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starmag Sunday 24 January 2010

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fit4life Making sense of numbers variety Oprah prowess

Reading revolution The digital book innovation that began almost a decade ago in the West has finally hit Malaysia – we can now buy a digital book reader locally. What does this mean for readers here and how will it affect our reading habits? >SM4


SM4

INSIGHT

STARMAG, SUNDAY 24 JANUARY 2010

A new way

Avid readers will love the fact that hundreds of books can be carried around in one little electronic book reader. – KEVIN TAN / The Star

Readers are excited about what digital books can do for them, but publishers are being rocked by the changes they are bringing to the industry. Stories by ELIZABETH TAI starmag-feedback@thestar.com.my F you’re a bookworm, carting around hundreds of books in one slim, book-sized electronic device would be the closest thing to Nirvana. For Zarina Abu Bakar, it certainly is. “You know how you can get caught unexpectedly, having to wait? Waiting for people to show up, for dinner to arrive or for the cars in front of you to move? With the eBook, I am assured of a variety of titles to keep me occupied during these unwanted and unexpected waits,” says Zarina, 37, who reads eBooks with her US$279.99 (about RM957) Sony Reader, a gift she received two years ago from a friend. Zarina, whose Reader is loaded with the Quran and works by Jane Austen, Shakespeare and Leo Tolstoy, feels that eBooks are better than physical books because they’re more convenient, portable and one doesn’t have to drive to a bookstore to get them. “Additional pluses are the automatic bookmarks – no more losing your place in the book – and the (Reader’s) variable font sizes. It also helps to know that you’re saving the environment,” says this general manager of a Putrajaya-based NGO via e-mail. Although eBook devices have been selling in many Western countries for a decade, they have yet to become readily available in Malaysia (until recently). For various reasons – including market size and piracy, which we will get into later – Malaysians can’t even buy any of the more popular eBook devices online and have them shipped to a local address; we have to actually go to countries such as Australia, Britain, Japan and the United States to get one, or get friends or relatives living there to buy one. Of course, we can also use other devices, like the Blackberry, iPod Touch or iPhone, to read with. But these communication and media player devices don’t have the large screens that eBook devices have and cannot really provide the same convenience an eBook reader does if you want to read entire books electronically. Finally, though, Malaysia got its very own eBook device last month when MPH began selling China-made reader Hanlin in its stores here. Priced at RM1,299 (RM1,249 from mphonline.com.my), the device marks MPH’s ambitious first step into the world of digital bookselling. The local retailer hopes to bring in more devices from different brands this year. It is only logical for the company to embrace digital books, says MPH senior business development manager Rodney Toh, an eBook enthusiast who owns two Hanlin devices: “It’s an investment in the future. If we delay or ignore all this, it’ll catch up and we’ll be left behind,” he says.

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History of eBooks 1971: MICHAEL S. Hart launches Project Guttenberg, which starts digitising books in the public domain (books whose copyright has expired and are therefore available free to the public). 1998: The first eBook readers appear in the market: The Softbook and Gemstar’s Rocket eBook Reader (pic). 2000: Stephen King’s horror novel, Ride the Bullet, is released only as an eBook (at first). 2003: EBooks stumble as demand remains poor and paper books remain a steadfast favourite; Gemstar closes its doors in July, Barnes & Noble stops selling eBooks at its online store. Critics say the eBooks trend will not last. 2004: Sony releases the Librié, the first eBook reader to utilise eInk (electronic ink) technology. Gone is the annoying glare from backlit screens in earlier eBook readers or on PDAs that strain the eyes. Now, words on the screen have almost the same clarity as words printed on paper. 2007: Online book retailer Amazon.com releases the Kindle, made exclusively for the American market. The first lot of Kindles sells out in five and a half hours. 2008: Books on Board (booksonboard.com) starts selling eBooks for iPhones, the first online eBook store to do so. August 2009: Sony links with libraries via the Overdrive digital network to enable people to borrow eBooks from libraries. Among the countries that have eBook borrowing are the United States and Singapore (no, Malaysia doesn’t have it). October 2009: Amazon.com releases Kindle 2, and ships it to more than 100 countries (no, Malaysia is not among them). In this month also, Barnes & Noble releases its own eBook reader, Nook. November 2009: Students of the private Canadian secondary school, Blyth Academy, are supplied with Sony Readers loaded with their textbooks. It is the first school in the world to do this. December 2009: Five major publishers, Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp and Time Inc, announce that they will join forces to develop a format and an online store to beat Amazon.com’s stranglehold on the eBook market. And on Christmas day, eBooks outsell physical books on Amazon.com for the first. ■ Sources: Wikipedia, the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post newspapers, and ‘Is There a Future in eBooks?’ by Michael Eisenbraun.

In the beginning MPH, together with every publisher worldwide, is cruising through wild and rocky waters right now. As the music industry did in the past and the film industry did more recently, the publishing industry is experiencing a digital shakeup. And it’s such a severe one that industry players – the publishers, booksellers, literary agents and the authors that they represent – are having a migraine trying to deal with changes that are potentially dangerous to profit margins. Although eBook devices began life around 1999 with the introduction of the (now no longer available) Rocket eBook, the publishing industry didn’t take this new fangled way of reading books very seriously. Many industry

insiders believed that the devices would remain on the fringes and would never wholly be embraced by a mass market that still seemed loyal to physical books at that time. Then Amazon.com introduced the Kindle in 2007. Kindle makes buying books dead easy. With just a click of a button, you can buy a book from amazon.com via the device’s wireless integrated service. Better still, the eBooks are priced very attractively: new best-sellers can be priced as low as US$9.99 (RM33.80) instead of the usual US$26 (RM88) and above hard cover books command. Though it doesn’t have a brick and mortar presence (or perhaps because it doesn’t), Amazon.com is one of the world’s biggest bookstores, so it’s not surprising that its Kindle has already captured the lion’s share of the eBook market in the United States; and since the website now ships the device to more than 100 countries around the world (no, not to Malaysia), we assume world domination will soon follow.... According to a Jan 15 report from the American book industry association’s Book Industry Study, 20% of American readers have stopped buying physical books and have switched to buying digital books in the last 12 months. Device makers are taking note. Late last year, a slew of eBook devices were released, and even more were unveiled at the Jan 7-10 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (one of the world’s biggest electronics shows where the very latest products are launched). And it’s said that Apple – always a player to watch – will release a game-changing computer tablet that will function both as a computer and an eBook reader on Wednesday.

Birthing pains Retailers like Amazon.com and manufacturers of eBook readers are forcing the publishing industry to change the way it does business – and that in turn will affect how you and I consume books. EBooks certainly seem like a good thing for readers. Since publishers wouldn’t have to bear printing, warehousing and distribution costs when producing a digital book, surely they could sell eBooks at a much cheaper rate than physical books? The problem is, publishers are still also selling physical books so they cannot afford to allow the digital version of a book to compete with its physical version. “Imagine selling a digital eBook version of a new release at a lower price than the hard cover version – of course everyone would buy the digital book. As a result, the sales of hard cover books would be affected. Therefore, it is much easier, for the moment, for publishers to price eBooks the same as physical books,” explains Toh. Or, like Simon & Schuster, they could delay the release of digital versions by a few months to protect the revenue of print versions, particularly the expensive hard covers. Consumers, of course, do not like this practice, to put it mildly. Two weeks ago, when HarperCollins decided to delay by a month the release of the eBook version of a much-anticipated book on the 2008 US elections, Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, hundreds of readers recorded one-star reviews for the book at Amazon.com in retaliation (the average rating of a book is known to influence buyers at the website). “I will never buy a book I am forced to wait to buy. How’s that HarperCollins?” fumes Gary R. “Rustang” Gordon from Nashville, Tennessee, at the website. “Seriously ... we want to read topical books like this one right away. Not wait a month for


STARMAG, SUNDAY 24 JANUARY 2010

INSIGHT

SM5

of reading the ebook version to be available. I’m afraid I won’t be buying this book after all and will have to subsist on the excerpts published in newspapers,” writes another irate customer, Mugdha Bendre, from California. As a result of this protest, Game Change earned a dismal average rating of 2.5 at amazon.com (at the time of writing). What of books that don’t have a physical version, then? Surely a book released only in digital format would be cheaper than your average paperback? And publishers wouldn’t have to worry about the book competing with its own print version. But, no; currently, such books are also the same price as physical books. Again, consumers are obviously not happy about this, as they feel that they shouldn’t pay as much for a book that is not physical. “That’s the consumer’s argument, but the publishers’ arguments is: ‘If I sell a new book at a very low price, where’s my profit?” argues Toh.

Industry indigestion Then there are the nuts and bolts problems that also affect how much consumers will have to pay for books in the end, such as, how much, if anything, should authors be paid for digital versions of their work. Last month, Random House – the world’s largest English language book publisher – sent a letter to literary agents declaring that it holds exclusive rights to the digital editions of the “vast majority” of its back catalogue (older titles that they still publish). This means that the authors of those works won’t get paid anything more if Random House sells digital verIT may be a decade late, but an eBook reader has finally come to Malaysia. MPH Bookstores, a company with roots going back more than a century, is stepping into the digital book age by being the first Malaysian bookseller to sell an eBook reader in its stores. The device in question – the Hanlin, produced by China-based Tianjin Jinke Electronics – was chosen because of its flexibility: it can read a wide range of files, including the new eBook industry standard, Adobe ePub, as well as PDF and text files. This means it can download eBooks from different online stores, not just MPH’s. “We brought in about a hundred units at the end of November and in the beginning of December. We’ve sold 40% of our stock since,” says MPH chief operating officer Donald Kee.v And this without any promotion, Kee emphasises. The company decided on the Hanlin after spending two years researching eBook devices. Kee says that MPH is in talks to get a few more “interesting brands” into its stores, though he can’t name names right now. Actually, MPH senior business development manager Rodney Toh, who’s in charge of this initiative, did try to bring in more wellknown eBook devices, but the response from manufacturers was lukewarm, if not cold. “There’s a very strong perception that the Malaysian market is very small, so the big players don’t want to come in. “They may only sell 1,000 devices and then find themselves having to provide after sales service for that small number, so they may think it’s too leceh (inconvenient),” he explains. “Most device manufacturers in

sions of their works. Why should consumers care? Well, in the long run, this might not be healthy for the publishing industry as a whole; to put it really (really) simply, if authors don’t get paid enough, if they feel they cannot make an adequate living from writing, they could stop writing – and we readers might run out of books to read! We won’t come to that, of course. For one thing, authors might just decide to cut out the middle man and sell to us directly. Stephen Covey rocked the publishing world by selling exclusive digital rights to two of his best-selling books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centred Leadership, to Amazon.com. He bypassed his print publisher, Simon & Schuster, to sell his books directly to a retailer, Amazon.com. This means that authors who hold the rights to their works could deny their publishers the chance to earn more money by rereleasing print books in digital format. Or authors could even get into self-publishing – a frightening prospect for publishers! For consumers? Not so much, since we would still be getting books, only directly from authors. Of course, that might mean badlywritten, unedited books, as it is the publisher who usually edits books. So perhaps we shouldn’t write off the publishers just yet.

it online makes it vulnerable to online piracy. (Tellingly, countries like China and Malaysia, where the piracy of digital products is rampant, cannot buy Kindle online or download Amazon.com’s eBooks. Malaysia is not on amazon.com’s “Live outside the US” list of countries to which the new Kindle 2 can be shipped. Angolans can buy the Kindle 2 but not Malaysias or Singaporeans.) Not even sophisticated Digital Rights Management software, designed to prevent digital products from being copied and shared, is a deterrent: Last month, hackers claimed to have cracked Kindle’s protection software and enabled non-Kindle users to read Amazon.com’s eBooks without having to buy the device.

Pirates, ahoy

The market in Malaysia

Apart from all these pricing and profit problems, the other big – huge! – deterrent to publishers entering the digital world is, of course, piracy. Digitising anything and putting

It isn’t clear yet how the Malaysian bookselling industry will be affected by eBooks, but MPH’s Toh isn’t worried. “It’s another avenue to sell books. We want

A Canadian school gave students readers loaded with text books; if more schools shift to electronic text books, the eBook market could grow in leaps and bounds. – Bloomberg as many devices in the market as possible, and we want to sell eBooks,” he says emphatically. But one thing’s for sure: sooner or later, the Malaysian book-selling and publishing industry will have to grapple with the same issues the Western industry is struggling with now. “Hopefully we’ll learn from what they’re going through,” says Toh. Kinokuniya Bookstores Malaysia is also studying eBook developments closely. Its Japanese and Singaporean stores are already selling eBook devices (Singapore’s Kino sells the iRiver Story, a South Korean eBook device), though the Singapore store does not provide eBooks through its website. According to Seto Kit Sau, the assistant merchandising manager at the Suria KLCC store, “We’re waiting to see what Apple is coming out with (the much-buzzed-about iSlate) and also waiting to see what publishers are doing for books here. If we provide an

Local pioneer

Rodney Toh with his Hanlin device; MPH is selling these eBook readers now at some outlets. – SIA HONG KIAU / The Star

Donald Kee: Selling eBooks is a natural progression for MPH.

the US have no intention of coming to Malaysia because they feel that the market is in the West, right on their doorstep. They’ve not even penetrated their country fully yet, why come to Malaysia?” Toh remarks. Kee says that it is much easier to work with Asian manufacturers. With brands such as Samsung, Toshiba and Asus coming up with their own eBook readers, Malaysians could possibly see more devices in the bookstore after all.

want to have more choices. Even the publishers are not happy – everyone is concerned that one party will become too strong,” says Kee, explaining MPH’s more open policy. Indeed, when Kindle began shipping worldwide, booksellers and publishers in some countries protested. According to a Jan 13 Reuters report, five major French book retailers have urged the French Government and publishers to set up a “national eBook platform” to fend off Amazon.com (and Google). And 21 Japanese publishers are forming a consortium called “the Japan electronic book publishers’ association” to “fight” Kindle’s arrival in Japan. Perhaps it is fortunate then that the Kindle is not available in Malaysia. It is uncertain if the fragile Malaysian book retail market

Selling eBooks MPH will follow in the footsteps of Western bookstores like Barnes & Noble, Blackwell and Amazon. com by selling eBooks through its website, mphonline.com, which receives about a million hits a month. The website, which began in 2000, currently offers free down-

loads of public-domain books (books whose copyright has expired and are therefore available free to the public) but MPH has plans to sell 200,000 eBooks of current titles by the first half of this year. According to Toh, titles will be sold at a “competitive” price (indicated in US dollars as they’ll be available worldwide). To make such a large number of titles available for sale online, the company is partnering with a wholesaler that will liaise with a number of publishers at once. The eBooks will be available in multiple formats that can be read not only by MPH’s Hanlin but also other eBook devices, such as the Sony Reader. This is unlike the strategy employed by Amazon.com: its Kindle allows downloads only from its own online bookstore. “But I feel that consumers will

> TURN TO SM6 could withstand its assault. Still, selling digital books is the natural progression for MPH, says Kee. “It’s not viable to open a new store in a new mall any more, as costs are getting very high,” he says. (MPH has 28 outlets in Peninsular Malaysia.) “Ebooks are a fine option – you don’t have to have a big megastore where you have to spend on manpower, rent and power, all of which are expensive,” he says. But isn;t MPH worried that its eBooks will be pirated? “Piracy is definitely a worry,” Kee acknowledges. “(The situation) is similar to what the music industry faced. The industry got together to find a way to stop piracy but eventually it became unstoppable and they had to find another business model to sell music.” And like the music industry, the bookselling industry must also learn to adapt and move on, he says – “Unless you want to eliminate all the crooks and that’s not possible!”

Asian platform MPH often receives orders online from overseas for books about Malaysia. When the company noticed this trend, it realised that it could be the “Asian quarters” to the rest of the world by gathering together the largest collection of Asian authors at mphonline.com. “There are a lot of Asian authors that are underrepresented, such as Malaysian, Singapore and Thai authors,” Kee points out. adding that, “We want to become a platform to showcase these writers to rest of the world.”

Next week: The Hanlin eReader reviewed


SM6

INSIGHT

STARMAG, SUNDAY 24 JANUARY 2010

To help you make up your mind, here’s the opinion of a bookworm who got her hands on a Sony Reader way back in 2007. Stories by ELIZABETH TAI starmag-feedback@thestar.com.my

Benefits HE biggest benefit is, of course, the fact that the world is now my bookstore (well, a large part of it, anyway). I used to have to wait weeks and pay exorbitant shipping fees to obtain a title not available locally. Now, with the click of a button, I can buy eBooks from online stores such as fictionwise. com and booksonboard.com, download them into my Reader and begin reading in minutes. And, of course, the books are often cheaper since there are no shipping fees. While differing and incompatible formats made it difficult to download as easily in the first two years I owned a Sony Reader, things changed in 2009 with an industry-wide agreement on a standard format for eBooks: Adobe ePub files. ● The next obvious benefit is simple logistics. I’m a voracious reader and tend to read several books at once. Since I travel often for work, taking my Reader along satisfies my big reading appetite without having to lug heavy books with me. My Reader currently holds over 100 articles, short stories and books. ● Before getting the Reader, I often printed out articles or stories from the Internet because I

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Should you get an eReader? disliked reading so much text off the computer screen. Sometimes, I would end up printing over 100 pages, which would riddle me with guilt even if I did recycle the paper. Now, since the Reader can read all sorts of file formats – .txt and .pdf files – I can transfer everything to my Reader. However, whether a Reader is truly “green” is open for debate. For one, producing eBook devices entails environmentally-unfriendly practices such as mining and electricity generation, which involves burning oil and coal. Still, if eBooks are truly embraced in the future, felling millions of trees to produce books could become a practice of the past.

Disadvantages ● Some publishers are still wary of the new media. As a result, there are still geographical restrictions on buying certain eBooks, especially those that have just been released overseas. I often feel like a second-class customer when I’m prevented from buying a book or kept out of certain deals just because I don’t live in the United States or Britain. ● The software needs can be daunting, even for the tech-savvy. You have to download and

Local market for eBooks

instal a number of programs before you can buy eBooks properly. These programs are there to discourage piracy by preventing you from sharing eBooks with others – which is another disadvantage, I feel. ● An eBook device can be expensive. You’d have to be willing to spend about RM1,200 or more for one; the Sony Pocket Reader does retail for about RM800 but is not available locally. Some may rightfully wonder if they should just stick to paper books. After all, one could build a decent library at home with RM1,200!

The final word So, should you get an eBook device? It boils down to what kind of reader you are. If

you tend to read a lot (whether books or online articles), are often mobile, and have a desire to obtain books that are often not in local bookstores, an eBook device is a practical, if expensive, solution. But it will probably take some years for eBooks to truly have an impact on readers in Malaysia. For one, even print books are not easily available yet to all Malaysians! (Oh public libraries, where art thou?) Of course, if public libraries here somehow get their act together and adopt the OverDrive system that enables people to borrow eBooks – as Singaporean public libraries have already done – I’d say, run out and get an eBook device straight away!

War of the devices

> FROM SM5 eBook device, we must be able to provide the eBooks as well. “At Kinokuniya Bookstores, we see our role essentially as an information provider. If in the future information comes in a different form instead of the traditional ink and paper, we would still strive to provide as much of it as possible,” she says. When asked how she thinks eBooks will affect the Malaysian bookselling industry, she says: “There is much buzz in the industry worldwide cause by various issues, such as the pricing and delivery of eBooks. When eBooks do reach us, booksellers need to be prepared for the technology and for change. “On the bright side, it may be a good thing for small press publishers who may want to try this platform to reach readers as it may well be more cost effective,” she points out. Is an eBook industry even viable here? Because, from just asking around casually, it seems that not many Malaysian readers are convinced about the appeal of eBooks. “Call me old fashioned, but, honestly, eBooks can’t beat the aesthetics of the real deal,” says copywriter Randy Khoo, 27, via e-mail. “Personally, I read a lot, and my books are everywhere in my house. Each one reminds me of a different time and the things I’ve gone through in my life. I don’t think an eBook can give me that,” he says. Still, Khoo sometimes does read eBooks on his iPod Touch, although he complains that the screen is too small. Even with the bigger screens on eBook devices, “Screen reading for hours is not exactly appealing to me,” he says. Others are deterred by the high price tag for eBook devices. Shaqyl Shamsudheen, who

Bernice Alvins feels young people will take to eBooks better than older readers. reads eBooks on her mobile phone, says that she’s just not interested in the devices right now: “I’m just a student, I can’t afford them,” says the 22-year-old Mass Communication student. Bernice Alvins, owner of My Book Place, a rent-a-bookstore in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, thinks it’s an interesting way of reading books but isn’t sure whether she needs an eBook reader as she’s surrounded by physical books most of the time anyway. “I might pick one up as I haven’t experienced one before. It’s just that I’ve been brought up to hold a book, to feel it and touch it,” she says with a shrug, adding that she would only consider an eBook reader if the price is right – “Preferably below RM1,000,” she says. Alvins believes that young people will be quicker to adopt the technology, as they’re more tech savvy but eBooks could be a stumbling block for the older generation. How about you? Would you buy an eBook device and download your books? Or will you stick to reading printed books? Tell us how you feel about the eBook revolution, send an e-mail to starmagfeedback@thestar.com.my.

THERE’S an intense battle being waged over eBook readers right now. A slew of innovative devices was released late last year, and deals were made between manufacturers, publishers and libraries to make digital books accessible in a significant way. The war is only going to get more intense.... Here are the eBook devices that have made the news so far, in order of popularity. Amazon.com’s Kindle: The Kindle’s unique selling point is its ability to download books, magazines and newspapers wirelessly, without having to hook up to or synch with a computer. Its biggest advantage, though, is that its eBooks are cheap. Most best-sellers are US$9.99 (RM34.20) – compared to hard covers, which can go up to US$26 or more (almost RM89) – and older books are even cheaper. On occasion, some eBooks are even offered free. Kindle users, however, can only buy eBooks from amazon.com. Also, Kindle has yet to support the new industry standard for eBooks, ePub. While Kindle was originally only available in the United States, Kindle 2, released late last year, is available in over 100 countries. Malaysia, however, has to continue waiting. Sony’s Reader: The Japanese company bravely launched its first eBook device in 2004, when people were questioning the longevity of the digital book industry. Since then, Sony has stayed ahead of or kept pace with competitors by producing smart and well-designed Readers. In 2009 it launched a number products: the Pocket Reader, the Touch Reader (the first eBook reader to utilise touch screen technology) and the Sony Reader Daily Edition (which caters to people wanting to download digital newspapers).

Clockwise from top: The Kindle, the Sony Reader Daily Edition, the Nook, and the Que. – File photos The Sony Reader’s advantage is that it supports multiple formats so you can use it to download eBooks from various online bookstores (excluding Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble). Barnes & Noble’s Nook: Launched with much fanfare in October 2009, the Nook is, like the Kindle, a bookstore-affiliated device. However, unlike that device, Nook users can share downloads among themselves for up to two weeks. Also, it supports ePub, which means you can buy eBooks from bookstores other than barnesandnoble.com. Like the Kindle, the Nook downloads wirelessly; you can store 1,500 books in its 2GB space. Initial reviews for the Nook, however, have been mixed, with many saying that the device is still rough

around the edges – it has a sluggish response time and the interface needs work. Plastic Logic’s Que: Launched early this month, this creation by British company Plastic Logic is aimed at business professionals and will be sold at Barnes & Noble stores in the United States. Corporate climbers won’t have to lug around a briefcase full of documents and reports any more. Instead, they can store everything in Que, which has a Letter-size (roughly, A4paper size) shatterproof, touch screen display and which utilises eInk technology (which means the screen is not back-lit, as computer screens are, making it easier on the eyes). Its size indicates that it’s trying to also capture the newspaper and magazine reader market. Apple’s iSlate?: The reason for that question mark is that nobody knows for sure what the iSlate is really for or whether that’s even the right name. The online buzz is that the iSlate will be a tablet computer, and one of its functions will be to enable users to read eBooks. It’s rumoured that an eBook application called Blio – created by prolific American inventor Ray Kurzweil and launched on Jan 7 – will be used in the iSlate. However, the application is not tied to one device and can work on PCs, Macs and iPhones. And because it enables colour and animation, the possibility of creating eBooks with animation is very real. Apple, creator of pop culturechanging devices such as the iPod and the iPhone, is infamous for being super-secretive about its new products and is, predictably, keeping mum about all this. The gadget is supposed to be unveiled on Wednesday, so watch out for possible seismic reactions in the eBook world.


Star2, Monday 23 april 2012

InsIght 13

Now everyone can publish

Malaysian authors are reaping the rewards of the e-book revolution, uploading their books online and reaching markets they couldn’t before. By ELIZABETH TAI star2@thestar.com.my

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LTHOUGH Susan (not her real name) is not a full-time writer, writing has always been her passion. She started writing for magazines and newspapers when she was 23 and worked hard at her fiction. By 2005, she had already written four novels, one of which was published locally and quite successfully. Then, last year, she heard about Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking (see E-book millionaires on page 15), writers who were making “big money” from their e-books. “I wanted to jump in,” says Susan, 43 (she writes under pen names and would rather not be identified). Using the pseudonyms Artemis Hunt and Aphrodite Hunt, Susan began uploading her stories unto e-book distribution websites such as Amazon.com, AllRomanceEbooks. com, Bookstrand.com and Smashwords.com. She now has three novels and 17 short stories (each priced at US$0.99 or RM3) online. “Since I started in late August (last year), I have sold 46,000 e-books,” she says proudly. According to Susan, her e-books have made it to the Top 100 bestseller

Sign of the times: The market for e-books is expanding along with the increasing sales of e-reader devices worldwide. lists on Amazon.com and she is frequently on the site’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers list as well. “A Malaysian can also be a bestselling author in the United States. Doesn’t matter where you come from. This platform equalises everything for everyone in the world,” she says.

Far reach Getting a printed book published is an uphill task. Authors need to either secure a publisher or selfpublish. If they choose the latter route, the work doesn’t end with publication: They also have to find ways of distributing the book as widely as possible. Local distribution is challenging enough, never mind getting a book circulated abroad. They would be fortunate to shift a few hundred copies even through a book distributor. Then came e-books. It’s the perfect medium for self-published authors. Before,

new author John ling has been able to sell a respectable number of copies of his e-book The Blasphemer and short story collection, Seven Bullets, online.

writers might have had to spend up to five figures to get a book printed and distributed. E-books cost almost next to nothing to produce and store. The best part? E-books can reach readers around the world in a matter of seconds. Previously, authors (those in Western countries, anyway) needed to have agents who would try to sell their books to publishing houses. There are famous tales of authors being rejected multiple times by agents and publishers before finally getting published and hitting the bestseller lists. E-publishing, of course, can eliminate the middlemen, the agents and publishers. Making the whole process even easier and faster are e-book distributing services such as Amazon. com’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords.com, and Barnes and Noble’s PubIt. Three months ago, New Zealandbased Malaysian author John Ling, 28, published his thriller The Blasphemer and short story collection Seven Bullets on Amazon.com. His venture has been fairly successful; he is currently selling an average of 20 books a day, and has moved more than 2,000 copies of The Blasphemer (at US$2.99 or RM9.40 a copy).

Tunku Halim Tunku Tan Sri abdullah turned his out-of-print novel into an ebook and found new readers.

“It’s quite significant because if an author sells that many copies of a printed book in one year in Malaysia, that title is considered a bestseller. That’s one of the great things about digital publishing, I think. You get the numbers immediately, and you know exactly where you stand,” he says in an e-mail interview. Reviews of his e-books have been positive and enthusiastic, says Ling, who took two years to research and write The Blasphemer. (Star2 reviewed it – yes, enthusiastically – on April 13.) “I think it’s extremely rewarding to be able to reach readers worldwide. I’m obviously a very new author, with only three months under my belt, but I’m always elated when a new reader gets in touch with me to tell me how much they enjoy my work and want more. It gives me the impetus to write,” he says. However, he wasn’t prepared for the little controversy that erupted on Facebook about his book’s ending. “I originally wrote five chapters for the novel’s ending. However, for editorial reasons, I removed three of those chapters,” he says. A few readers protested, saying that they wanted a more satisfying emotional arc. So Ling placed the chapters back in. “This is just a great showcase of the potential of e-books. Things can be fixed and amended on the fly and democracy reigns supreme!” E-books have given Yvonne Foong,

who suffers from neurofibromatosis (a genetic disorders that can cause multiple tumours), a way to raise money for her medical treatments. Ling helped turn her 2006 memoirs, I’m Not Sick, Just A Bit Unwell, into an e-book via his own publishing imprint, Kia Kaha Press. Foong explains that Ling, who has been a friend for years, helped turn her manuscript into an e-book format and release it exclusively on Amazon.com. “He also decided not to take any cut from the sale and allows me to keep all profits to pay for my medical treatments,” she adds. The e-book was released on Dec 24 last year. About 500 copies have been sold since then and the book even appeared on Amazon’s Top 100 Memoir and Personal Transformation list. Foong received her first royalty cheque very quickly, on Jan 1; since the book’s release, she has earned US$150 (RM460) to date. “I have always dreamt of selling it to readers in other countries too, but distributing print books to foreign countries is challenging. That dream has now come true thanks to Kia Kaha Press – I never thought I’m Not Sick, Just A Bit Unwell would be read by the French, Spanish and Italians one day!” For Tunku Halim Tunku Tan Sri Abdullah, e-book publishing is a way of making his books available to readers who have a difficult time getting them from a physical bookstore. People often ask the Malaysiaborn, now Australia-based writer how to get hold of his first novel, Dark Demon Rising, which was published in 1997 and nominated for the 1999 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and is now out of print. Late last year, Tunku Halim decided to put it out again as an e-book. He spent a month learning how to format his novel and, once done, uploaded it on to Smashwords. com where it sells for US$4.99 (about RM15). And just in time, too: “Luckily the novel is now readily available because an English studies professor at (America’s Ivy League) Dartmouth College is currently using the novel in her course ‘Magic And Supernaturalism In Asian Literature And Film’. She had difficulty finding hard copies but with the e-book available, the problem’s solved,” he says via e-mail. For some, having an e-book published is not about money or recognition but the satisfaction of having your stories read. Ted Mahsun, a 31-year-old web game writer, published two short stories – Zombies Ate My Muslim and The Secret Operation In The Matriarch’s Kitchen – on Amazon. com and Smashwords.com for US$0.99 (RM3) each as an experiment and a “learning project”. “They didn’t sell well nor did I expect them to,” he says, adding that they have only been downloaded a handful of times so far. However, he

> TURN TO PAGE 14


14 InsIght

Star2, Monday 23 april 2012

Star2, Monday 23 april 2012

a local book distributor is offering Malaysian authors e-publishing services. Stories by ELIZABETH TAI star2@thestar.com.my

I

T’S an exciting time to be an author. A process that used to take months, even years, can now potentially be reduced to a few days (in some cases, minutes): authors can now upload their books online and get them read and bought by people from around the world with just a few mouse clicks. Publishers in Malaysia are well aware of the seismic shifts in the publishing business abroad and have been moving to join e-publishing authors rather them fighting them. In January, Star2 spoke to the founders of eSentral (e-sentral. com.my), a digital portal where local publishers and writers can sell and buy books (More room for local authors, Reads, Jan 3). It also offers a service to convert books and manuscripts into e-books and distribute them to digital resellers around the world. Now, there’s MPH Digital (mphdigital.my). An e-book publishing division under MPH Group Publishing (M) Sdn Bhd, the portal was formed late last year and aims to publish e-books for the local and global market. The team behind MPH Digital has been observing the e-book market since Sony launched its e-reader in 2006 and Amazon its Kindle in 2007 (see Brief history, below).

> FROM PAGE 13 was particularly excited when he got his first review on Amazon.com. “It was surprising as I didn’t expect anyone to review. That the first review was a good review was even better,” he says with a grin. “It’s wonderful that people are reading my work. I like to think that a different audience can find my works to read,” he adds.

“Since then, we have monitored the massive change that has resulted worldwide,” says MPH Digital senior manager Toh Seong Yuen via e-mail. “We decided that e-books will not go away and, as a strategic decision, MPH has to marshal the skills and technology needed to adapt to the change.” The company cannot afford to be ignorant about the changes taking place in the publishing industry, says Toh. “New ideas and innovations keep changing the rules of the game on many fronts. Leadership is crucial in such times.”

Going digital

Going global Previously, publishers had to be certain that a manuscript is marketable to justify the high costs of printing, storing and distributing. Ebooks eliminate all three costs so are obviously much cheaper to produce. “This allow publishers more flexibility,” says Toh. Furthermore, e-books have a further reach. Readers from around the world can buy the e-books without any restrictions, and they can be read from many devices. E-books uploaded via MPH Digital are sold at international resellers such as mphonline.com, booksonboard.com, fictionwise.com, diesel-ebooks.com, bookdepository. com, and lybrary.com. However, unlike e-book distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing or

The MpH digital portal is increasingly busy as more authors try its e-publishing serives.

Treasure in the trash

Challenges But there’s a flip side to the ease of e-publishing: a market inundated with poor quality books. Sharon Bakar – creative writing teacher, co-founder of the monthly Kuala Lumpur literary gathering, Readings, and popular literary blogger at thebookaholic.blogspot.com – thinks that it’s “enormously exciting” that local writers are able to make their stories available to an international audience with little cost and without waiting for a publisher to take them on. “This lowering of barriers to publication will encourage writers to get works finished, be playfully experimental in their writing, and learn how to promote themselves via websites and social media,” she says. The downside is that many of the stories may be unedited and “rough around the edges”. “I think writers owe it to readers and themselves to put out the best book that they can,” she points out. That is why some believe that publishers play a valuable role as gatekeepers of quality who weed out the “trash” and put out the cream of the crop. Self-publishing “evangelist” and bestselling e-book author J.A. Konrath agrees that gatekeepers are needed. “But I don’t call these gatekeepers ‘agents’ or ‘publishers’. I call them ‘readers’,” he says in his very popular blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing (at jakonrath.blogspot.com). Others say that traditional pub-

Susan, aka artemis Hunt, designs her own e-book covers. lishing houses provide valuable services to writers such as editing, designing book covers, and marketing. The self-published author has to do these things by themselves, or hire professionals to do it. Having a manuscript professionally edited isn’t cheap. Winning Edits, an American-based freelance outfit, charges US$600 (RM1,860) for a 10,000-word manuscript. And since many novels are at least 70,000 words, a professionally-edited manuscript can set a writer back a few thousand ringgit. There are cheaper editors out there, of course, but it could still knock you back a few hundred ringgit – even editors from Malaysia. Susan does not have her short stories professionally edited, and “I get no complaints,” she says. (Although the reviews that she received were mostly glowing, there was one reviewer who commented that her work needed editing.) However, she does get her novels professionally edited, though she doesn’t pay for the service. Instead, she barters for it. “The editors are my

Read my book: By keeping costs, and hence prices, down, e-authors can get their works on to more screens. friends,” says Susan. “In return, I edit their works. My editors are local and in the United States.” Ling, too, relied on the help of his friends. “I have friends who are journalists, writers and teachers, and through repeated readings, they’ve helped me polish my work to the best possible standard,” he says. Self-published writers must also concern themselves with cover design. Ling says that it’s just as important – if not more so – for an e-book to have a good “cover” and

stand out as it is for a physical book sitting amidst hundreds of others on a bookstore’s shelves. “This is especially true because the digital revolution has unleashed a flood of products on to the market, so first impressions are important. It takes about two seconds for a potential reader to decide whether your book is worth a closer look, and you want to give yourself every advantage,” he points out. To ensure that his covers were up to standard, Ling hired a graphic

Smashwords.com, books submitted to MPH Digital will be screened first. This is to ensure that manuscripts are of good quality, says Toh. For manuscripts to be accepted, they need to have been professionally edited and proofread. “We do not do editing because we don’t charge a fee for the conversion service and we do not have the manpower to cope with the volume of editing required. And the editing process is a long, time-consuming one,” Toh points out. Once the manuscript is accepted, the author will have to sign a contract. After that, the manuscript will be converted to the e-pub format (“electronic publication”, a file standard set by the International Digital Publishing Forum). “The shortest turnaround time to convert a manuscript from a Word document to e-pub is about one or two days. We will then publish the e-book to our international resellers, which will take another one or two days,” explains Toh. Authors enjoy 25% royalties off the listed retail price, which MPH Digital claims is a good deal. While some e-publishers might offer a higher percentage, like 40%, it is usually off the nett price. Books sold via MPH Digital are protected by Digital Rights Management, which Toh says is used internationally to prevent piracy and protect the intellectual property rights of copyright holders – “This will ensure all e-books sold will eventually result in royaldesigner. It cost him US$250 (RM775) per cover. Susan, on the other hand, does it herself. “I buy a stock photo for US$1 (RM3) and design the cover myself,” she explains. Then there are the technical challenges. Although most e-book readers accept the e-pub format (“electronic publication”, a file standard set by the International Digital Publishing Forum), there is no uniform way to format your manuscript into e-book form, as different e-book distributors accept different formats. Some authors have their manuscripts professionally formatted. Locally, e-Sentral and MPH Digital (see Going digital, above) offer such conversion services. “When you first start off, it can be daunting. So these services can help a new author,” says Susan who used a service before learning how to do it herself. Once you get the hang of it, it gets easier, she says. “These days, I do the cover, formatting and everything under 10 minutes.” But it doesn’t end there! Selfpublished authors must also learn how to deal with the business side of things such as promotion and taxes. (Because many e-book distributors are based in the United States, nonUS authors will have a percentage of their earnings held by the US Internal Revenue Service.) Says Tunku Halim: “Nowadays, self-published authors need to go not only on creative writing courses but also need to consider an MBA or two! This shouldn’t be because writers need to focus fully on their craft. That’s where they grow, where they find they find themselves.”

Changing landscape It’s an exciting time to be an author. And a scary time to be a bookstore owner or publisher.

ties rightfully due to the copyrights holders.” Authors would also have to play a part in marketing their e-books. “We encourage all authors to actively promote their e-books by using social media and not wait for the resellers to do so because there are so many e-books fighting for attention,” says Toh.

But wait, print’s not dead! Despite the popularity of e-books, though, Toh believes that printed books will continue to exist for a long time. “Text-heavy books are suited to be made into e-books. Coffee table books and pictorial books are not so suitable,” he points out. He also believes that Malaysians still enjoy the look and feel of the printed book. Also, “The e-book market is an emerging market in Malaysia and the early adopters are restricted to the more tech-savvy readers.” Currently, there are not many e-books on MPH Digital, but the number is growing, it seems. The portal is currently seeking the copyright holders of books previously published by MPH to gain permission to put up e-book versions. Also, the division has been receiving many enquiries about its services and now has an “overwhelming load of books to convert”. “I think this is a great opportunity for a lot of would-be Malaysian authors. This is a way we can nurture local writing talent,” says Toh. In a Jan 27, 2011, statement, Amazon.com announced that they were selling more e-books than paperbacks. “Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon.com has sold, the company has sold 115 Kindle books (Kindle is its e-book reader, among the first to hit the market in 2007). Additionally, during this same time period the company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books,” it said. Meanwhile, sales for mass paperback books were down by 14% since 2008 reported the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group in 2011 (The dog-eared paperback, newly endangered in an e-book age, The New York Times, Sept 2, 2011). In the midst of all this change, Borders, the United States’ second largest book retailer, went bankrupt last year. “There are fears that digital publishing will do to the publishing industry what digital music has done to the music industry – kill it. But I don’t think it’ll be that bad,” says Tunku Halim. Ling also believes that the printed book – dubbed “dead tree books” by e-book zealots – will not go the way of the dodo. “However, it will decrease in importance. It’s only a matter of time,” he says. While the fate of the still beloved printed book is uncertain, what’s certain is that e-books are democratising the reading world. Instead of tastemakers and experts, readers now hold the power to decide what books get read. And every author now has a good chance of getting his or her work onto people’s e-book devices. Says Tunku Halim: “E-books will allow anyone to publish anything. There’ll be millions of gigabytes of rubbish – but there’ll also be treasures that normally would never get out into our world.”

InsIght 15

E-book millionaires AMANDA Hocking: THE 27-yearold American from the Midwestern state of Minnesota has become something of a legend among independent authors. The writer of young adult paranormal romances wrote her first novel when she was 17 but couldn’t get any of her books published via the traditional route. Around March 2010, she decided to raise money for a trip by selling one of her novels as an e-book and used Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service to upload My Blood Approves, a story about a girl who falls in love with two vampire brothers. In the first month, she sold 40 books. However, by the end of 2011, she has made more than US$2mil (RM6.2mil) and is now a signed author with the very respectable St Martin’s Press. The film rights to her first traditionally-published book, Switched: Book One In The Trylle Trilogy, have already been snapped up by prominent film financier and production company, Media Rights Capital. John Locke: According to his biography on Amazon.com, former insurance salesman John Locke is the “eighth author in history to have sold 1 million eBooks on Kindle, and the first self-published author in history to have done so”. Locke has even written a nonfiction e-book teaching others the secret of his success: How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks In 5 Months! In a blog post (bit.ly/gZvgjk), Locke says that he has never had

John locke 1971: MICHAEL Hart at the University of Illinois in America starts Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org), an electronic public library of 10,000 e-books. Hart saw e-publishing as a utopian and democratic way to educate great numbers of people. 2000: Stephen King’s novella, Riding The Bullet, is published as an e-book by Simon & Schuster. It is the world’s first mass-market e-book, available for download at US$2.50. It had over 500,000 downloads, but the encryption caused countless of computers to crash. 2001: Publishers Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins and Time Warner Books launch their e-book imprints. But by December, Time Warner closes its e-book imprint, saying: “The market for e-books has simply not developed the way we hoped.” 2003: E-book demand remains poor, paper books remain steadfast. American bookstore chain Barnes & Noble stops selling e-books at its online store. Critics say e-books will not last. 2004: Sony releases Librié, the first e-book reader to utilise e-ink (electronic ink) technology, making reading text on readers much easier on the eyes. Nov 19, 2007: Amazon’s Kindle 1

an agent, nor has he shopped his manuscript to traditional publishers. “I always intended to self-publish my work, without representation, and figured my time would be better spent writing books than query letters.” J.A. Konrath: The mystery and thriller novelist is an e-publishing evangelist. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (at jakonrath. blogspot.com), where he blogs about the publishing scene, is a must-read for independent authors. When he tentatively put his outof-print novels for sale as e-books on April 8, 2009, he did not expect much. But he was soon taken aback by the money he was making. By March, 2010, he was selling at least 100 books a day. “I’m currently selling US$1.99 (RM6.15) e-books at the rate of 170 per day. That means I’m earning around US$120 (RM372) per day just sitting on my butt. If this trend continues, I’ll earn US$43,800 (RM135,780) this year on previously published short stories and novels that NY print publishing rejected,” he says on his blog (bit.ly/a7kg2A). His sales have long exceeded that. Now, he updates his faithful blog readers with his sales figures, which usually hover around a five- to sixfigure range monthly. Konrath claims that he makes more money now as an independent author and swears never to sign on with a traditional publisher again. Stephen Leather: British author Leather was a journalist for more than 10 years, working for newspapers such as The Times and The Daily Mail in London and The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Having begun writing full time in 1992, Leather already had a successful career as a novelist before turning to e-books. In August 2010, when Amazon. co.uk. opened its Kindle store,

amanda Hocking

H.p. Mallory

Stephen leather

J.a. Konrath

Leather saw a golden opportunity. “I was lucky, in that I had three novellas Hodder (the publisher) had turned down because they were in a different genre from my other books and too short to work as conventional paperbacks. But I realised they might work for the Kindle,” he said in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. (Kindle gives thriller writer a plot for success – at 71p a shot, Feb 27, 2011). Leather priced the books at US$0.99 (about RM3), the lowest price that Amazon allowed for independent authors. He then promoted them by posting about the books on forums. By November, he had “knocked Stieg Larsson off the top spot” (referring to the late author of the hugely popular Millennium Trilogy that sold millions of printed copies). Leather is currently Amazon’s No.2 bestselling Kindle author. (Lee Child of the Jack Reacher series is No.1.) H.P. Mallory: In a guest post at

J.A. Konrath’s blog (bit.ly/ggfsc9), Mallory says that she nearly gave up writing after she received numerous rejections from publishing houses and her agent left her. For two years, she didn’t write a word. Then, a friend mentioned how some writers were publishing their books using Kindle Ddirect Publishing. On July 2010, she uploaded her books, Fire Burn And Couldron Bubble and To Kill A Warlock. Initially, she only sold a handful of them. Then, she decided to seriously promote her book by setting up a website, interacting on Facebook and forums, and by blogging. By December 2010, after uploading a third book, she had sold 23,000 e-books. By July 2011, according to USA Today (authors catch fire with self-published e-books, Sept 2, 2011), the number rose to 70,000. Unsurprisingly, Mallory caught the attention of publishers Random House, which signed her up for a three-book deal that same year.

A brief history is released at US$399 (RM1,200). The first lot of Kindles sells out in five and a half hours. Amazon also starts Kindle Direct Publishing, a selfpublishing digital service that allows authors to sell e-books. 2008: Smashwords, an e-book self-publishing and distribution platform, is established. It allows people to upload their manuscripts to Smashwords.com, which converts them into e-books. Once published, these e-books are sold in the store. 2009: The Kindle is made available in over 100 countries. Jan 27, 2010: Apple’s iPad launches. Its e-book application, iBooks also launches. Apple works out an agreement with publishers to switch from a “wholesale” model to an “agency” model for selling e-books. In the wholesale model, publishers sell to intermediary parties such as Amazon. com. The purchaser will then resell that e-book at whatever price they like. In the agency model, publishers set prices that consumers must pay. January 2010: A fight brews between Macmillan and Amazon.com when the publisher insists on selling its e-books for US$15 (RM46.50) while Amazon.com wants to keep the

their works digitally through bn.com and Barnes & Noble’s e-book store.

in the beginning ... the first batteryoperated amazon Kindle, released in november 2007. price at US$9.99 (RM31). Amazon. com first refuses to carry Macmillan titles but eventually gives in to the publisher’s demands. April 2010: Several of the biggest American publishers adopt the agency model. July 2010: Amazon.com reports that sales of e-books surpass hardcover books. For every 100 hardcover books bought, 143 Kindle books are bought. October 2010: Barnes & Nobles creates PubIt, a new self-publishing platform for writers to distribute

January 2011: Amazon reports that sales of Kindle e-books surpass paperback books to become Amazon. com’s most popular format. 2011: Self-published authors John Locke and Amanda Hocking become one of the first authors to make millions of dollars self-publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing. December 2011: Amazon.com launches the Amazon Prime programme, which allows members to borrow one e-book a month from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. It also launches Kindle Select, where self-published authors sell their ebooks exclusively through Amazon. com for 90 days and are allowed to set their e-books “free” to be borrowed by Amazon Prime members. April 2012: The US Government sues Apple Inc and five publishers, saying they conspired to fix the prices of electronic books. They reach a settlement with three of the publishers that could lead to cheaper e-books for consumers. Apple and publishers are also sued for price fixing in Canada. n Sources: Forbes, Bloomberg, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Techcrunch, Teleread and Wikipedia.


STARMAG, SUNDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2010

Best-sellers FOR week ending Feb 7, 2010: Non-fiction 1. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne 2. How to Simplify Your Life by Tiki Kustenmacher and Lothar J Seiwert 3. Learn Faster & Remember More by Allen D. Bragdon and David Gamon 4. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships by John Gray 5. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow 6. Codename: Renegade – The Inside Account of How Obama Won the Biggest Prize in Politics by Richard Wolffe 7. Five Cities That Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York Shaped Global History by Douglas Wilson 8. Building a Love That Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage by Charles D. Schmitz and Elizabeth A. Schmitz 9. How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes 10. The Power of Positive Thinking and The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking collection by Norman Vincent Peale Fiction 1. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella 2. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder 3. Fire and Ice by Julie Garwood 4. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks 5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger 6. The Host by Stephenie Meyer 7. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown 8. Rides a Dread Legion by Raymond E. Feist 9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 10. Beauty by Raphael Selbourne ■ Weekly list compiled by MPH Mid Valley Megamall, Kuala Lumpur; www.mphonline.com.

Tots To Teens

DAPHNE LEE

starmag-feedback@thestar.com.my

I’M late with this, but it’s an issue I’d like to raise, again: the whitewashing of book covers. What’s whitewashing? Well, in this case, it’s when a white model is chosen to grace the cover of a book that is about a character of colour. I wrote about this some months ago when publishers Bloomsbury was forced to nix the cover they had chosen for Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. You would think the publisher had learnt its lesson but, no: early this year, they were “caught” wielding the whiteout brush again. This time the book was Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore. The heroine of this book is dark-skinned but the model on the jacket is not. Bloomsbury eventually withdrew the book with its offensive cover and has promised to design a new one. However, if you go to amazon.com, you’ll still see the book listed with its original cover (pictured right). Meanwhile, someone’s pointed out that a character of colour in The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart was also being “whited” on the books’ covers. What makes this even more outrageous is that the illustrations inside the book (by Carson Ellis) show the character with dark skin! In this case, the publisher was Little, Brown. It’s interesting that the books that have suffered whitewashing are all written by

READS

SM17

A reader reviewed

Following on from StarMag’s recent cover story on eBooks, an avid reader offers an overview of the only eBook reader currently available in Malaysia, the Hanlin V5. By LEON WING HE Hanlin V5 is officially the first eReader marketed in Malaysia. Made in China – yes, China, but don’t scoff – by a company called Tianjin Jinke Electronics Co, this eReader has successful reincarnations in the West as the BeBook and the EZ Reader. Before we get into the Hanlin V5, here’s a quick reminder of how eBook readers work: An eReader, also called an eBook reader or device, is an electronic device on which you can read digital publications that you need to pay for and download from websites such as amazon. com, barnesandnoble.com, mphonline.com and others. Among the more well-known brands, mentioned in StarMag’s story on Jan 24 (War of the devices, Insight), are amazon.com’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, both of which are wireless – meaning you don’t need to have them physically synched with a computer to go online to buy and download books. (Neither device is available in Malaysia.) Unlike those two devices, the Hanlin V5 doesn’t have wireless synch capability; instead, you either use a USB cable to connect it to your computer or copy your downloaded eBooks onto an SD card and then slot the card into the Hanlin. You can download content for the Hanlin from mphonline.com as well as other sites, like booksonboard.com and fictionwise.com, for example. Because this model does not have a touch screen, you have to navigate using the little numbered buttons below the screen, each of which have a different function; for instance, button 7, marked “Catalog” displays the contents page of the eBook I had selected. While reading, you can bookmark a page or enlarge the fonts. The Hanlin V5 can open many different file formats; I’ve discovered, after testing several eBook formats, that the best so far is ePub, a

T

The Hanlin V5 eBook reader does a good job of simulating a printed page. – File photo new industry standard – ePub files open faster and lay-out on the screen better than other file formats. The Hanlin V5 has a text-to-speech feature; combined with its MP3 facility, that means you can have your eBooks read out to you through the earphones that come with the device. The voice is American-accented, female and rather robotic but I had no trouble understanding what it said. Reading the eBook yourself, you turn the “pages” by doing one of three things: pressing the arrow buttons on the left of the screen;

pressing the smaller arrow buttons at the bottom of the device; lightly tugging on the little wheel on the right side of the reader. Why so many buttons just for turning the page, you might ask? I actually think it makes sense because, what if you are left-handed? Or what if you are holding the device in one hand while lying on the sofa? Every time you turn a page, the screen goes black – or rather, it reverses, with the background going black and the words, white – for a second. This is the only time when battery power is utilised, when a page is turned. Which is very power-efficient, really, meaning you can leave the Hanlin on for days without its LI-polymer battery running out. So, is it easy to read a book on the Hanlin V5? Well, the eInk technology that it utilises (as do all eReaders) does a very good job of simulating a printed page. Just like all the other eReaders, the Hanlin V5’s screen is not backlit, making it easier on the eyes than backlit mobile or PDA screens. This, of course, means that, like a printed book, you need some illumination to read on the Hanlin; you can’t read it in the dark. I do feel, though, that the screen contrast could be better; ie, the background should be whiter. Still, reading in good lighting – or outdoors, in strong sunlight – for extended periods is quite comfortable. Changing fonts also makes things easier; the default is Times Roman, but I find the angular lettering is not as crisp as Garamond. I’m convinced the future is bright for eBook readers in Malaysia and that more brands will become available this year. In the mean time, MPH hasn’t gone wrong by bringing this one in, for sure. It is available at the chain’s physical stores as well as from its website, mphonline.com. ■ Leon Wing is giving away a free eBook that he has written and tailored for the mobile phone. Go to the ezine, The Malaysian Poetic Chronicles, at themalaysianpoeticchronicles.blogspot.com to get it.

Can’t we love ourselves?

white authors. I suspect publishers would not dare to whitewash a book by an author of colour, so why do they feel it’s all right to whitewash a book by a white person? Do they assume that white authors do not feel strongly about their characters of colour being correctly portrayed? How insulting, if so. How do Malaysian readers feel about the whitewashing of book covers? For years, most of us seemed to quite happily accept “pan-Asian” models (the term is supposed to apply to those whose looks are not specific to any one Asian race, but what it really means is “Asians who look white thanks to a Caucasian forebear”) selling us stuff in commercials, so I can’t imagine that we would be terribly concerned about foreign publishers putting a white model on book covers to boost sales. In June 2007, the Malaysian Local Broadcasting Act called for a ban on the use of pan-Asian models in commercials and print ads. This move was viewed as discriminatory, and so it was. In any case, it did not address the root of the problem: the fact that pan-Asian models are preferred by all parties involved. By the way, the models used in ads

these days are Asian, but they’re Asians who have large, double-lidded eyes and high nose bridges! The majority of Malaysians seem to have been brainwashed into believing that white features are more attractive. The double eyelid and the high nose bridge are marks of beauty. If you are “blessed” with both these features, but have the “misfortune” of being dark-skinned, you must plaster yourself with whitening products and wear long-sleeved clothing when out in the sun. We have Hollywood to thank for this. And although South Korean movies and music are now hot, hip and happening in Malaysia, South Korean celebrities aren’t exactly role models when it comes to championing truly Asian features. I believe the plastic surgery industry is booming there, as it is in Japan. If you look at the covers of Malay young adult novels, you will notice that Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and other white actresses have obviously modelled for them. The female characters might be depicted dressed in baju kurung, or even veiled, but they all resemble brunette versions of white celebrities.

The message to our kids is that it’s preferable to look white. Even the little girl in my picture book, One Red Flower, is depicted with brown hair. And I admit that I didn’t even notice her hair colour until it was too late to change it – the illustrator and I have since decided to re-do the illustrations. The truth is that we are just not sufficiently conscious of our Asian identity. Never mind being whitewashed by a third party, we’re whitewashing ourselves or else not being aware when it happens. It’s no use just shrugging and saying “Well, what to do, I really do think white looks are more attractive that Asian looks”. We have to ask why we feel that way and we have to make conscious efforts to re-educate ourselves. We have to learn to appreciate typical Asian faces – broad, flat noses, single-lidded eyes and all. We have to start celebrating these faces in our illustrations, our print ads and our TV commercials rather than denying they exist – which is what never showing them amounts to. If we don’t start acknowledging and embracing our looks, then our children will never be able to view their appearance without rancour. ■ Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne. blogs.com/books.


SM18

READS MONTHLY

STARMAG, SUNDAY 30 MAY 2010

Catch this reader

Best-sellers FOR May, 2010:

T looks like the Kindle’s long-lost twin brother, so, naturally, it’s one handsome eBook reader: white, slightly larger than a paperback and fitted with a keyboard. But the iRiver Story device has its differences from amazon.com’s much-hyped Kindle, beginning with its plastic body. MPH Bookstores started selling the South Korean-made iRiver earlier this month for RM1,199; we took it out for a “test read” two weeks ago. According to MPH’s webpage on the iRiver (tiny.cc/fbuwk), the device can read up to 30 books for three to four hours a day, per week, thanks to the eInk display that consumes power only when pages are turned. The reader can also play and record mp3 files – the quality of which is excellent – and you can listen to music for 24 hours and record sounds for five hours. It also has an SD card slot, which allows you to expand the device’s 2GB memory by another 32GB. This is a boon, as it’s quicker to transfer eBooks or files to the SD card instead of connecting the device to the computer. (No, the iRiver Story does not have wireless capability.) You can also keep a diary of appointments, and write memos too.

I

Here’s an update on our cover story earlier in the year on eBook readers – the latest device to hit Malaysian shores.

Reading The iRiver can read file formats such TXT, ePub, PDF and, surprisingly, Microsoft DOC, PPT and XLS files. Furthermore, it can read eBooks written in Japanese, Korean, Russian and Chinese text too. Text files, however, don’t flow very well; words are broken up and there doesn’t seem to be an option to correct the text flow. Some PDF files can’t be enlarged unlike ePub and TXT files, so you may end up reading teeny tiny print. In the end, I feel that the iRiver reads ePub books best. You can “flip” the reader so that you can read it in landscape mode, but I only managed this with an ePub file. Text, by the way, can be enlarged four times, and is crisp and clear. Like all eInk readers, there’s a bit of a lag when you “turn” the page of an eBook. However, this lag is very minimal in the iRiver and didn’t disturb my reading experience at all. Interestingly, the iRiver also has a “comics” feature. The device is able to read the contents of a zipped (compressed) file without you having to unzip it; this makes it an ideal comics-reading

Tots To Teens

DAPHNE LEE

IRiver Story pluses: Good looks and an easy-to-use keyboard. device. However, I can’t imagine how readable a comic page would be with that small screen. Buying eBooks from the Internet isn’t a problem, as I had no trouble having Adobe Digital Editions recognise the device. The eBooks transferred effortlessly into the iRiver via a USB cable. (Digital Editions is a software that enables users to download digital rights management ePub files. Digital Rights Management, or DRM, protected books are eBooks that can only be read by the buyer.)

Clunky interface However, having owned a Sony PRS505 Reader

and later a Sony Pocket Reader, I have to say that the iRiver’s interface took some getting used to. For example, to access bookmarks, you have to go to the main menu and into the “Bookmark” folder. So, say you’re reading one eBook but would like to go to a page from another eBook you had bookmarked earlier: you’d have to leave the eBook you’re reading, go to the main menu, get into “Bookmarks” and choose the bookmark you want, which is grouped with bookmarks of other eBooks. With the Sony Reader, all it takes is one push of a button to bookmark or enlarge text on the page. The iRiver is also not a multi-tasking device. When you are listening to mp3 music, you can’t read an eBook. One charges the iRiver via a USB cable connected to a computer. There doesn’t seem to be any charger available as an accessory. Another cause for concern is that you can’t remove the battery yourself, which makes me wonder what happens when the battery flatlines. However, many other eBook readers, such as the Sony Readers, have the same problem. The iRiver also doesn’t quite fit in the palm of one hand, which is inconvenient, and is a little heavy, so reading it will be challenging. Okay, so the iRiver Story isn’t flawless. But in the end, its flaws don’t detract from the fact that it does its job quite well: read eBooks. Furthermore, you get other functions to play with too: it can be your diary and mp3 player too. And at RM1,199, I feel that the iRiver’s quite a catch.

n This month’s list compiled by

This eReader allows you to keep a diary and write memos.

starmag-feedback@thestar.com.my

IT was the cover of Tender Morsels that made me want to read the book. The Knopf Books hardcover edition (pictured, right) shows a young girl in the arms of a large brown bear. The bear looks fierce, and yet he holds the girl lovingly. The girl’s expression is tender, her arm encircles the bear’s broad shoulder protectively. It’s an intriguing picture, provoking many questions: Is the story a romance? Or a tragedy? Or both? Is the bear bewitched? Will the girl be consumed by the beast, or by her love for him? Margo Lanagan wrote Tender Morsels in response to the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale Snow-White and Rose-Red. It is the story of two sisters, very different in looks and temperament, though both seem to like housework and animals, and when they are scolded they do not seem to mind. The sisters befriend a bear, but the creature is later incited to violence by a wicked dwarf. Luckily, the bear

Fiction 1. The Last Song (movie tie-in) by Nicholas Sparks 2. The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern 3. Dear John (movie tie-in) by Nicholas Sparks 4. PS, I Love You (movie tie-in) by Cecelia Ahern 5. Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton 6. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella 7. The Lovely Bones (movie tiein) by Alice Sebold 8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger 9. Ford County by John Grisham 10. 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

MPH Mid Valley Megamall,

Like real life turns out to be a bewitched prince, and he has a brother, so the girls get a husband apiece. You wouldn’t expect anything less (or more) from those brothers whose tales are full of girls who cheerfully put up with all sorts of mistreatment before being eventually rescued, and rewarded, by marriage. Lanagan has, in interviews, talked about how annoyed she is by the message in Snow-White and RoseRed, that women have no recourse except to accept abuse. However, don’t expect her book to be full of kick-ass females giving their tyrannical menfolk what for. There is respite and, ultimately, revenge, but before you get there, be prepared for cruelty, violence and heartache. In Tender Morsels, Snow-White and Rose-Red are Branza and Urdda, the daughters of Liga who, as a young girl, experiences such horrors at the hands of men (including her own father) that she is allowed access to an alternate universe where life is gentle and kind. Branza and Urdda are raised in

Non-fiction 1. Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times by Barry Wain 2. The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma 3. The Explosive True Story of a Mafia British Princess by Marisa Merico 4. The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease, Allan Pease 5. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell 6. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden 7. World Cup 2010 Superstars: The Players, The Teams, The Facts published by Parragon 8. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 9. Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray 10. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

Liga’s “heaven” and others, from the real world of St Olafred’s, cross over in due course, including a “littlee” man – not wicked like the Grimms’ dwarf, simply a greedy, selfish brute – and two bears. These bears are actually men who have donned bear skins for a village festival. Once in Liga’s dream world, though, they turn into real bears. One is good natured and honourable, while the other is manipulative and lecherous. It is this second bear who brings, with his pungent odour and insatiable sexual desire, a whiff of the real world. He provokes puzzling, disturbing sensations in Branza, and doubts and worries in Liga. Interestingly, Liga, Branza and Urdda are not so unlike the passive female characters that Lanagan dislikes in Grimms’ fairytales. However, in Tender Morsels, their passivity could be seen as a direct result of

their unnaturally sheltered lives – and the cost of such a life is the maturity, strength and satisfaction gained from the process of confronting and resolving conflict. It is only when all three women do cross over to St Olafred’s that they are able to fulfil their full potential. And so, when disappointment and despair finally come again to Liga, as it must in life, she is able to bear it, not passively, but with strength and dignity. Tender Morsels is a vividly described novel. Lanagan’s characters – unlike those in the Grimm tales – have that dark, hidden core of fear and longing that makes them so recognisably human, so real. And her resolutions, while not always expected, perfect or tidy, make sense. The satisfaction you feel may not come from how everyone gets what they deserve but how they

Kuala Lumpur; www.mphonline. com.

don’t, because that really is what life is like. n Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

30% off

By ELIZABETH TAI starmag-feedback@thestar.com.my

Get a 30% discount on Tender Morsels (ISBN: 978-0375843051) by presenting this coupon upon payment at Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC. This offer is valid until June 13, 2010, or while stocks last. It is not valid with other promotions and is not exchangeable for cash. One coupon is valid for only one copy of the title and only original coupons will be accepted. Note that cover image published may differ from instore stock.


Star2, TueSday 3 January 2012

READS 19

More room for local authors

a Malaysian company is turning locally-published books into e-books, increasing avenues for writers to reach an audience. By ELIZABETH TAI star2@thestar.com.my

T

HANKS to e-books, the publishing world has radically changed. According to a report by British newspaper The Guardian in August 2011, the sales of hardback fiction have fallen by over 10% in 2011 and e-books now account for 13.6% of the fiction market in the United States. According to British-based Juniper Research, e-books are expected to generate US$9.7bil (RM30bil) worldwide in 2016, more than three times the US$3.2bil (RM10bil) it is expected to generate in 2011. The rise of the e-book has resulted in changes in the way publishers publish, sell and distribute their books. Malaysian publishers, however, have largely been protected from these seismic changes and many have stuck to the traditional way of publishing. This may be due to Malaysians’ slow embrace of e-books and the lack of availability of ebook readers such as Amazon.com’s Kindle, the Sony Reader or Barnes and Noble’s Nook, which are not available here. E-book readers that are made in Asia, such as from China and South Korea, are sold in Malaysia, but these are only sold in very selected stores. However, the introduction of tablets, such as the trendy and popular iPad, which is widely available around Malaysia, may change things. “There are 400,000 tablet users in Malaysia. People who have these do not have content to read, they can mostly get games only,” says Zafirah Ahmad at a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur. Aware of this huge untapped market, Zafirah and a group of like-minded people decided to dip their toes into the e-book waters by creating a digital portal where publishers and users can sell and buy books. Called e-Sentral, the portal (e-sentral.com. my) currently offers e-books from local publishers such as Fixi, Pelangi, PTS Publications, KarnaDya and Singapore’s Guide Gecko. Zafirah is a book lover who became frustrated when she could not purchase e-books from e-bookstores such as Apple’s iBookstore or Amazon due to geographical copyright restrictions. “Because of this limitation, I decided: why not we have something that is localised in our market and also with local content?” she says. The company starting working on the portal in 2009 but only started selling e-books four months ago. The response to e-Sentral has been encouraging, says Zafirah, with many customers returning. For now, the portal has about 400 e-books. Although there are some English e-books, most are in Bahasa Malaysia. “Local books sell more than English ones – and that includes local and foreign English books,” says e-Sentral consultant Faiz AlShahab. The e-books are currently available for iPads and iPhones, and are priced 50% to 60% lower than their “tree book” versions as there are no printing or distribution costs, says Faiz. At the moment the e-books on e-Sentral are available only to Malaysians and Singaporeans, though they plan to launch in Indonesia soon. E-Sentral has also created its own Digital Rights Management (DRM) to ensure that the copyright of the books is protected. Initially, the company wanted to buy a DRM system from the West, but found it

Go digital: ‘We help digitise books and also train publishers to digitise their works,’ says Zafirah ahmad, e-Sentral’s content liaison, here showing the books in e-Sentral’s library. too expensive. Rather than pay for it, they decided to create one – and that turned out to be a good decision because, “Now there’s interest from the Middle East to purchase our system,” says Faiz.

refuse to go digital, though the number of publishers who are participating is increasing,” says Zafirah, adding that “we help digitise books and also train publishers to digitise their works.”

Change is challenging

Helping authors publish

Currently, overseas English publishers such as Random House would not want to contribute to portals such as e-Sentral, says Faiz. “They sell the rights for specific territories so they do not want portals like ours to get their content and some people can cheat and buy the product in Malaysian currency which is usually cheaper than the US dollar and the Euro. Also, they have a really bad image of Asia and in particular of South-East Asia, thinking it to be infested with piracy,” he says. This assertion is untrue as most pirated e-books or e-books that have had their DRMs removed are distributed from American websites, says Faiz. And another reason publishers should embrace e-books is the fact that they currently have trouble moving their physical stock, points out Faiz. “If the whole world is turning digital, then where are they going to sell their stocks? So Asia and even countries such as South Africa are becoming ‘dumping grounds’ for English books to be sold. This is basically the talk we heard when we were at the Frankfurt Bookfair (the world’s biggest bookfair),” he says. Although Faiz believes that not all books can be digitised, e-books is just the “natural way forward” because of practical reasons and real limitations. “For one, pulp paper has become more expensive, just like other natural resources,” he says. Zafirah adds other advantages: books can be distributed faster and to a bigger audience, and they can even reach different and larger markets. It has been challenging, however, to convince local publishers to turn digital. “Some of the publishers (in Malaysia) just

E-Sentral isn’t just a bookstore. It is also a publishing portal that helps authors sell their e-books. It also acts as a content aggregator by helping authors sell their e-books at international online bookstores such as iBooks and Amazon.com. Authors can open up an account at eSentral to publish their e-books, eliminating the need to set up a portal of their own or to engage the services of an IT professional. E-Sentral also offers to teach people how to digitise their novels and attach the DRM. Authors pocket 60% of the book price while the rest goes to e-Sentral. If authors request e-Sentral to digitise their books and create the cover, they will get 50% of the sales proceeds. In the traditional publishing system, books are vetted by editors, selected for publishing, and then sold to bookstores. E-books have the ability to demolish the need for books to be physically present in bookstores. Authors can now bypass the publisher and publish their e-books, reaping the lions’ share of the profits and are also able to reach an international audience. Western companies are already taking advantage of this. There’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which has made authors millionaires. “People are thinking: Why should we go to publishers when we do it ourselves and become millionaires?” says Zafirah. “A lot of publishers have to digest that and think about this new way of doing things. This is the reality. When society decides to change they will just switch, they won’t wait,” says Faiz.

Changing literature E-books and devices such as the iPad are

also changing the way people read. Faiz highlights how Apple “killed off albums” and created a music revolution with the iPod. For a while, music labels fought against the change, but they soon adapted. Thanks to the iPod, listeners can now buy the songs they want rather than the entire album. In the future, readers will be able to do the same. “For example, rather than pay for an entire magazine only to read 50% of it, you can pay for the article you want to read instead,” he says. Overseas retailers such as Amazon.com and Fictionwise.com offer short stories for sale. That way, instead of buying an entire collection of stories, readers can buy the stories they want for as low as US$0.40 (RM1.20). The digital revolution can even transform the way books are written. “For thousands of years, people read content in a linear fashion,” Faiz says. To get to the next event in the story, one has to turn the page. However, due to modern technologies, we can now read in a non-linear fashion. For example, while reading the digital book, the author may include a link to a separate story that expands the original story further. “The author has the option to create subplots, flashbacks and backgrounds. Readers can choose to read ‘the story behind the story’,” Faiz points out. When the company exhibited at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October last year, they attracted a lot of attention because they were the only ones championing the non-linear, interactive publishing model concept to the world. The potential is huge, says Faiz. Not only will there be more income streams for the author, literature could be changed forever. After all, “Who says we have to read the story page by page?” n For more information, go to e-sentral.com, e-mail info@e-sentral.com, call 03-8051 6390 or go to the company’s Facebook page at facebook.com/eSentral.


18 READS

Star2, TueSdAy 29 MAy 2012

By ELIZABETH TAI star2@thestar.com.my

H

AVE a book in you? Why not blog it out? American editor and journalist Nina Amir, 52, discovered this concept when she was invited to speak at a panel on blogging books at the San Francisco Writers Conference a few years ago. “Blogging a book means composing your manuscript on the Internet using blog technology. Basically, you write, publish and promote your book one post at a time on the Internet,” says the California-based Amir via e-mail. She thought that the idea was a fabulous one and noticed that nobody was writing or teaching anything about the subject. So in 2010, she created the blog, How to Blog a Book at howtoblogabook. com, with the intention of “blogging a book about how to blog a book”. Her experiment was a success. She finished blogging her book in five months by writing three to four posts a week (each about 500 words) and her blog became the No.1 blog when searching about blogging a book in Google. Best of all, she caught the attention of Writer’s Digest Books, which publishes how-to guides for writers. Amir signed a contract with them in July 2011, and her book, How To Blog A Book: Write, Publish, And Promote Your Work One Post At A Time, was released last Monday. “Today, a good idea and good writing are not enough to make you

Getting started: Nina Amir offers advice on getting started on that book you’ve always meant to write.

Blog a book Write your book in a blog and you may just get published, says author of How To Blog A Book, Nina Amir. a published author – at least, not a non-fiction author,” says Amir. Authors need a “platform” – a fan base or a huge number of people who will buy the author’s book. Publishers are more keen to take on writers like that as they are “good business partners”, Amir says. Blogs can not just help you build that platform but make it easier and less daunting to write your book, as you’re writing it one post at a time. “If you don’t want to take the time to promote yourself or your work, and you aren’t finding the time to write your books, blogging your book may just be the solution to your problem,” she says. But are publishers keen to take on a book that is already available on the Internet for free? Amir says that her publisher didn’t mind that a good bit of her book is already in cyberspace. While it was true that some publishers used to balk at previously published material, these days,

publishers see popular blogs as successfully test-marketed book ideas. After all, more blogs are being discovered and turned into books ever before, Amir points out. “According to the president of Hyperion Books, prior to blogging technology publishers had no way to test market a book idea effectively. What better way to use a blog for this purpose than to actually plan out your book’s content and publish it on a blog?” she adds. “I do, however, suggest that bloggers hold back some material and plan on releasing that in the printed or e-book version,” she says. Note, however, that blogging a book is not the same as taking the content off a blog wholesale and turning it into a book. Julie & Julia: My Year Of Cooking Dangerously, The Amazing Adventures Of Dietgirl,, Salam Pax: The Clandestine Diary Of An Ordinary Iraqi and Stuff White People Like are such blogs-turnedto-books. Instead, one starts with the intention of writing a book in a blog. Amir suggests that you begin by writing post-sized bits (about 250 to 500 words) of your book in a word processor, which you then publish on a blog. “By keeping it short, you will blog your book over a longer period of time, allowing readership for the printed book to build.” While you are doing this, you can promote the blog via social media, by commenting on other blogs or via podcasts and videos. This will attract readership to the blog. Once the first draft is done, writers should then revise it a few times and later have it edited professionally, says Amir. “That’s why my book went from 26,300 words – the length of the online book – to more than double that word count in the final draft. That makes the printed book attractive both to my regular readers and to new readers. Everyone will find something new in the book.” Once all this is done, the novel is ready to be shipped to a publisher or perhaps be turned into an e-book. “E-books are hot right now. It’s a great market to get into and just like blogs offer inexpensive ways to write, publish and promote books,” says Amir. But what if you already have a blog with a good number of posts? Amir suggests that you try “repurposing” the blog content or “book the blog”. “This means reusing content in other ways and for different purposes, such as taking a series of INTERESTED in blogging a book? Nina Amir gives some tips: > First, choose a topic: Be sure to choose a topic you’re passionate about, as you’d be blogging about the topic long after you complete the manuscript. > Hone your subject: Make sure the book you plan to blog is unique in the glogosphere and in brick and mortar bookstores. > Then, map out your book’s con-

blog posts on one topic and putting them together into a short e-book or rewriting one blog post for a press release or an article or turning the majority of the blog into a book,” she explains. You can turn your old blog posts into booklets, a memoir, a collection of inspirational stories, a short story collection or a “how to” book. Melbourne-based professional blogger Darren Rowse has done this numerous times. His e-books 31 Days To Build A Better Blog and The Essential Guide To Portrait Photography were culled from old blog posts. Rowse added new content to the previously written content, and updated the existing materials. “And in both cases my readers overwhelmed me with thanks for compiling previously scattered content into complete e-books,” he writes in his blog, Problogger (tinyurl.com/84dgvsz). Still, Rowse was initially very sceptical whether this could work. “I didn’t think my readers would want repurposed content, but in the end they actually demanded it,” he says in an interview on Amir’s blog.

Handy hints tent: Outline your book. When you are done, you should have a complete table of contents. This will be your writing guide. > Break your content into postsized pieces: Write posts of 250 to 500 words. Prior to writing, plan this small content chunks as much as possible.

However, Amir says that “booking the blog” is actually a more difficult process than blogging a book, as the posts have to be restructured and rewritten into a more coherent structure so that they will read more like a book. And although there are actually programs that will convert your blog posts into a book (some even ensure that the printed version looks exactly like the blog), it’s not something Amir recommends. “You want your book, when it is finished, to look and read like a book. Let the blog be a blog and your book be a book – even if you are booking your blog.” But what if you want to write a novel? Well, Amir says that while it is easier to blog a non-fiction book as the chapters are easier to break into small pieces, people have found a way to blog novels. Sometimes dubbed “blovels” (the hybrid of the word “blog” and “novel”), they mimic the once-popular serialised novels published in magazines. (Charles Dickens published many of his novels this way.) “Blogging a novel is trickier. The chapters in novels aren’t as easy to break into small pieces; it’s easier to do this with a non-fiction book,” says Amir. However, one just needs to find logical places to break the writing so that one will end up posting short pieces instead of long ones. “This keeps your readers coming back to ‘turn the page’, if you will,” she says. n How To Blog A Book: Write, Publish, And Promote Your Work One Post At A Time is available at Amazon.com. > Create a business plan: Is your idea a marketable one? “Look at your book idea through the eyes of an agent or publisher,” says Amir. > Set up a blog: You can get a free one at wordpress.com or blogger.com. > Promote your blog: Social media, media appearances, writing for publications, speaking engagements – get your blog noticed by as many people as possible.


16 READS

Star2, TueSday 22 May 2012

The future of libraries With the popularity of ebooks on the rise, public libraries in the united States are contemplating a role change. By ELIZABETH TAI star2@thestar.com.my

F

OR centuries, libraries were places where documents and books were kept. They still are, but in most libraries today, books also exist in computer servers in digital form, ready to be borrowed by readers who will access them via mobile reading devices. Institutions such as the New York Public Library and Singapore National Library lend out e-books to patrons. But e-books aren’t that new in libraries, says Sue Polanka (pic), head of reference and instruction at Wright State University Libraries in the United States – they’ve had them for the last 15 years or so. “Academic libraries have been buying ebooks for years long before Overdrive (e-book distributors for libraries),” says Polanka. She was in Kuala Lumpur recently to talk about how e-books are impacting libraries. Polanka is also a popular blogger. Her passion for libraries and e-books led her to create the blog No Shelf Required in 2008 at libraries. wright.edu/noshelfrequired. At our interview, she goes on to explain that the e-content libraries stocked in the early days comprised mostly almanacs, journals and encyclopaedias. OverDrive (overdrive. com) was the first library vendor to offer more fiction content. And then e-book reading devices like the Barnes and Nobles’ Nook and Amazon’s Kindle went mass market and “things really went wild”, Polanka says. It sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Instead of making that trek to the library, one just has to go online and download the book you want to read – for free. In a few seconds, the e-book will be in your mobile reading device, ready to be enjoyed.... But publishers, spooked by the prospect of piracy and dwindling sales of print books, have been hesitant to stock public libraries’ electronic shelves. Macmillan and Hachette, and Simon & Schuster refuse to sell e-books to libraries. Penguin used to, but abruptly stopped selling e-books to public libraries in February. In March, Random House tripled their e-book prices for library e-book distributors. Now, digital versions of Random House paperback titles can cost libraries as much as US$50 (RM152) each! “Right now, HarperCollins is the only publisher (out of the six major international publishers) working with public libraries and even they have put on limitations. After an e-book goes out 26 times, the 27th time the library has to buy a new copy of it,” Polanka explains. However, she does have some sympathy for the publishers’ position. “With academic content there’s a limited market – you’re going to only sell so many copies. With bestselling (fiction) titles there’s an unlimited market out there and if libraries have unlimited access ... I completely understand why they (the publishers) may be wary of that. They might lose a lot of sales,” she acknowledges. Another reason for limiting e-books in this manner is to create “challenges” for the library patron. “Penguin said that a print exchange has a lot of ‘friction’ because the user has to get to a library, borrow the item, take it home and read it and then bring it back. There are two trips involved so they felt that there was ‘friction’.” Because e-books are downloaded without this “friction”, the publishers felt that there weren’t enough “challenges” for the reader, it seems. Penguin should think again. It is actually not that easy to download an e-book from a public library. For example, there are 21 steps

Could a day come when libraries actually disappear, to be replaced by e-book lending services that charge you for borrowing books?

involved the very first time you do it if you use a Nook or a Sony e-reader, says Polanka. “There is a study by Library Journal – an American journal that follows anything going on in libraries – which found that 23% of patrons were unsuccessful in downloading a library e-book because of a technological glitch,” she says. Also, just because it’s an e-book, which technically means that there aren’t any limitations to how many copies there could be, doesn’t mean that it is immediately available. According to a recent New York Times article (E-book borrowing, preceded by e-book waiting, April 11, 2012), patrons may end up on a waiting list hundreds of names long for popular e-book titles. This is because libraries are only allowed to lend one digital copy at a time – as if it is a physical book. As a result, a lot of frustrated people leave without the content they want, says Polanka. “People expect digital content to be available now, they don’t want to wait for it.” Ideally, there should be a system that allows patrons to download multiple digital copies at once. But many public libraries probably can’t afford to set up a system like that. “Publishers say, ‘Well, if they don’t have to wait then they’re never going to be forced to go to the bookstore and buy it. Because that’s the whole idea, we want them to wait at the library,” she says. But there could be a light at the end of the tunnel: Self-published e-books. “Self-publishing is huge. It would be wonderful if public libraries could figure out a way to work directly with authors and to promote self-published authors without going through publishers.” However, just as publishers fear for their existence, libraries too should be wary about their future. “Many publishers are trying to sell direct to consumers now as a way to save themselves,

and many libraries are very much against that. There’s a lot of e-book subscription services that are popping up too,” Polanka points out. For example, Amazon.com launched its Amazon Prime service late last year allowing users to borrow one e-book a month. Then there are e-book lending services such as 24symbols.com, LendingEbook.com, Britishbased Afictionado.com, and US company Ebrary.com. Could a day come when libraries actually disappear, to be replaced by e-book lending services, some of which charge fees? “Many libraries are losing their funding because people are saying we don’t need them (libraries) – we can get it all online,” Polanka acknowledges. This is why she feels that libraries have to make an effort to stay involved with e-books and other digital content. This calls for libraries to reinvent themselves, she says. Even if e-books become so popular that print books become rare items, libraries are more than just their print books, says Polanka. The brick and mortar library buildings can be turned into a place where the community come together to create and distribute content. “Yes, we move our print out but it’s not that we leave the place empty. We bring in the type of technology that will allow people to create content.” For example, libraries can provide facilities and tools for authors to write e-books, or for bloggers to create podcasts, videos or other multimedia content. Public libraries can even be a place where a community can keep a record of their history. Jamie LaRue, director of the Douglas County Libraries has suggested that public libraries hire reporters to keep a track of local news. As a lot of American city newspapers are closing – more and more people are getting their news online – this could be an opportunity for libraries to make use of skills going begging. And instead of being adversaries, libraries and publishers can still work together to promote authors and titles. “There could come a time when libraries are the only place where people can physically see a book before they buy it. That’s something we need to consider and we can play a bigger role in that too. Maybe we can be selling books too,” she says. Polanka would love to see a future where content is available at no cost – and libraries should play a part in that, as libraries are based on the philosophy of open access. “We are much better off contributing to people to have more content than picking individual titles from publishers that hold copyright and limit us. This open culture is what I hope the future will be.”


Articles about ebooks from Elizabeth Tai  

The articles I've written about the e-book revolution.

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