Changing the way we read

AS we approach 2014, I can't help but be amazed at how things have changed for me since I grasped my first e-book reader in my cold and sweaty hands seven years ago. (Cold, because I parted with four figures of cash that day, sweaty because I was so thrilled to finally be stepping into the new age of reading).

Back then, e-books were rare things and there were only a handful of places to buy them. Worse, there was no standard e-book format. And the idea of self-publishing a book as an e-book was the domain of tech geeks because the process was simply too complicated.

My, how times have changed.

Read anything, anywhere: There are so many ways to access reading material that it's easy to be overwhelmed these days. Read blog posts, e-books, social media updates, reports and e-mails on your smartphone, computer, tablet or e-book reader.

Have new things to read: With access comes materials; materials that I never thought existed before. Amazon is currently busy stomping out Monster Porn (yes, you read that right) while readers are busy downloading erotica written by independent authors into their e-book readers.

Some folks are not too happy that e-books about women having sex with Sasquatch are sharing digital space with great literature, but there are books written for genres traditional publishers once dismissed as being passé. Westerns, cross-genre fiction are now making a comeback. There's a bigger variety of stuff to read because the gates to being published, once guarded by gatekeepers, are not as guarded as before.

Traditional book formats are being shaken up: Because of e-book technology, the serial format is making a happy comeback. Once considered far too expensive a venture to take on, episodic fiction in short bites are now being written for an eager audience. Writers are also putting out short fiction (about 5,000 to 10,000) words, selling them for US$0.99 or more. This wouldn't have been possible before because that would've been prohibitively expensive to produce. Simply put: writers in this new, digital age are boldly defying conventions about story length and structure.

Shorter is better: Perhaps it's the legacy of the Internet age, or perhaps it's the crushing demands of our super-busy lifestyles, but shorter fiction is en vogue these days. I suppose no matter how crisp the letters on the display, it's still a pain read a 100,000-word doorstopper with an e-book reader.

More options for Malaysians: In just a matter of a few years, there are now more options for Malaysians to buy digital books or publish their books digitally through portals such as MPH DigitalMaxis ebuuk and e-Sentral. Even the National Library has an e-book lending system now at However, Malaysia still has a lot of catching up to do.

Although there are now options for readers and writers, digital reading devices remain expensive and difficult to obtain, which means that e-books will only be for tech geeks or those who can afford them. That means that e-books are far from being mainstream enough to penetrate all layers of Malaysian society. 

Also, ironically, the Malaysian writer will find it easier to publish e-books via international distributional channels such as Smashwords compared with local channels. E-sentral only permits a writer to self-publish 10 titles per year and a maximum of 25 titles per account while MPH Digital doesn't have an automated system. Writers are told to e-mail their manuscripts.

The royalties offered by overseas distributors are more appealing too. MPH Digital offers writers 25% to 35% of the retail price. Smashwords, meanwhile offer authors up to 85% of net sales while Amazon's rate is up to 70%.

Now, if Malaysian distributors could loosen the reins somewhat and allow more royalties for more Malaysian writers, it will create an environment that's ripe for an explosion of new (digital) literature written by Malaysians. 

Still, it's a step towards the right direction - here's to hoping that 2014 will bring more promising changes to the e-book world in Malaysia.

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e-books , Amazon , MPH digital


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