War of the words
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War of the words

Can e-books and printed books share the same shelf? Norman Borg and Tony Cutajar read out the answers.

Carrying your library

Norman Borg

Q: What encouraged you to publish your first e-book?

With younger readers more inclined to look at a screen rather than a book, I believe this is the next logical step we need to take to continue promoting Maltese books- Norman Borg

A: I’ve always been fascinated by technology and I’m also a lover of books. Although I was initially sceptical about e-books, it was only a matter of time before I started exploring their potential. Also, publishing my writings has always been my lifelong ambition, and today’s online facilities encouraged me to explore the possibilities offered. One other reason is the wish to see more Maltese literature online. With younger readers more inclined to look at a screen rather than a book, I believe this is the next logical step we needto take to continue promotingMaltese books.

Q: E-book sales are constantly growing. Do you thinke-books and traditional printed books can co-exist?

A: Certainly nothing compares with the feeling of actually having a book in hand and physically turning its pages. I wouldn’t read a book for pleasure off a PC screen. However, I believe that somehow technology has caught up thanks to e-readers like Kindle and Nook. The first time I took up a Kindle and started reading ane-book, I had no problems finishing it whatsoever. That doesn’t mean I have stopped readingactual books.

Nowadays, looking at the relative novelty of electronic reading, it’s natural to wonder what’s going to happen next. True, DVDs have completely superseded VCRs, but has television replaced cinemas? The outcome of new technologies is simply unpredictable. I believe the two forms will eventuallyco-exist and will find theirrespective niches.

Q: What are the advantages that an e-book offers, over a traditional printed book?

A: E-books are a completely different media, so they naturally provide new opportunities traditional book publications can never hope to provide. For a writer it’s much easier and quicker to reach the public through e-books, because today’s technology is portable and immediate. If you want to buy a book, you can simply go online, search for it and order it. And you don’t have to wait to receive it by post – given a good wireless connection, it’s downloaded into your e-reader within seconds of the purchase. You can do this on a bus, orperhaps even in bed before going to sleep. The availability of e-books is instantaneous. Try doing that with a traditional book.

Moreover, the publication ofe-books isn’t physically limited by the actual number of copies printed. It’s much more economic and, of course, more eco-friendly.

I also believe that e-books bring more people closer to reading, simply because it’s easier to carry books around. With today’s e-readers, it’s not a matter of having a book in your pocket. You can carry entire libraries.

Q: Are children and adolescents more receptive toe-books than older readers, who are maybe more set in their ways?

A: Not necessarily. Of course today’s technologies are much more appealing to younger generations, who are much more inclined to embrace these gadgets as part of their lifestyles. But my personal experience with children and young adults has taught me that we shouldn’t take this for granted. There are youngsters out there who are technophobic, or perhaps are simply not interested in using technology, albeit in the minority.

One other thing we must consider is what these young people are actually doing with the technology. Spending hours on end on Facebook or videogames may not be the right way to go. Rather than focusing on who is using the technology, we should consider how it is being used.

Q: Does the rise in e-booksales announce the death of libraries?

A: Again it’s not that easy to determine, although trends do seem to point that way, and not just because of the rise of e-book sales but of e-book lending as well. All major e-book retailers nowadays – Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony – provide this facility. Just as publishers may have to consider publishing e-books to survive in the market, so public libraries may eventually have to adopt this strategy.

Q: What are the costs of publishing an e-book?

A: Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer to put your e-book up for sale for free. In addition, online distributors like Lulu and Smashwords can distribute youre-book on the Sony Reader Store, Apple iTunes and the iBooks App. Of course, once the e-book is sold distributors take a percentage of the royalties, but the effort of actually publishing an e-book doesn’t cost anything. And once published, your e-book is available worldwide.

Q: Are potential returns and profits from e-book sales encouraging for Maltese authors?

A: There is no guarantee that once an e-book is published it will reap huge profits. In England and the US authors have been rewarded with considerable success, but it greatly depends on the readers targeted and the subject itself. In Malta, returns and profits – even in the traditional sense of publishing – are always more modest. Maltese e-books are still a rarity and, as far as I know, there are still no statistics in this regard. My first e-book has only just recently been published, and it’s still too early for me to determine its degree ofsuccess.

Q: Could e-books offer support to Maltese authors to achieve a wider distribution?

A: We do have many book publishers locally and Maltese authors nowadays enjoy wonderful opportunities that were only a dream a couple of decades ago. But publishers have their own problems and limitations, and unfortunately the reality is that many budding authors never see any of their work published at all. Electronic distribution has in some ways levelled this playing field, and is offering prospective authors a chance to publish. Self-publishing has come of age.

Q: Are there any technical issues which can hinder Maltese authors from publishing e-books?

A: There is only one nagging technical difficulty that may hinder Maltese publications: the lack of support for the Maltese alphabet by some of the established distributors. There are two major formats to publish an e-book. The EPUB format is the native format specifically created for e-readers. The PDF format is a well-established format that existed long before the creation of e-readers, and is still going strong. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. But although EPUB is widely regarded as the standard for e-books, it does not support the Maltese alphabet – at least so far. PDF does, and this renders it the only viable option for Maltese writers.

Spreading the word

Tony Cutajar

Q: What encouraged you to start publishing your books in e-book format?

I can buy or borrow a newe-book at any time of day, regardless of where I am in the world, instead of having to visit a library or bookshop- Tony Cutajar

A: My main reason was to reach more people, like the Maltese in Australia and other countries. Then there is the additional advantage of being self-sufficient instead of having to rely on a publishing house. I found that most Maltese publishers are not very encouraging, often waiting for two years and more before deciding to accept your manuscript. Often they come up with childish excuses. Sometimes I do understand their problems, but it can be a hair-raising experience to succeed in publishing a book.

Q: E-book sales are constantly growing. Do you think e-books and traditional printed books can co-exist?

A: In spite of the fact that in the US, for example, e-books are selling more than printed ones, there will always be a place for traditional printed books. E-books cannot replace the tactile experience of holding a book or flipping through its pages. It’s a matter of personal preference at the moment, but future generations may well prefer e-books.

Q: What are the advantages an e-bookoffers, over a traditional printed book?

A: E-books have a number of advantages. First of all, they are more portable – I can carry hundreds of books with me on an e-book reader that is very compact and light. They are usually more affordable, as printing and distribution costs are lower. They’re kinder to the environment, not needing any paper. They are also much more convenient – I can buy or borrow a new e-book at any time of day, regardless of where I am in the world, instead of having to visit a library or bookshop.

Q: Are children and adolescents more receptive to e-books than older readers who are maybe more set in their ways?

A: Older readers like myself who are set in their preferences and who may not be technically minded may find it difficult to change their ways. It’s easy to assume that young people are more receptive to new technologies – however, e-books have been well received by pretty much everyone, especially abroad. The great thing is that they provide more choice to individuals who can pick the medium that works best for them.

Q: Does the rise in e-book sales announce the death of libraries?

A: Well, it certainly won’t mean imminent death, but libraries need to get savvier about the media they use to lend books. I expect we will see libraries offering more digital media, DVD, e-books and non-traditional media which will become a larger segment of what they lend. Most of our local libraries certainly have a very long way to go, even where printed books are concerned. I would like the education and library authorities to visit the unwelcoming San Ġwann library to see for themselves.

Q: What are the costs of publishing ane-book?

A: The biggest cost is time. Most self-publishing platforms offer authors the ability to publish their books at no upfront cost, taking a percentage of the sales instead. Pricing is also up to the author, so the additional cost can be factored in the selling price. Having said that, as with all things, one needs to spend time learning how the platform works and trying out different options to offer the best experience for one’s readers.

Q: Are potential returns and profits from e-book sales encouraging for Maltese authors?

A: Earning potential is related to how good the book is. If readers find it interesting and recommend it to their friends, then these in turn can purchase a book and recommend it to their own friends. Writing a book does have other rewards that are not financial. Being able to share your thoughts, ideas and knowledge with a fellow human being is a pleasure in itself and with my books I also try to share my love for the Maltese language and history. E-books have helped me do this with people all around the world and I intend to keep publishing them to help spread Maltese content globally. This I do with verve as most of my novels are based on a little-known Maltese historical background.

I have also just published Il-Buli tal-Iskola, which is the first Maltese e-book to be published for free. The book can be read online or downloaded to ane-book reader at no cost. I’m doing this to help increase awareness of Maltesee-books, a growing medium other authors are also exploring. I’m hoping that making this work available for free will encourage others to experiment with the medium and help ensure moree-books become available in this format. The new book is available at www.smashwords.com and should also be available in the iBooks, Nook and Kobo stores.

Q: Could e-books offer support to Maltese authors to achieve a wider distribution?

A: Definitely. There’s a community of Maltese readers who live far from our native shores. While on holiday in Australia, I even came across non-Maltese who were studying the Maltese language and who were keen to get hold of books in our language. Thereis very little chance that they canwalk into a bookshop and pick up one of my books. I gave up a long time ago to send any of my books to Australia,as the freight charges are prohibitive and the local distributors don’t help. However, the internet makes these things possible and as e-books gain popularity it is important thatMaltese authors make books available for this segment.

Q: Are there any technical issues which can hinder Maltese authors from publishing e-books?

A: There’s still a way to go forMaltese e-books to be free of issues. The biggest issue we have at the moment is that certain online bookstores do not allow publishing inall languages. We also run intoissues with Maltese fonts not always being available on e-book readers.I trust that as these platforms growin maturity these issues will beovercome and I hope thatmy efforts in this space add a bitmore weight to a speedy resolution.

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