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Do We Need the Term ‘E-book’ Any Longer?

By Edward Nawotka

Some 1,000+ people are gathered in New York City today for the second day of Digital Book World 2012, the annual gathering of the tribes organized by F+W Media. The event offers a plethora of panels, keynotes and discussions about the evolving digital book marketplace.

Several topics have been discussed that will provoke further inquiry over the coming year. Among the most provocative questions raised on the first day of the event is whether or not the term “e-book” is redundant. The question was asked by Hyperion president Ellen Archer, who noted during a morning panel, “Do we read e-magazines?”

Archer, who predicts her company may see as much as 50-60% of her company’s sales derive from digital products by 2015, believes that the term may be too loaded and cause authors to reassess their relationship with publishers, especially if they are not presented with the opportunity to publish in print, as well as digital.

stack of six books

The term “e-book” is largely one of convenience, but it does distinguish format. It is also prejudicial in so far as it has become something of a metonym for “cheap” and “ephemeral” in many consumers minds.

Archer’s question underscores a theme of this year’s conference: that digital and print can and will co-exist. This point was emphasized by Barnes & Noble’s Jim Hilt, who noted, “The idea that the print book is going to die some slow long death is actually a fallacy.” This may come across as self-serving, coming as it does from a bookseller. But there’s also a great deal of self-service at work when investors, employees and owners of digital publishing companies repeat the mantra “print is dead, print is dead…”

What’s more, the term “book” has been co-opted by content creators who have little investment in what is traditionally known as a “book,” possibly in order to lend their work some gravitas and authority.

Is a transmedia project really a book in any sense? No, it is an entertainment experience. Ditto for an app that offers a multitude of multimedia And we all know by now just how unappealing the term “enhanced” is when appended to e-book.

Isn’t the duty of the publishing business to produce the best “books” possible, in print or digital, format be damned?

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  1. Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I use the term “ebook” to denote what format the book comes in and leave it at that. The text is the same as a printed book. The pictures are the same as in a printed book. I think it is extremely jejeune to debate the merits of an ebook versus a printed book in terms of content. They are the same. People who denigrate ebooks clearly do not know what they are talking about. Also, news of the “death” of the printed book are greatly exaggerated. The ebook market counts for less than 25% of the book market overall, so I would appreciate it if the “chicken littles” of content would stop carping on the demise of printed books. I provide content in both formats so it is not a matter of promoting one over the other. As for price, that is another matter. While the cost to produce a printed book is more than an ebook, I count my compensation with the work to write it, so I price an ebook only what I think is fair.

  2. William Ockham
    Posted January 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Next question?

  3. Posted January 26, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Interesting, I think in Germany we wouldn’t be able to ask this question yet because many people still don’t know what a digital book is and how you can read it! So we will definitely still need the term for a while…

  4. A Friend of the Author
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    A book is a book? Nonsense. You have a hardcover. It generates a unit royalty of about $3.75 for a typical author. Then you have a paperback. Its unit royalty is less than 1/3 of that. The e-book falls between the two.

    If Ms. Archer believes an e-book is just a book, it follows that Hyperion, and all other publishers, should pay a royalty that makes no distinction, either — i.e. a full hardcover rate.

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