Interview on digital reading [Barcelona]


By Marie Lebert, April 2016.

Anna Casas is a Spanish student living in Barcelona, Spain. She is conducting a research project in English on digital reading vs. printed reading. Her goal is to analyse and compare both supports (paper and digital), their evolution and their different forms, in order to highlight the importance of reading in itself. For Anna, printed books and digital books satisfy different needs and are used for different purposes. Here are my answers to Anna’s questions. These answers are based on my own research project on ebooks and the interviews I conducted for it.


What do people think about ebooks and e-readers?

Here is a quote by Henri “Henk” Slettenhaar, who participated in my research project: “I have always followed the development of ebooks with much interest, as a professor in communication systems and an organizer of study tours in Silicon Valley. I didn’t use them much during forty years, because of the lack of progress in reading devices. I never liked reading a book on a computer or a PDA. Now, with tablets like the Kindle or the iPad, I am finally reading ebooks. I see a huge expansion of digital reading with tablets that are easy to use, and with a very large choice of ebooks thanks to electronic commerce and companies like Amazon.” (Henk Slettenhaar, professor of communication technology at Webster University, Geneva, June 2011)

How do publishers see the emergence of ebooks?

Here is a quote by Denis Zwirn, who also participated in my research project: “eBooks are not a topic for symposiums, conceptual definitions, or divination by some ‘experts’ any more. They are a commercial product and a tool for reading. (…) We need to offer books that can be easily read on any electronic device used by customers, sooner or later with an electronic ink display. And to offer them as an industry. The digital book is not – and will never be – a niche product (dictionaries, travel guides, books for blind users). It is becoming a mass market product, with multiple forms, like the traditional book.” (Denis Zwirn, founder of the digital bookstore Numilog, August 2007)

Did publishers change the way they advertise a new book?

Some publishers have used the ebook edition to market the printed edition. Here is an example taken from El Libro 010101 (in Spanish).

Arturo Pérez-Reverte, a Spanish best-selling novelist, is well known for his series of novels relating the adventures of Capitan Alatriste in the 17th century. The new title of the series to be released in late 2000 was “El Oro del Rey” (“The King’s Gold”). In November 2000, the author partnered with his publisher Alfaguara to publish the novel in digital form for one month, as a PDF that could be downloaded from a dedicated web page set up for the occasion on the web portal Inicia, before the release of the printed book in physical bookstores. The novel was available in PDF for 2.90 euros, a much cheaper price than the 15.10 euros of the forthcoming printed book. One month later, there were 332,000 downloads, but only 12,000 readers who had paid for them. Most readers shared the password (for downloading the PDF) with their family and friends, for them to download the PDF for free. While this digital experiment was not a financial success, it was a great marketing tool to launch the printed book.

What is the situation in the United States?

I think there are as many ebooks as printed books in the U.S. now. Please check TeleRead to know more about it.

Do publishers create two versions (print and digital) for new books?

The answer is yes. Please also see this timeline.

Is it better for the environment to use ebooks instead of printed books?

Many people say we don’t need to cut as many trees.

What about children books published as ebooks?

Here is a quote by Marc Autret, not only for children books but for any ebook: “To my eyes, there are at least two emerging trends to ebooks: (a) an increasingly attractive and functional interface for reading/consultation (navigation, searching, restructuring on the fly, user annotations, interactive quiz); (b) a multimedia integration (video, sound, animated graphics, database) now strongly coupled to the web. No physical book offers such features. So I imagine the ebook of the future as a kind of wiki crystallized and packaged in a given format. How valuable will it be? Its value will be that of a book: the unity and quality of editorial work!” (Marc Autret, developer and graphic designer, December 2006)

What about combining the text of a book with other media (image, sound, video)?

Here is a quote by Jean-Paul: “The internet allows me to do without intermediaries, such as record companies, publishers and distributors. Most of all, it allows me to crystallize what I have in my head: the print medium (desktop publishing, in fact) only allows me to partly do that. (…) Surfing the web is like radiating in all directions (I am interested in something and I click on all the links on a home page) or like jumping around (from one click to another, as the links appear). You can do this in the written media, of course. But the difference is striking. So the internet didn’t change my life, but it did change how I write. You don’t write the same way for a website as you do for a script or a play.” (Jean-Paul, hypermedia writer, June 2000)

Are there online bookstores that “only” sell ebooks?

New kinds of bookstores – called eBookStores in English and digital bookstores in other languages – began selling ebooks in the early 2000s, after convincing publishers and authors about the need of a digital edition alongside a printed edition, and after lobbying the general public about the assets of reading on an electronic device (computer, laptop, PDA, smartphone, e-reader). These eBookStores were either “only” digital (Palm Digital Media, Yahoo eBookStore, Mobipocket, Numilog, etc.) or part of an online bookstore that was also selling printed books (Amazon, Barnes &, etc.).

Can a book be first digital, before becoming a printed book?

Many books now start as digital books.

How do we know that a self-published book is good?

By exercising our own judgement. There are many good self-published books. Self-publishing now goes alongside traditional publishing as a great way to disseminate books on the internet.

What about digital interactive narratives?

Here is an example. In April 2001, Jean-Pierre Balpe, a French professor and author, wrote “Rien n’est sans dire” (Nothing is without saying) as a novel sent chapter after chapter by email to many people he knew (family, friends, colleagues) during one hundred days. He regularly included suggestions made by some readers when he was writing a new chapter. There are other examples in El Libro 010101 (in Spanish).

What about illegal copies of books? Is it easier now with the internet than in the past with photocopying?

Maybe, but digital reading also has many assets.

Can an author make a beautiful work of art (typography, colours, cover) with an ebook?

Yes. There are more and more beautiful ebooks. Please see the experimental interactive ebook that Marc Autret created for one of my books. It needs to be downloaded as a PDF, and opened in Adobe Acrobat.


Will copyright still be respected with the use of ebooks?

Copyright will still be respected. Many people also use a Creative Commons license, that is consistent with copyright. As explained on Creative Commons’ website: “Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. We provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.” Who has used Creative Commons? O’Reilly Media for its books, Wikipedia for its articles and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) for its journals, for example. There were one million Creative Commons licensed works in 2003, 4.7 million works in 2004, 20 million works in 2005, 50 million works in 2006, 90 million works in 2007, 130 million works in 2008, 400 million works in 2010, and 882 million works in 2014.

Will ebooks be created in a given format, in order to avoid format “confusion”?

A standard format – called EPUB – already exists. It is the successor of the OeB format. After many proprietary formats were created in the late 1990s, the digital publishing industry started working on a standard format. Based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language) and defined by OeBPS (Open eBook Publication Structure), the Open eBook (OeB) format was released in September 1999. The Open eBook Forum was created in January 2000 to develop the OeB format and OeBPS specifications. Since then, most ebook formats have been derived from – or are compatible with – the OeB format, for example the PRC format (Mobipocket) or the LIT format (Microsoft). In April 2005, the Open eBook Forum was renamed the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). In September 2007, the OeB format was replaced with the EPUB (Electronic PUBlication) format as a global standard for ebooks.

After a new book is sold as a printed book, will a publisher sell its digital edition?

Yes, especially for scientific and technical books, or both editions will be sold at the same time.

Will we see two versions (print and digital) for all new books?

Yes. It is already the case for many of them.

Will libraries disappear?

I hope not.

For printed books, will we see a digital edition embedded in the printed edition one day?

This is a good idea for book designers.

Will machine translation be reliable one day?

Translation software is slowly improving, but we still need professional translators (people) to produce good translations. As explained on SYSTRAN’s website: “Machine Translation (MT) software translates one natural language into another natural language. MT takes into account the grammatical structure of each language and uses rules to transfer the grammatical structure of the source language (text to be translated) into the target language (translated text). MT cannot replace a human translator, nor is it intended to.”

Will we still see new books published as printed books in one hundred years?

May be.

Will digital reading be as common as printed reading?

It seems that we head in that direction.

What about the future of the book?

It seems that we will have more ebooks (and handy e-readers) and less printed books, as explained by Pierre Schweitzer: “The luck we all have is to live here and now this fantastic change. When I was born in 1963, computers didn’t have much memory. Today, my music player could hold billions of pages, a true local library. Tomorrow, by the combined effect of the Moore Law and the ubiquity of networks, we will have instant access to works and knowledge. We won’t be much interested any more on which device to store information. We will be interested in handy functions and beautiful objects.” (Pierre Schweitzer, designer of the @folio project, December 2006)

Copyright © 2016 Marie Lebert
License CC BY-NC-SA version 4.0

Written by marielebert

2016-04-20 at 18:58

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