Tuesday, December 10, 2013

E-BOOKS: It’s a Book, Jim, But Not as we Know it

‘E-books are the literary world’s version of fast food’ – Alexander Nderitu, Africa’s first digital

‘An eBook is considered by the industry intelligentsia to be a book that is in electronic form. It is instantaneously distributed over the Internet within seconds; Gutenberg would be impressed.’ - How E-books Work, www.enovel.com

‘Where the electronic novel really scores is in the features that elevate it beyond the limitations of a traditional printed book: at the click of a key, it will go into Large Print format, a boon for the poorly sighted and for tired eyes. Ultimately the reader, not the publisher, will select the font and size with which he or she is comfortable reading …Electronic books are smart. They can remember where you got to, so no more dog-earing, or losing bookmarks. They have all the search and find features of a word processor – enter a word or phrase and you will find the passage instantly.’ - Horror writer Peter James speaking at a conference. (See Ray Hammond’s DIGITAL BUSINESS: Surviving and Thriving in an Online World, www.hammond.co.uk , Published in book form by Hodder & Stoughton)

In 1998, history was made when the e-novel Angels of Russia was chosen as one of the five finalists for the prestigious Booker Prize. Angels of Russia was a historical novel written by
Patricia Le Roy and distributed over the Internet by Online Originals. This marked the first time that an on-line (Internet-published) book had been nominated for a major literary prize.

In 2000, Stephen King’s first e-book project experienced a hiccup when the servers were inundated with orders, stretching them to 100% capacity. The book, entitled Riding the Bullet, had had been made available only in e-book format on such websites as Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Stephen King’s initial impression:

‘While I think that the Internet and various computer applications for stories have great promise, I don’t think anything will replace the printed word and the bound book.’

Stephen King went on to participate in other e-book projects. His next e-book, The Plant, was sold in installments through an ‘honour system’ whereby downloaders promised to pay for their copies. 76% cent of readers fulfilled their promise.

In 2001, my first thriller, and probably Kenya’s first e-novel, When the Whirlwind Passes, was published online. Initially, it was a free download.

Also in 2001, India released its first e-novel, a collaborative work entitled The Motive.

Let’s fast-forward to a few years later:

October 25, 2007: Article entitled ‘Internet a Boon for Books’ appears in the Daily Metro (Nation Media House). According to it, the Internet has provided new ways of marketing, experimentation and reaching readers. Penguin has launched a web-based novel-writing competition in partnership with Amazon and Hewlett-Packard. Elsewhere, Pearson - which publishes travel books - has been digitally coding all its travel-related content so that said content can be utilized over Web and mobile phone applications.

2007: Journalist Otieno Amisi[1], secretary of the Kenya Association of Poets, launches a poetry e-book entitled Back to the Future at the Nairobi Book Fair.

November 2007: Amazon.com launches the Kindle e-book reader. Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos appears on the cover of Newsweek, holding up a Kindle. Headline: ‘Books Aren't Dead. (They're Just Going Digital.)’

December 2008: StoryMoja teams up with well-known e-commerce website Mamamikes.com so as to sell books to the Kenyan Diaspora (in addition to locally). Payments can be made via PayPal, credit card, MoneyGram, PostaPay among others. (StoryMoja later enables manuscripts to be uploaded to them directly through their website).

December 25, 2009: Amazon e-book sales overtake print for one day for the first time on
Christmas Day.

February 29, 2010: E-books become the single bestselling category in American publishing for the first time, according to a report from the Association of American Publishers, compiling sales data from US publishing houses. Total e-book sales in February amounted to $90.3 million, overtaking paperback sales which stood at $81.2 million.

2010: Sony - which also deals in e-books - announces that second quarter 2010 e-reader sales had tripled over the previous year.

March / April 2010: Apple launches the iPad and the iBookstore.

August 23, 2010: Amazon releases a statement announcing that, for the first time, the sales of Kindle e-books exceeded sales of hardcover books on its site in the second quarter of its fiscal year. For the period of April through June 2010, Amazon sold an average of 143 e-books for every 100 hardbacks; the figures for June were 180 e-books to 100 hardcovers.

January 29, 2011: ‘eBooks’ is one of the trending topics on Yahoo!

January 2011: Kindle e-books overtake paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com. By May of 2011, the company announces that e-book sales are outstripping hardcover and paperback books - combined.

January 2011: Barnes & Noble shifts focus from hardcovers and paperbacks to e-books. The influential bookseller tries to re-invent itself as a seller of book downloads, reading devices and apps.

March 2011: ‘The future is digital,’ says Kenya Literature Bureau CEO, Eve Obara as KLB launches e-books into the local market ‘ahead of any of the other players in the business.’

In 2011, the rise of e-books is believed to be the main cause of the demise of the giant bricks-and-mortar bookseller, Borders (which took too long to join the e-retailing and electronic book markets). The liquidation of Borders Group sends shockwaves across the book world. Even its main rival, Barnes & Noble, gains little from the folding of the fabled Borders book chain. Barnes & Noble operates 717 superstores and owns the popular Nook e-book reader. Borders had over 400 stores.

2011: E-books become the hottest topic among major publishers, booksellers and other book industry stakeholders. Are e-books ‘cannibalizing’ print? Will bricks-and-mortar bookshops end up selling to the rats? Or are e-books overrated? Do traditional bookstores need to make some adjustments in order to survive in the eBook Age?

2011: E-book versions of popular books like The Da Vinci Code and Rich Dad, Poor Dad proliferate Kenyan computers. They are free, or very cheap, downloads. A blog known as Nairobi Ebooks (http://nairobibooks.blogspot.com ) sells e-books at just Kshs.10 a pop!

October 2011: When the Whirlwind Passes and The Moon is Made of Green Cheese make their Amazon Kindle debut.

2011: Amazon shakes the world of literature yet again by launching its own imprint, AmazonEncore. According to the online giant: ‘AmazonEncore is a new program whereby
Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon Kindle Store, Amazon.com Books Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.  ‘Amazon gives the self-published a second life,’ says USA Today

Amazon's major rivals, Barnes & Noble and Borders, list AmazonEncore titles on their websites and say that, depending on demand, they may carry them in their physical stores as well.

2011? : Charles Karia, a Kenyan schoolteacher and blogger, publishes an e-book entitled A
Weed in Paradise. In related news Publishing Editor Barrack Muluka says e-books are picking up (in Kenya) as fibre optic cables improve local Internet experience (Quoted in Saturday magazine).

November 25, 2011: Article in The East African Standard newspaper talks of local government departments and libraries digitalizing their documents (‘Libraries and publishers go digital to increase efficiency’). Digitalization involves scanning books, reports and other documents and placing them in an electronic retrieval system. With e-books, libraries will be able to offer e-lending services.

Late 2011: A school in Kilgoris, rural Kenya, is featured on Citizen TV for its use of electronic ‘tablets’ (e-book reading devices). The devices (a donation from an NGO) are being used alongside traditional textbooks but according to one teacher there, a single tablet can hold an entire library of books, making the textbooks potentially irrelevant.

December 9, 2011: Article entitled ‘Smart phones to drive up sale of e-books’ appears in the Daily Nation. According to it, affordable smart phones could enable a boom in e-books sales.
Internationally, e-book sales grew by 116.5% while print fell. By 2014, the article went on to say, 50% of all phones sold are expected to be ‘smart’. Ministry of Information to procure cheap tablet for high school students. Former Apprentice Africa contestant Joyce Mbaya’s e-book, Gibebe, to sell on Amazon Kindle. Master Publishing MD, Agatha Verdadero, is quoted as saying e-book trends as seen in the West are expected to reach Kenya circa 2014.

[1] Died on January 16th 2008

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