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The (e)book of the future

Latest update : 2008-09-17

In recent years, the spectre of the e-book hitting market shelves has raised the question of the future of the paper book. The upcoming launch of Sony’s Reader in France has rekindled the debate.

This year’s Fall publishing season in France will feature, among the much-awaited list of new book titles, Sony’s new Reader. Under an exclusive arrangement with the French chain, FNAC, the device will be available at FNAC stores across France from mid-October. The Reader, which allows users to download up to 160 books, will be sold for around 300 euros.

If the success of Kindle - the 10-ounce device currently available at - is anything to go by, the Reader could well be off to a good start.

Often viewed as the death-knell of paper, the device can also provide a second life for texts in danger of disappearing due to the reaction of acids contained in paper. The digitalization of texts could not only widen and democratise access, but could be useful in preserving our literary heritage.

A nascent market

On June 30, Bruno Patino, former boss of Telerama and Le Monde Interactif and new head of France Culture radio station,  submitted a report on the digitized book in France to the French Ministry of Culture. The report seeks to highlight the limits of the sector, which is far more developed across the Atlantic. There, sales of e-books increased by 87% between June 2007 and June 2008, according to a report by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IPDF), the international authority in the field of digitized information.

Will the arrival of the Reader kindle a passion for the ebook in France?

Laurent Hentz, an assistant for Web and editions at M21 Éditions, has been selling ebooks for the past nine months. He says there is certainly enthusiasm for the device in France. On the consumers’ side, he observes that a majority are now accustomed to new technologies. And while the younger market may be put off by the high price of the ebook, they are nevertheless very interested by this technology, which they can compare with the multi-media Ipod.

“What users of ebooks, the majority of whom are aged between 40 and 60 years, appreciate the most, is the possibility of storing a great number of works because they travel a lot, or to address sight problems by increasing the typeface,” he explains. Yet, he suggests what’s lacking in France right now is the limited material on offer, which “deters many people from buying the devices.”

'The ebook is not a menace – yet'

This weakness is one of the reasons Hélène Clément, head of the French union of booksellers, does not see the ebook as a threat to the paper book - at least for now. “There are certain sectors that are completely digitized, but it’s not yet the case with fiction, for example.”

She notes that some consumers of digital texts are also avid paper book readers. Many of them will, in effect, reserve the ebook for professional use. “At the bookstore level, we are trying to structure our business so that we can offer buyers a digital as well as a paper version of a piece of work,” she explains.

The question of royalties does however worry authors and publishers, who fear the industry will experience the same pains as the music industry did with the advent of the MP3 format. Indeed, the Patino report does not fail to stress that “the entry of digital books” must be “supported by a serious reflection on the issue of royalties.”

Date created : 2008-09-17