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Free eBook Publishing Guide – Part 2 – Features of the eBook market

This is, of course, nonsense! Traditional books do not require a power supply or batteries and can be read even when badly damaged (so called “graceful degradation”). Printed pages have better contrast and fonts are serifed, to aid the eye in scanning the text. Readers do not need technical skills or expensive and fragile devices to access them. Traditional printed books are here to stay!Over time – and as technology improves – some of these differences will be eroded. However, at the moment, eBook sales are still only a tiny fraction of overall book sales wordwide and electronic publishing remains a very immature industry. There are many companies, testing different possible business models. There are also competing software formats and handheld device manufacturers (as well as traditional PCs). This diversity will, in the short term, hamper progress.

Future Growth ProspectsIt is also wrong to dismiss eBooks as an idea that will never take off (as several industry stalwarts seem wont to do). Why? Well, because that fact is that (a) eBooks are already doing pretty well and (b) the major players are still investing!Lightning Source, the eBook distributor used by Amazon in the US, sold its millionth print-on-demand book in April 2004. Try telling them that it’s an idea that’ll never work! In 2005, Amazon recently bought French company Mobipocket from Franklin for $2.5 million (to distribute eBooks) and (to cover print-on-demand books). Look at the Amazon PageRank of eBooks on Amazon’s site and you might be surprised how well many are doing!In fact, eBooks are particularly suited to the distribution of business, computing and academic works (with a small but high value niche market). They have also proved to be a viable complimentary channel for popular mass-market paperback titles. Members of the Open eBook Forum (OeBF) reported $3.2m of sales in Q3 2004, a 25% increase over the same period in 2003. The equivalent volume increase was 11%, so eBooks are commanding higher prices as consumer acceptance grows.

Features of the eBook marketAt a basic level, one can distinguish five main components to the emerging ePublishing market:

1) Free distribution – epitomised by Project Gutenberg; started in 1971 (in the very earliest days of the internet) and now maintained by an army of volunteers. At time of writing, there are 16,700 free etexts in it’s catalogue and approx. 1.8 million downloads a month. Top 20 downloads include the War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Peer-to-peer (free and generally illegal) distribution using Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Usenet and file sharing software (like Kazaa, BitTorrent & Limeware) has yet to take off in the book market as it has in recorded music. It might be easy to burn MP3s from a CD, but scanning a book, page-by-page to create a text file is beyond the skills and patience of almost everyone! Everyone, that is, other than the dedicated volunteers at Gutenberg!