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Cows, calves and codes: e-books and the future of publishing

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It seems that the printed book could soon start suffering the same digital death as the CD, and very soon the DVD, with customers preferring to download a file rather than buying the physical object.


Digital is likely to replace print to a large extent for some types of publication, such as reference. This is already happening with the Encyclopaedia Britannica and is increasingly the case in scholarly publishing.

A problem with e-books is the interoperability of the hardware. An e-reader bought from one retailer cannot read books purchased from another. Sellers seem to prefer a business model that locks in clients to their products therefore in practice the choice is limited to one particular catalogue.

For publishers and booksellers, piracy and copyright infringement pose a problem.  Laws governing what can be printed, sold and read and by whom are still in place, but digital publishing raises new issues not all linked to how easy copying has become.


Although you can add content such as audio or web links to e-books, due to digital rights management (DRM) it is not possible to share e-books with friends, as you are not buying ownership of the publication, just acquiring a license to use it with certain limits.


Should e-books pay the same tax as print? Should libraries have special rights? Should governments introduce obligations to make digital content available to the visually impaired or those with other reading difficulties? What are the implications of projects to digitise everything ever printed?

Patrick Love
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