Ebook and print book to live in harmony

VietNamNet Bridge – Ebooks are a new, inevitable trend, but a majority of Vietnamese readers prefer printed books. The market will accommodate both, but the most important thing is to promote a reading culture and develop ebooks as a means to promote print books, academics and experts tell Hong Van.

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Personal preference: Some readers enjoy a printed book for the feeling of holding the book in their hands instead of sticking to the screen. VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha

Even as Vietnamese readers continue to prefer reading and buying print books over ebooks, publishing houses are struggling to draw customers.

“Ebook is an unavoidable trend, however, it cannot replace the print book. They will coexist,” Do Ngoc Anh, former head of HCM City’s University of Culture, said at a workshop on ebooks held in HCM City in October.

Tran Ngoc Mai, an 18-year-old student of National University of Economics, is a keen reader, who buys books every month. “I prefer print books. Rarely do I buy an ebook on the internet although it may be convenient and can be stored on a mobile phone or on a tablet to bring along everywhere,” Mai said.

“I like reading a real book and feeling it in my hand, instead of being glued to the screen. Also, it is pretty inconvenient to pay for ebooks as I don’t have a bank account,” he added.

Although the price of an ebook is only 10 to 40 per cent of a print book, people still prefer the latter because on buying a print book, people feel a sense of possession that may disappear if replaced with an ebook, Tran Nhat Hoang Phuong, Van hoa Phuong Nam (South Culture) company’s head of ebook business department, told Viet Nam News.

“Even when ebook companies like ours guaranteed that customers would own the ebooks permanently in case they lose their device or publishing companies stop running their business, it wasn’t enough to draw book buyers,” he said.

Author and translator Nguyen Minh Tien said many readers asked for the print version of his books after reading the ebook version.

“I think the ebook cannot replace the print version. For me, if I happen to read a good book in the electronic version, I will seek its print version by all means,” Tien said.

“It seems that when one reads an ebook, it is easier to get distracted in comparison with a print book. It is also difficult to summarise and generalise the information of a long read,” Ngoc Anh said.

On the other hand, to read ebooks published by an array of publishing houses, readers have to download different applications, which take up space on their devices.

Still struggling

Some years ago, publishing companies were hopeful about the ebook business. They believed ebooks would replace print books in the near future in the context of rapid development of the internet.

However, till today, publishing houses in Viet Nam are struggling to run their ebook businesses.

First introduced in early 2014, ebook revenue is much less in comparison with print books, according to Hoang Phuong.

“Investment costs for ebook business are very high in Viet Nam. These costs include application development costs; costs to develop technology to protect intellectual rights and avoid illegal ebook transcription; and costs to maintain, upgrade and develop the system,” Hoang Phuong said.

The fact that some authors are hesitant to allow publishing houses to publish their works via ebooks is also a challenge, Hoang Phuong added.

“Developing ebook applications is challenging, yet ebook sales seem to be even more challenging. Ubiquitous pirated ebooks on the internet are the major reason,” she said.

“In fact, the illegal copying or use of works without permission from authors or publishing houses is on the rise,” a representative of Information and Communication Publishing House said.

“Piracy has a negative impact on publishing houses and authors. This will affect authors’ revenue from selling works, and therefore hamper creativity and damage the whole publishing industry,” Hoang Phuong said.

Complicated administrative procedures in buying ebook and ebook copyright protection are among the challenges libraries encounter when offering ebooks, Huynh Man Dat, a lecturer of HCM City’s University of Culture’s Library and Information Faculty, said.

Since protecting copyright for ebooks remains a problem, many publishing houses have created electronic versions for old works only, Dat said.

Huong Trang Culture Company started the ebook business some years ago, but following high investment costs and low revenue, it incurred a huge loss and quit the business, a representative of the company said at the workshop.

“We realised that if we continued the ebook business, we would incur a more significant loss,” he said.

Keeping in mind the investment costs and revenue gained from ebooks, most businesses have suffered losses and some have even quit.

Several publishing houses in Viet Nam have maintained their ebook business as a means to push the development of print books rather than aiming to benefit from ebooks. "From the website of the publishing house, audience can preview content and buy the print book," Nguyen Thi Diem Phuong, HCM City’s general publishing house’s head of ebook department said.

Though ebooks account for a tiny share of the publishing industry, Southern Culture is offering attractive discounts on ebooks to attract customers, in addition to making major investments in this area in the long term, according to Hoang Phuong.

"Ebooks and print books will coexist and promote each other," Hoang Phuong added.

“Ebooks cannot replace print books. The important thing is to engage the youth in the reading culture and develop ebooks as a means to promote print books,” Ngoc Anh said.

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