E-readers turn a new page

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2011, 12:00am

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One perk of owning a smartphone or a tablet computer is the chance to read your favourite book in electronic form.

But readers who want to enjoy the same Chinese-language e-book on their Android phone on the way to work and on their iPad tablet reader at home face the cost and inconvenience of having to buy the same book twice. Worse, some books are only available on one platform.

All that is about to change.

A new system will be unveiled at the city's annual book fair, which opens this month, offering an all-in-one display vehicle for Chinese-language literature, which works just as well on Apple's iOS software as on Android or Nokia's Ovi. The new e-book platform - called the Cross-Platform Sharing Reader app - will allow readers to log into any device simply by using their name and password and start reading their downloaded book.

'E-reading should not be device-specific, because the choice of device cannot decide what you read,' said Bonnie Chan Woo, founder of Handheld Culture, an e-publishing company specialising in Chinese-language books. 'Book content is all that matters to both authors and readers.'

As the popularity of e-books explodes, media coverage has focused on the electronic readers rather than reading itself, Chan said. For the novice e-reader, the new platform has a lot to offer. Pointing at a word allows you to hear how it is pronounced; tapping twice will translate it.

'A true book lover immerses themselves only in words when reading a book, especially when it is a work of fiction,' Chan said. 'The word-only context provokes imagination and intensifies a feeling of mystery that sets a book apart from a movie.'

Chan prefers the Kindle e-reader, which has a more book-like display than LCD screens, which strain her eyes.

Handheld Culture's ultimate goal is to reach out to speakers of Chinese worldwide. 'Chinese are dispersed everywhere in the world. Through the internet, they can now easily get their hands on Chinese books, whereas they used to be limited by national boundaries,' she said.

For those still hooked on paper and ink, the company offers a publish-on-demand service. Each book is printed on request and sent out within seven working days. That means the company does not have to carry a stock of books.

'Publishers have long been the content selectors. With the limited space in the city making book storage difficult, they seldom risk publishing books that are hard to sell in big quantities,' Chan said.

It is said in the industry that how and where you store books makes up 40 per cent of the cost of publishing.

'However, e-publishing can ditch all these costs. Publishers are now more willing to take on a much higher risk, taking a closer look at the less popular book genres,' she said.

Publishers are no longer the sole arbiters of which books are on sale, giving readers more choice.

'Now all resources can be spent on recruiting more potential authors, promoting their books and improving the book content. All the costs can directly benefit readers. It's a win-win situation,' she said. But traditional publishers still have a role to play.

Cheung Shin-yee, editor-in-chief of Commercial Press, says publishing is not just about printing.

'One thing is for sure for print: not every submitted piece gets published. But this is just how the creative industry runs,' she said.

In the age of information overload, filtering content is still vital to veteran publisher Cheung.

'What distinguishes a publisher from a printing machine is its judgment and credibility,' she said. 'We are here to tell our readers what books suit them more.'