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

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

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?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.