Monday, July 26, 2010

Throw Your Bookshelves Away, Here Comes the E-book

At the mention of a book, the first thing we think of is the cover page, the feel of the book in our hands, the smell of the book, the colour of the cover, the font size and then the contents. I loved books for these things. Anytime I purchase a book, I stroke the spine like I would do for a pet, though I have none and had I not married I could easily say that the most important thing in my life is a book, any book for that matter. I love books for what they are and I do not care whether it falls within my study area or not. In my bookshelf, I have books on history, literature, economics, accounting, agriculture and many others. The best present anyone could ever give me is a book and when I celebrated my twenty-ninth birthday and a friend of mine gave me a copy of 'Half of a Yellow Sun', a book a reader of ImageNations had recommended for me, the feeling was different and it is a feeling I would never forget.

However, these personal relationship one has with books are about to change with the emergence of e-readers and its increasing popularity. Amazon's Kindle, Apple's IPad, Sony's Reader Touch, Barns and Noble's Nook and many others, have all changed the face and phase of reading. Now, one can carry the whole of his library with him and at the press of a button retrieve, purchase and store countless books. This revolution however has its costs. But is this cost a cost to readers or to manufacturers. Amazon recently announced that the sales of its e-books have outstripped sales for its hard copies and the sales of its Kindle has not decreased but increased. Judging from this information and also from the current war of words and sues brewing between the traditional hard copy publishers and publishing agents such as Alex Wiley and authors themselves, where copyright issues concerning the e-books are being redefined, the e-books have come to really stay. It has been predicted that e-books would surpass the traditional hard copy books in five years and the industry is growing to become a multi-billion dollar industry. Many authors such as Binyavanga Wainaina of Kenya have warned African publishing houses to beware of this trend and follow suit. This phenomenon is not new. It is well established in the music industry where one can easily log on to sites such as ITunes and purchase mp3 copies of the songs one hears. In the music industry, it has shown to be a success and it is this same success that authors are waiting for.

So please reduce the size of your bookshelf, close down the library or better still throw the bookshelves out of the window... Get bigger memory external hard disks to store your books and create room space for yourself. But would this phenomenon be good for readers and bibliophiles in developing countries? Those to whom access to even hard copy books still remain a problem? There still are only about two bookshops with more than four shelves dedicated to literary books in Accra and book prices at one of these are way above normal, sometimes even higher than the dollar equivalent quoted at the back of the book. Would books still be considered an elite commodity? Or would the e-pub industry destroy this myth?

Advantages of the E-book
The advantage of e-books is that, they are easy to circulate and their cost is low. Their ease of circulation and low production cost mean that authors get a greater percentage from royalties (between 50 percent and 70 percent compared to the average 25 percent from traditional publishing houses). Again, with a high-memory e-reader one could store a lot of books into the reader creating spaces for other essential items when one is going to work or vacation. As already stated, bookshelves would become smaller and smaller and with time disappear altogether. Lovely e-books. But are these advantages greater than the disadvantages?

I believe that the e-readers and e-books would widen the gap between students and bibliophiles in the urban areas and rural areas.

E-readers require electricity to power them just as mobile phones do. Is every village in Africa connected to the national electrification grid? Most villages in Ghana, as I know them, are not connected to the national grid. In Nigeria lights go off and on like the way we flutter our eyes. We can read traditional books with candles and lanterns but what if you have exams and the lights have been off for say a day or two and your e-reader has rundown? Far-fetched? There has been numerous power scheduling in Ghana and students have to end up learning with candles. How would the e-book fare in this area? Some may argue that though mobile phones also require electricity to charge them, this has not prevented them from being used in rural areas. However, whereas people could leave their phones off or charge their phones in people's houses or with batteries, would these same people (perhaps students) be ready to leave their e-readers at these places when they need to read them? Solar chargers? May be!

The cost of reading a traditional book is the cost of only the book and perhaps your time, a common variable in every reading activity. However, to read an e-book one needs the e-reader and that e-book. Another point is that the e-book should be in a format that is compatible with the e-reader, else it cannot open. Sony's e-reader cost between US$ 250 and US$ 300, versions of IPad's e-reader sell for over US$ 700 and there is no e-reader that sells for less than US$ 100, used or brand new. Besides unlike the hard copies book (if you kept them from high and low PH liquids--water is okay as you can dry them after they fall in it,--fire and perhaps children--even if they tear it up you can mend it with a transparent tape), the e-reader can have all the problems associated with mobile phones: battery problems, screen loss and definitely it must not fall down. If you drop your IPad from a storey, know that you cannot read your story till you replace it.

E-books are easily be available from numerous outlets such as and Barnes and Noble, if one has ACCESS to the internet and a CREDIT CARD. Getting access to the internet is the first major problem. I, for instance, get access to the internet mostly when I am at work. When I go back home, where I was born and brought up and also where I stay, I barely get access to the net; whenever I travel to my working areas in the villages, internet access become a wish item. What then happens to the rural folks, if all our books became e-books?

Though I have internet access at work, I cannot purchase anything on the net as my bankers only provide me with a debit card. Sometimes those who provide credit cards do not provide the service overseas and in certain countries. Thus, with a Kindle, an internet access and a 'no-service' bank I still cannot use the e-book.

However, every article that I have read on the e-reader and on or about e-books point to the fact that it is the future. That the future of the book industry about to change drastically. What should we as Africans do in order to benefit from this change? Should there be a direct government interest and action or it should be left with private entrepreneurs?

This is only my thoughts and I would want us to keep this discussion going.


  1. I think hard copy sellers and readers stand to be disadvantaged with the emergence of electronic libraries. For exampif a good book emerges from a small time publisher based at the furthest flung places on earth, I may never be able to get myself a copy. However if it is online, I could read it from anywhere at the touch of a button.

    I think I welcome this development. There are so many good books, especially by African writters which I never got to read because i have never found them. If they come online, you can bet, I have no more excuses. I like it.

  2. that's the first step... in this regard it is a positive outcome.

  3. Ebooks and ereaders are a good development but your insightful article has also shown there can be downsides especially for people in less developed countries. This is a well written piece.

  4. Thanks Myne... Let's see how we can bridge this gap for the world would not wait for us.


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