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Tokyo Journal looks at the future of e-books and raises the question of whether e-books are worth the paper they are not printed on.

Are e-books worth the e-paper they are printed on?

Famous last words: "E-books are never going to take off!"

In the mid-nineties, the owner of an online university approached the president of a major publishing company to express his excitement over technology, the Internet and the thought that e-books were the future. He urged the market-leading publisher to produce more books in their electronic format so students worldwide could gain convenient and instant access to textbooks. The owner’s delight, however, was quickly defused as the publisher responded, “E-books are never going to take off.” This was at a time when scanners were not near the speed or quality of today and authors were still submitting paper manuscripts. This led the publisher to add, “If we wanted to start converting books into e-books, we would need to start scanning every single page beginning with the Bible. Can you imagine how long that would take?”

Things have come a long way since then, and rather quickly. At the time, books had to be scanned and be converted into e-books. Now all books are written in an electronic format so all of the digital input has already been completed and the content simply needs to be formatted as an e-book. So are e-books sustainable? TJ gives a resounding yes! Let TJ count the ways....


First of all, e-books and e-readers have made it possible for you to carry around an entire library in your pocket. Next - no more shipping delays! Instant download. Need we say more? Ok, we will... you can print out only the chapters or pages you want, and depending on the software, you can print in different font sizes. Getting a headache because you're trying to read in bad lighting? Can't read the words close to the spine of the book? Are you thinking you need new glasses because the print in the book is too small? E-readers are self-lit, flat and allow you to adjust the font size to your preference. On the business side of things, lost and damaged shipments are a thing of the past for distributors and publishers.


In many cases, e-publishing cuts out the middleman. This means more money for the author Athreey e a-rbeo porkisn tweodr othn ?the e-paper Tokyo Journal looks at the future of e-books and raises the question of whether e-books are worth the paper they are not printed on. Are E-Books Sustainable? and publisher, plus a possible discount for the consumer. E-books are often less expensive than the paper versions, and the world’s leading player in the field, Amazon, encourages publishers to sell e-books for under $10. A selling price of more than $10 results in the publisher paying a higher percentage to Amazon.


E-books have added a whole new dimension to reading. E-readers allow you to instantly bookmark pages and highlight words, sentences and paragraphs with a single click. Highlighting using the Amazon Kindle allows prospective buyers of the e-book to see popular highlights through the website. Some e-readers allow you to group your highlights under different colors, write as many notes as you want with no length limitations, share your e-notes with a group of classmates using the same system, and perform keyword searches not only within a single book but across an entire library. For example, an MBA student could have every reference to “SWOT Analysis” in his textbooks come up by performing a single search. Multimedia can be integrated with e-books, allowing readers to instantly access audio and video files, adding a multidimensional aspect to the learning process for the classroom.


An obvious sustainability-related reason for choosing e-books is the saving of our forests, plus a reduction in toxic chemicals for printing ink and the reductions in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption from less transportation. Let’s look at how a shipment of books reaches an international bookstore from the publisher. After a book is printed, the printer sends it to the publishing company’s warehouse. From there the book is sent to a shipping company’s warehouse where it is prepared for shipping. After shipping, it’s unloaded at yet another warehouse for customs officials to inspect before it is then driven to a warehouse near the point of distribution, where the shipment is then distributed in smaller numbers to dozens or hundreds of locations. Then there is the transportation involved when the consumer physically goes to the bookstore to buy the book, or the shipping involved in getting the book from the bookstore to consumer. Wait a minute while we calculate the carbon footprint... Whoa! We think this number is for the history books, which - oh great - will add to the carbon footprint again if we go the traditional route. Yes, a similar shipping process may be involved for getting the e-reader or computer to you, but this is a one-time process that will allow you to download e-books to your heart’s desire as opposed to the drawnout shipping for each book you purchase.

The Future

Will e-books do to traditional bookstores what Netflix did to Blockbuster’s video rental stores? That remains to be seen. However, e-books are the fastest-growing area of book sales, especially for youngsters. According to the Association of American Publishers, monthly sales of children’s and young adults e-books surged 480% to a whopping 22.6 million in January 2012 from 3.9 million in the year-earlier period. For adults, e-book sales grew 50% over the same period, surging to 99.5 million e-books sold from 66.6 million. If this growth continues, adult e-books will overtake adult paperbacks as the highest volume product for publishers in America. This past January, sales of paperbacks outpaced e-books by less than 6 million units. But if the current e-book market growth trend continues, e-book sales will have far outsold paperbacks to become the #1 category for U.S. publishers. tj

This story appeared in Issue 270 of the Tokyo Journal.

To order Issue 270, click here.


Written By:

Richard Hawking

Born in Bahrain, Richard Hawking is a British citizen who has traveled extensively through Egypt, Kenya, Zaire, Peru, Pakistan, and Somalia, and has resided in Japan for over two decades. Richard has studied Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Graphic Design, Photography and Instructional Technology and is currently an Assistant Professor in the English Language Program at J.F. Oberlin University in Tokyo. His adventure in the Andes was documented in the 2003 film "Touching the Void". Richard contributes to the Tokyo Journal in his free time.


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