If you consider what people have been saying about the publishing industry lately, you might think the sky was falling. Print books are seemingly under attack, and the threat of the eBook market overtaking traditional publishing is enough to keep even the most level-headed of us who love the printed word, up at night. Having recently started a publishing course at Humber College in Toronto, this is especially true. Have I made the right career choice? Will I have a job when I graduate? If I get an internship will my days be spent in front of a computer screen looking at ePub formatting, never to smell the paper and ink of the physical book again?
I recently found solace in the Shatzkin Files. Michael Shatzkin has been an unknowing mentor of mine throughout these past few months. His extensive knowledge of publishing, his appreciation for the traditions of the industry and his embracing of new technology is inspiring. It is a fine balance I hope to one day – hopefully in the very near future – achieve. During a recent trip to South America, Mr. Shatzkin spoke about the eBook market and pointed out some very interesting issues to an international audience that has largely been immune to the influx of eBooks. While his points are based on information and stats from the United States, I think a lot of it applies to the Canadian market as well.
First, he points out that the rise of the eBook has been possible because of two very important factors. The first factor, is the existence of Amazon. Without this powerhouse retailing devices and reading materials, eBooks could not have gotten a foothold in the market. The second factor playing a large part, is that America has one language. When you look at the process Canadians go through just to translate and publish material in our two official languages, it is easy to appreciate the benefits of only having to publish in one language. America is somewhat of an anomaly, as many countries around the world have more than one official language. I can only imagine the undertaking it would be to translate, format and publish eBooks in a country like China or Luxembourg.
Another great point he makes is regarding the use of credit cards as a form of payment. It is easy for people in North America to accept that VISA really is everywhere you want to be. I remember several years back when I was in Toronto visiting from Japan. At the time, I was in the middle of an around the world tour. I stopped over in Canada to attend a friend’s wedding and planned to continue on to the UK. When I tried to pay cash for my flight, I was regarded with suspicion and told I had to pay with a credit card. My money was no good. So I turned to a friend, who was with me at the time, gave him the money at which point the travel agent happily accepted his credit card as payment. This disdain for cash seems common place in North America, but for most parts of the world, it is still the preferred way to pay. While living in Japan, I so rarely used my credit card that it expired and I didn’t even notice until a year later.
The three criteria required for a thriving eBook market are: devices on which to read, a store at which to purchase the files, and a payment system. Of course someday in the future eBooks will be embraced around the world as technology improves and globalization mixes markets. For now however, for those of us Luddites in the publishing industry, there are still plenty of places in the world that are still a ways from having all the necessary components in place, where printed books are still being published and the smell of paper and ink still lingers in the air.
Gosh, I better start posting my résumé in South America…