To eBook or not to eBook?
31 Aug 2012

Lifestyle & Arts - Featured OS

To eBook or not to eBook?

Gone are the days of heading to the library and book stores to browse through shelves in search for good books. Today, a few clicks on an eBook reader and every title is a mere three seconds away.

Sujah Abhilash

In the second of the four-part series Turning Pages, we place a bookmark on eBooking and find out if publishers, Math Paper Press and Monsoon Books, are jumping on the bandwagon of eBooking.

Gone are the days of heading to the library and book stores to browse through shelves in search of good books. Today, a few clicks on an eBook reader and every title is a mere three seconds away. Giving one the opportunity to increase the font size, highlight and un-highlight text virtually, these pocket-sized “book stores” are but only a natural progression in the digital age we live in today.

But somehow, actually parting from my yellow-stained paperback books seems too much of a drastic shift for me. Even though most of my copies of Coben’s mysteries and Murakami’s surreal fictions are facing tragic book deaths, the thought of not being able to run my fingers through physical pages is almost depressing. Besides, most eBook devices are discriminatory towards stubby fingers like mine.

But even the National Library Board (NLB) in Singapore has slowly transitioned to eBooks. Within the first year of launch of the eBook services, the NLB was able to garner almost 50, 000 e-loans. Perhaps, that inspired them to eventually develop an app on the iPhone, catering to mobile readers, aptly named, MobileRead.

Nonetheless, with the increasing dependence on digital media, it is an inevitable progression for book publishers today to produce fewer paperbacks and rely more on digital publishing. One such local publishing company is Monsoon Books, (link to which publishes “fiction and narrative non-fiction books with Southeast Asian themes”.

Publisher Phil Tatham says: “Monsoon published its first eBook in mid 2011 and we now carry more eBooks than print books. We’ve seen our eBook sales increase month on month as more people try reading digital books, and more platforms and eBook retailers enter the digital arena.”

It is a natural transition for some avid readers, who find being able to condense their favorite titles into one device a major benefit.

A self-confessed Kindle convert, Tatham says, “I haven’t bought a print book for 18 months. I enjoy being able to adjust the size of the font, I like the slim size compared to blockbuster paperbacks, I like carrying multiple titles with me when I travel and I appreciate the convenience of being able to buy and download books wherever I am and in a matter of seconds.”

These advantages seemingly outweigh the appeal of holding a crisp, new book and its neatly printed pages. Coupled with the careful effort it takes to own a paperback -- ensuring the books binds aren’t bent and slowing down the gradual decay of the pages -- eBooks seems to be a natural winner.

But some publishers are not going to jump on the bandwagon yet. At least, not yet, as they assess how piracy could affect their business bottom-line.

Owner Kenny Leck of Books Actually, which has a publishing arm, Math Paper Press, explains his reservations: “There’s piracy, you know. We might see companies setting up ePortals to sell eBooks, to download eBooks. But at the end of the day, (in) Singapore, do we have that many downloads? And even if we do, how much is paid and pirated?”

Books published by Math Paper Press, publishing arm of Books Actually

Recounting an incident with a friend who had illegally obtained an eBook copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Kenny shares his thoughts: “The author didn’t earn anything, the publisher didn’t earn anything and the eBook provider didn’t earn anything. I think that doesn’t help,” he says.

But despite it all, Kenny acknowledges that eBooking does provide alternatives that traditional books will never be able to.

“We have friends who study overseas who might want to get (local) books easily. And we don’t have a wide distribution system where we can get the books out easily. So the faster way is of course, eBooks,” explains the avid reader.

For now, eBooks and traditional books seem to be competing neck and neck,  beguiling loyal followers with their unique charms. 

Says Tatham, “Both formats are now well established in mature book-reading markets so there is no question of not producing one format in favour of the other. eBooks far outsell hardback books but we see digital and paperbacks co-existing for some time to come.”

The race is certainly on, though my vote for now, remains loyally with physical books. 

By Sujah Abhilash

Next week we find out more about Math Paper Press and their efforts to introduce local authors by publishing their works and also speak to writers, Jerrold Yam and Cyril Wong, to hear their thoughts about the local literary scene.


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.