income through this means than through the sale of digital units.
The future that awaits us
All the professionals of the literary field with which we have spoken agree that the publishing world is constantly changing. From the appearance of the electronic book to the new monthly subscription platforms, through the phenomenon of self-publishing. “The truth is that the situation is changing. The editors are beginning to open up to other models of exploitation of the works , but it is so recent that significant results cannot yet be seen, confirms Pau Centellas.
We can look for the causes of jam the electronic book in the reluctance of publishers to invest in new formats in the price of books or the platforms of literary streaming have not finished curdling yet, but there is a reality that is Easy to draw conclusions: after talking with editors, agents, writers and many, many readers, the perception of all of them is that we still prefer to touch a book, turn their pages and even sniff the paper they enjoy reading on a digital device.