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E-book challenge to printed word shapes up.

KLAIPEDA -- Johannes Gutenberg's mid-15th century invention of the printing press shaped publishing for centuries to come, but now this legacy might be put in jeopardy. A sleek, chic gizmo with a multi-touch color screen, hot inside and out and known as the e-book reader, is penetrating our vocabulary as it muscles in on the reign of the printed book as we know it.

In the 11th International Vilnius Book Fair, held at the Lithuanian Exhibition Center Litexpo, the electronic gadget not only seemingly stole the limelight of the group of foreign and Lithuanian celebrity writers, including Simon Sebag Montefiore, Alphonso Lingis, Joanne Harris or Jostein Gaarder, but, clearly, received much lavish attention. Not only from curious gawkers, but, more importantly, from those upon which the near future of publishing lies--publishers, writers and e-book reader sellers.

Quite deservedly, many would admit. This is just for one simple reason--an e-book can hold many more books in its memory and gives one the benefit of carrying an entire library, in a pocketbook-size device.

For the first time in the Vilnius Book Fair's history, some books, for example, Zigmas Stankus' "Mirage," Rokas Lukosius' "Investor's confession," and Ernestas Parulskis' "Daily Kunstcamera" have been presented in electronic format.

Saulius Petrulis, the director of the publishing house Eugrimas and representing the e-book "Investor's Confession" at the venue, is firmly convinced that Lithuania cannot be lagging any more behind the U.S. and other Western countries when it comes to the introduction of novelties in publishing. "I believe that our society has already matured for e-books. Publishers have to go ahead accustoming people to the innovations ...

With e-books, the world is making a historic step in publishing. For example, according to Amazon.com, last Christmas e-book sales surpassed the sales of printed books in the U.S. E-books have advanced in Western European countries as well, so in this regard, we have quite a lot to do in catching up, since only recently e-books and e-book readers have shown up on the Lithuanian market. However, there is already a growing demand for them. There are publishers interested in delivering e-books, sellers marketing e-book readers, writers who are eager to try some new ways of publishing. Bearing all this in mind, the e-book business looks quite promising. Realizing that, our publishing house has decided to launch the e-book. We see a big deal of interest in it," Petrulis said to The Baltic Times.

The e-book is not something new to the most Lithuanians, at least to those who speak foreign languages. Browsing the Internet in search of foreign language e-books is quite an ordinary practice for many compatriots, however, 90 percent of e-books, it is estimated, are acquired illegally, through hackers' file-sharing sites or just downloading the files illegally. When Dan Brown's blockbuster novel "The Lost Symbol" hit stores in the fall last year, this offered a peek at the future of e-bookselling. Less than 24 hours after its release, pirated digital copies of the novel were found on the largest file-sharing sites. Within days, it had been downloaded free more than one hundred thousand times.

Digital piracy, long confined to music and movies, is rapidly spreading to books. With electronic reading devices boosting demand for e-books, experts say the piracy problem may only get worse. Such a hazy e-publishing outlook cautions most Lithuanian publishers, who have been severely hit by the ongoing economic meltdown and by the 9 percent increase in value-added tax. Unlike Petrulis, they are not in a hurry to kick off e -publishing. "First of all, universally, there should be found some way to quell the uncontrollably spreading electronic piracy. Which national publisher will assume the risk of the novelty, which e-book publishing is, just to see his text circulating illegally on the Internet the next day? None. I seriously doubt whether today the Lithuanian Author Rights Protection Agency has the resources to cope with digital piracy," Saulius Zukas, the director of the publishing house Baltos lankos, cautions.

It seems that the technological innovations have caught some Lithuanian publishers off guard.

Regina Magiliene, owner of publishing house Magile, admits that the entire e-publishing matter seems "very hazy" to her. "Personally, I could never read a book in any electronic format. A computer tires me out, but not a single book. Honestly speaking, as a publisher, I fret about the novelty. If I knew more about it, maybe I would not feel that way. I am used to dealing with paper manuscripts and printed books. Having received manuscripts in digital format, I tend to print them on paper, because I feel more comfortable reading them that way. I want to know how I could control an e-book's sale. Will the publisher's part of the earnings not be less than in printing paper books? There are so many indefinite questions regarding electronic publishing; they hold me back from the venture," Magiliene said.

Her celebrity author, Edmundas Malukas, recently received an offer from a digital company to issue his much talked about book, "The Rubbish People," in an electronic version, but his publisher has been delaying her decision, saying that she still has to "fathom it out."

With an e-book price tag hovering at as little as half that of the printed version, many publishers fear that their traditional input in publishing will eventually dwindle, since a publishers' role in digital publishing is minimal. This threatens them with reduced earnings.

The current situation in book publishing can be compared to newspaper publishing, where glossy screen letters have been replacing the printed word. Anticipating the inevitable, some national news moguls launched successful Web sites and have been doing fine on both fronts--printed and digital.

With e-book sales amounting to 10-20 percent of the total in the U.S., Australia and Western European countries, Lithuanian publishers have just begun their uncertain journey into digital.

From the beginning of this year, however, this process has been considerably hastened by the introduction of e-book readers in Lithuania. Two companies, Next Media LT and Internet vendor Skaitykla.lt, are offering several kinds of e-book readers, like "Cool-er," "Cybook Opus" and "Hanlin E-Reader V3."

Deividas Talijunas of Skaitykla.lt, does not expect much from the e-book reader sales yet, saying "The entire e-publishing and e-book readers is quite new in Lithuania. From my own experience, 95 percent of people here have never heard of this. To tell the truth, we have sold only a very few gadgets of this kind so far. Had we advertised the device more from the beginning, sales could have been much better by now. However, I understand that for many people the price tag, over 800 litas (230 euros), might be a bit too high. No doubt, with the e-book reader market expanding, the price will go down, maybe to 400 litas, that is how much this kind of gadget costs in the United States."

He aims not only to sell the e-book readers, but intends to focus on e-book publishing as well. The Internet shop owner is going to display several electronic books by Lithuanian authors at the ongoing book fair. He rebuts the notion that because of e-publishing's high exposure to piracy, electronic security measures should be first implemented. "Not publishing a book in electronic form does not protect it from being pirated. There are many more people out there who, instead of plunging into sophisticated hacking, would rather pay an affordable price for a legal product. Our task is to nurture our own e-readership, particularly young people, who are interested in the technological advancement," Talijunas is convinced.

The company's other representative, Martynas Zilionis, boasts of e-book reader sales. "If the demand for the product continues, we will look forward to creating software for publishers and e-booksellers; that will enable them to more quickly and more effectively present the ultimate product--e-books," he says.

While e-book publishing is aiming to take a piece out of the traditional business, still scarce e-book reader users are tangled up in a fierce quarrel with traditional book lovers over which is better--a sleek and pricey gadget or a pocket-size printed book. So far in conservatively-minded Lithuania, the traditionalists are prevailing.

"The MP3 has already replaced one of my once-proud music collections. I do not want to let technology replace another one. I love books. The smell, the feel, the weight, the text, though, admittedly, I don't like the fact that trees are cut down to make them. An e-book can be gone in the blink of an eye, since it's nothing but digital letters. Do not forget that technologies develop rapidly, and they are being replaced so quickly. Just remember the fate of cassette tape recorders. Ten years from now you might not be able to use a modern day e-book reader. However, books will still be there, as they have been for centuries," says Harry Arunas Berkowitch, a translator and ardent supporter of the traditional book. However, with the penetration of electronic technologies into our daily life, the printed word's solid lead may soon be gravely challenged.
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Title Annotation:Business
Author:Jegelevicius, Linas
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Date:Feb 17, 2010
Words:1506
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