Tag Archives: Digital Book World

The rise of digital publishing and the death of the author

On seeing The Guardian‘s article on digital publishing and the death of the author, I was immediately reminded of my English BA days when I wrote about Roland  Barthes’ essay on ‘The death of the author’. Despite the differences in context, it appears that appealing to readers is more important to authors than writing titles that make a lot of money.

Digital Book World (DBW) surveyed 1,600 self-published authors and only 20% of those claimed it was “extremely important” to “make money writing books”. On the other hand, 56% said that publishing a “book that people will buy” was more important. Of course, in this day and age, social media/online platforms make it far more easier for authors to distribute their works. What’s more is that this also allows them to find audiences for their work. While digital publishing has indeed proved an advantage to authors in some instances, the DBW survey also stated that 54% of traditionally published and 80% of self-published authors earn less than £600 each year.

While the surge of self publishing combined with digital means that discoverabilty of literature is easier online in particular, it also means that the definition of an author is almost being devalued as a result. This is emphasised by Hugh Howey’s statement (Howey actually sold thousands of copies of his book, Wool, on Amazon prior to finding a publisher):

the self-publishing revolution has allowed “hundreds of thousands of voracious readers with a dream of writing a novel” to write books “out of love and passion, just like a kid goes out and dribbles a basketball for hours every day or kicks a soccer ball against a garage wall”. But over the past few decades we wouldn’t have called these people “writers” any more than we would call that kid in the back yard a footballer. If all it takes to be a writer is to stick your work online then we’re all writers now.

Howey further states that self-publishing is currently going through a “renaissance”. Today’s new authors do not have the same amount of experience  and “market maturity” to go up against the 1% of authors who have had numerous years of experience.

I guess if I was to link in some criticism here, I would use that of Michel Foucault’s What Is An Author? (1969):

The idea of the author is not a timeless figure: the figure and significance of the author varies across time, and from one culture to another, from one discourse to another and so on.

Drawing from what Howey states, and Foucault many years prior to this article, is the death of the author an actual occurrence? Or is it simply going through yet another change?

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Image comes from: http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/tag/death-of-the-author/ [Accessed: 27.01.14]


Print textbooks more popular than digital

I noted an interesting tweet from @DigiBookWorld the other day:

Only 3% of students used a digital textbook as the “core” course material last semester, down from 4% in the fall

The tweet included a link to the article by Jeremy Greenfield on the Digital Book World website, which noted that the e-textbook revolution was still waiting to happen. Whilst sales for fiction ebooks appear to be soaring, it seems that the e-revolution for academic textbooks isn’t quite meeting expectations. According to a survey of over 1,500 undergraduate students, digital is still critical; however, the majority of students favour print textbooks. The reasons for the result were split 50-50: some students prefer the look and feel of a print book, whilst others pointed out that they would not be able to re-sell a digital textbook.

The research was made by Bowker Market Research. The Director behind the survey, Carl Kulo, stated that students feel that print textbooks are better value for learning and for money.

Despite this result, digital textbooks are still proving popular amongst some students who favour them for being easy to carry and for the text being easier to search. Results show that students trying digital textbooks is actually up 31% from 28% in the past two years, proving that digital textbooks do still have a hold on a considerable amount of the marketplace. Although growth is slow now, Kulo believes that the market will begin to pick up in the next two-to-five years. Digital is only set to soar in growth as more and more students use some form of digital in their studies, particularly with emerging learning management systems and integrated learning platforms. Even publishers use these types of platforms to present training materials for editors, and also to help customers in their day-to-day lives. A good example is online learning platform, Cambridge English Teacher, which Cambridge University Press has made available on their website. The aim is to help teachers (current and aspiring) to enhance their own knowledge of grammar, for example, to help develop their teaching techniques.

The article makes me doubt whether universities shall stop spending as much money on textbooks, journals and monographs. I wrote an entry not too long ago, ‘Open Access: in, £50 breeze blocks: out’, which explored a prediction from the vice-chancellor of Durham University, who stated that as digital and Open Access becomes more popular, universities will cut their spending on print materials. He also made a point that students could not afford to buy ‘£50 breeze blocks’. It seems that these students, however, are very much for print textbooks…

In my opinion, I am with the majority of students who believe that print is better monetary value and value for learning. Whilst I do still use digital textbooks and articles which I access through my University Library’s website (mostly if the print version is not available), I feel that textbooks are easier for studying. Not only are they good value for money, you can annotate it and easily access it next to you, as opposed to clicking between computer windows. They may be a pain to lug to-and-from the library, but I feel that their presence is still, and will continue to be, a very solid feature on every student’s bookshelf.