The Rise and Rise of E-Books in Australia
The Game is AfootAustralian publishers and authors are very well acquainted with the digital revolution that has surged over them during the past few years – the unsteady mood of both excitement and apprehension has kept a vice-like grip on the industry. Yet until recently, readers in Australia have been bystanders to this radical metamorphosis. Now though, readers are quickly turning from passive consumers into active agents, exerting their influence on how fast the changes occur, and even shaping the platforms and devices through which e-books will be distributed and read.
Since the recent much-hyped collapse of two established bookselling behemoths, Angus & Robertson and Borders, Australian consumer interest in e-books has jumped. Many see this as at least somewhat ironic – that the failings of these two bulwarks of the industry has actually given a shot in the arm to e-books. As a result of these highly publicised collapses, more Australians are conducting more internet searches for e-books, and there has been a marked increase in the acquisition of e-book readers.
A poll of almost 7,000 Sydney Morning Herald readers earlier this year found that 70% of respondents either own or are thinking of purchasing an e-book reader. This escalation of the widespread awareness of e-books along with the willingness to adopt e-reading technology shows the pace that the Australian reading landscape is changing.
Many forecasters predict that e-books are likely to generate around 7 to 8 per cent of all Australian book sales by the end of 2011, but that figure might even be closer to 10 per cent. And as far as market predictions go for 2012 and beyond: Well, all bets are off. Compared to the United States and other advanced tech-culture markets, Australians aren’t generally inclined to latch on to new technology and ideas as hastily — this can be blamed on the ‘tyranny of distance’ as much as on the nation’s characteristic wariness — but once they do decide to embrace something, Australians do so more deeply and broadly than other markets.
The Australian Booksellers Association expects e-books to account for up to 25 per cent of the market by 2015. As University of Melbourne publishing and communications lecturer (and fiction writer) Emmett Stinson has said on the topic: "based on Australia's adoption of other new media: slow at first, but quick to catch up".
The Reading ExperienceFrom Kindles, Kobos and iPads to the whole range of sophisticated smart-phones, there are already a bunch of devices in Australia on which to read an e-book. And there are plenty more specialist e-readers and tablet gadgets that are available right now or are currently in development. Nowadays even the standard laptop or desktop computer can morph from work station to television portal to e-reader to web browser and back again.
Australians are reading e-books across this technological spectrum, and there seems to be no clear preference, yet.
Recently Amazon announced that US Kindle e-book sales have now surpassed all of its hard-copy book sales combined, selling 105 digital copies for every 100 printed ones. Although figures for the Australian market aren’t as readily broadcast, the relative expense of printed books in Australia and the ease of online buying online has seen a rush for e-books. And with news that Amazon will soon launch its own Android-based tablet, presumably to help bolster its e-book business, and also the announcement that Google is set to roll out an Australian version of its eBookstore, Australian readers will soon have a glut of purchasing options for e-books.
To combat the rise of the multi-national companies, local e-book sellers have cropped up. Book.ish, a somewhat clunky but thus far semi-successful buying/reading platform, this year partnered with independent bookselling chain Readings to sell e-books. It is now also on board with other independent chains, including Gleebooks, and Fullers. Book.ish allows readers to buy and read e-books in their web browsing window, and whilst the aesthetic experience is pleasant, the fact that the consumer cannot take their e-book with them has been a sticking point.
Another Australian venture, ReadCloud, set to launch in late 2011, has signed on over 200 Australian and New Zealand bookstores to both its e-book platform and its own e-reading device. Like a chef’s kitchen just before service, booksellers and publishers are waiting for Australian readers to flock in their droves.
From this Day Forward…Australian readers are gradually flocking towards e-books, but with such an upheaval in the way readers obtain and read books, the future of reading is still uncertain. It could very well be a future where the title of ''publisher'' is up for grabs, as we see communication giants like Vodafone and Amazon muscling on in to the Australian publishing industry. A book, after all, is simply a way of packaging content.
As Zoe Dattner, co-founder of Sleepers Publishing and manager of SPUNCH ("Small Press Underground Networking Community") says, ''The way in which we consume things is changing. There will always be publishers, it's just that the landscape will change. The heads of publishing houses today will be very different to the ones of the future; the publishers of tomorrow will focus on technology.''
The near-future success of e-books is almost guaranteed, but this doesn’t mean that Australian is about to enter a golden age of reading. There is still the question of whether the take-up of e-books will be great enough to offset the likely losses in print sales due to bookstore closures and the closure of smaller publishing houses. Whilst readers will soon be presented with a surfeit of reading choices, and also many options as to how they will read their e-books, the exact effects on quality are yet to be seen. What is certain is that a whole lot more Australians will soon be seen with an e-reader in hand, browsing and enjoying books, just like they have been for hundreds of years.
Sam Cooney is a writer, originally from Melbourne but currently living in Berlin. His short fiction has been published in print and in online publications, and his nonfiction covers such areas as the publishing and literary industries, digital culture, copyright and travel.|
He is also fiction editor at The Lifted Brow, and has completed stints as guest editor at various Australian literary journals.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Australia, October 2011. Do you have any questions about this article? Feel free to send us an email: