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E books- Thoughts and Trends

June 19, 2012

Barbara Opar, column editor

Will the e-book soon replace the print book in the arts? It is safe to say that more such content is becoming available every day and that many people often choose the Kindle or iPad over print for reading novels on their daily commute. New interfaces allow for seamless searching, zooming and even multimedia features. But while the trend toward e-content continues, publishing in the arts remains somewhat different.  Incompatible formats are one factor. Large- format, heavily illustrated books do not easily lend themselves to electronic devices. It takes longer to read text on a screen than on a page and there is a fatigue factor. The market, too, is different. Museum bookstores serve as opportunities for art lovers to find current and past exhibition catalogs or locate unusual items. The art book is often an artifact, given as a gift. Editions can be limited and include special content. The publisher Phaidon has gone so far as to commission limited edition vases to be sold along with a book about the work of the product designer, Hella Jongeius.

So when is the e-book going to take off in the arts?  Factors include the focus of large scale digitization projects like Google Books and the Digital Public Library of America. Self-publication could also increase. But e-textbooks are a likely future market.  Barnes and Noble is one of a number of distributors looking to increase business in this area through partnerships.

There is no question about how the e-book can help developing nations to expand access to information.  Yet, not every country has embraced the e-book. While e-books account for about twenty percent of the current U.S. publishing market, in Germany that figure is surprisingly but one percent. The physical book is near and dear to the lives of Germans and they take pride in producing quality work.  As such, publishers, who in that country, set market price still favor the printed book. Even the German tax system plays a factor. Printed books are currently exempt from Germany’s nineteen percent value added tax.

Time will tell if e-book growth in the arts takes off suddenly or if visual materials lack behind what is otherwise a growing trend- in the U.S. anyway.

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