Jan 21, 2011

Hold on print, digital is coming to erase you

By Abdulla Hawez Abdulla

In the first half of 2010, the sale of e-books increased 207 percent compared to the first half of 2009

Last week, Google unveiled its digital bookstore, pitting itself squarely against Amazon.com and Apple in the lucrative and fast-growing market for e-books. Google has converted 15 million books to digital since 2004, including books from a 100 countries in 40 languages. For thousands of years, we have evolved to read and savor our world through five senses, but the way we read is changing. This year, for the first time, the number of e-book sales exceeded print books on Amazon.com; 180 e-books sold for every 100 print books. This brings up two questions: Is the era of print publications over and is digital growing at the expense of print?

Some think print media will be gone within a few decades, while others are skeptical of this expectation. In the first half of 2010, the sale of e-books increased 207 percent compared to the first half of 2009; e-books made up 8.5 percent of all book sales in the first half of this year compared to 3 percent in the same period of last year. Pundits believe what has made the e-books more desirable is that they have features and capabilities print books don't have. You can read e-books in all kinds of light, and you can adjust the font size, look up a word in the reader's digital dictionary, bookmark or highlight a passage and have books read to you through an audio function. Libraries also offer e-books, especially in developed countries. A recent survey of 552 libraries around the world showed more than 88 percent of respondents subscribed to e-books, with 45 percent of them saying they have access to more than 10,000 e-books. «Our physical collection has not gone down because of digital media, but we are collecting digital media as a format because our customers are asking for it,» said Diane Lapierre, a Denver, Colorado, public library spokeswoman, in an interview with The Denver Post.

Apple's iPad, and other tablets and e-book readers, contributed vastly to the rapid-growing market of e-books and digital media. In recent years, the revenues of print publications have dropped, while revenues of digital have risen. Production costs are lower for e-books. A quick glance over some figures makes the picture clear. Last year, the e-book device audience reached 3.7 million in the U.S. The number of adults using e-book devices is expected to climb. This year, the number is expected to reach 10.3 million; in 2015 it expected to climb up to 59.6 million. More than 3 million iPads were sold in the first 80 days after its release, and 1.5 million e-books were downloaded from Apple's website to those devices. According to a recent tally from Foster Company, only 9 percent of respondents were using the iPad. Printed copies of newspapers have dropped, while digital copies have risen. The New York Times, the most widely read newspaper in the U.S., announced that its print advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2010 dropped 5.8 percent, while digital advertising revenues rose about 10 percent. Furthermore, print circulation revenues are expected to fall 4 to 5 percent in the fourth quarter. That's roughly in line with a 14.6 percent increase in digital revenues.

Business is highly related to the environment, and publishing is one of the world's most polluting sectors. E-readers could have a major impact on improving the sustainability and environmental impact of the publishing industry. In 2008, the U.S. book and newspaper industries combined resulted in cutting more than 125 million trees for paper, in addition to huge amounts of water and a massive carbon footprint. Additionally, in the U.S., sales of e-books were up 154.8 percent by the end of April 2009, while overall book sales were down 4.1 percent. According to a study by Cleantech Group, as reported by The New York Times, purchasing three printed books per month for four years produces 1,074 kilograms of CO2 in overall the printed books' life-cycle compared to 168 kilograms of CO2 by the same number of e-books. The figures show the huge impact of printed books on the environment, compared to a lower impact for e-books.

In both the economic and environmental arenas, digital is battling print. If we compare print and e-books without factoring in the financial aspect, all figures point to digital. You can buy a book online, at a third of the cost of a print book, search for specific pages, adjust the font size and bookmark or highlight a passage. Furthermore, with climate change and increased awareness, more consumers demand environmentally friendly products. All of these factors push publishing companies to go digital. The e-book is most likely here to stay.

This article has been published on Kurdish Globe: