The inevitability of e-booksPublishing houses in Nepal were reluctant to transition into e-books. In recent years, however, many of them have adopted the technology to keep up with the times.
For Keepa Tuladhar, an avid book reader and a ‘bookstagrammer’, e-books were a godsend during her secondary and high school days. The vast range of accessible, portable—and most importantly—free e-books under the common license meant that she had almost an endless supply of books to satisfy her literary hunger. However, it has been years since she last read an e-book.
“It all changed when I started earning for myself,” says Tuladhar. “Every book-lover has a dream of owning their own private library full of their favourite books. Reading e-books in the past was more of a necessity, and now, I almost always prefer real, physical books over e-books.”
Keepa isn’t an exception when it comes to the e-books vs printed book dilemma. Printed books are still the preferred method of reading books all over the globe. According to a 2020 report by Statista, Germany has one of the biggest disparity between e-book and printed book purchases—58 percent of the population bought a printed book while only 10.4 percent bought an e-book.
Regarding Nepali e-books market, the scenario is more or less the same—e-books are seen more as a niche in the publishing market while print books still dominate the scene. “I didn’t even know that Nepali e-books were already commercially available till a few months ago,” says Tuladhar. “During one of our regular book discussions, some of my friends excitedly recommended Nepali e-books. But I think the fact that they are abroad played a part in their preference of e-books over printed books.”
In the global context, the e-book phenomenon jump-started with the advent of Amazon’s Kindle in 2007. It was prophesied by analysts to steadily increase through the 2010s and dominate the publishing industry. It was also seen as a formidable competitor to the mass-market paperbacks in the early 2010s and speculated to “bite a big chunk out of the publishing industry.” However, it’s 2021 now, and the scenario of e-books worldwide is similar to the early 2010s. The pandemic-induced lockdowns spurred a temporary growth in 2020 however in July 2021, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) reported that “e-book revenues were down 23.4 percent for the month[May 2021] as compared to May of 2020 for a total of $86.3 million.”
Ajit Baral, co-founder at FinePrint, one of the popular publishing houses in Nepal believes that the e-books market in Nepal still isn’t mature enough to warrant a transition. “We are comparatively a small publishing house, and we currently do not think that the transition to e-books which will cost millions of rupees is sustainable for us,” says Baral. “However, we have to admit that e-books are going to be an essential part of the publishing industry and we will probably be late adopters of the technology due to our constraints.”
Nevertheless, some publishing houses have become early-adopters of e-books technology. In August 2020, Sujeev Shakya’s ‘Arthat Pariwartan’ became Publication Nepa~laya’s first primary e-book release. The author and the publishing house had first tested the waters by releasing the e-book versions of the first four chapters from mid-June to July for Rs 15 per chapter. Stating that the response to the chapters had been positive, the publication had gone ahead with the plan to release the book primarily as an e-book.
“E-book is not the whole future but they are an essential part of the future; publishers in Nepal will have to accept that fact sooner or later,” says Kiran Krishna Shrestha, publisher at Publication Nepa~laya as he sat down for an interview with the Post. He alluded to the global e-books market share of almost 20 percent of the total publishing market and he informed that he was surprised to find the scenario in Nepal more-or-less the same checking the recent sales data of Publication Nepa~laya. “Of course, a 20 percent market share isn’t a revolutionary revelation but the fact that Nepal is showcasing the same trend as the global market is something hopeful,” says Shrestha.
One of the main advantages of e-books is the accessibility and portability—the fact that e-books do not have the physical restraints as printed books open up new avenues for readers. As a publishing house, Nepa~laya needs to be able to provide their books in any and every medium available right now—including e-books and audiobooks, says Shrestha. Showing a sales alert message of an e-book in his phone timestamped at 4 am, he says, “E-books have opened up a whole new level of accessibility for the readers. Even if you are trekking high up in the mountains and you feel the urge to read a newly released book, you can simply buy an e-book and read it instantly. The instantaneous level of access is mind-boggling.”
As a whole, the e-books market isn’t an entirely unchartered territory in Nepal. Kathalaya released the first e-book reader app in Nepal called ‘WeRead app’ in 2014, which has ceased operating. Bibash Shrestha, sales officer at Kathalaya, says, “The response we got from creating the first e-book reader app was positive from the readers and stakeholders. However, the operational cost of the app wasn’t sustainable enough at that time. Our developer in the IT department also left the office so we didn’t have the proper expertise to continue the app.”
There have also been non-commercial ventures into the e-books industry—British Council has also created their own e-books and audiobooks library and OLE-Nepal also have their e-library called ‘E-Pustakalaya’, an education-focused free and open digital library. In the current scenario, only Thuprai, an e-commerce platform that started with selling physical books and transitioned into creating their own e-book reader app, commercially sells e-books for various publishing houses in Nepal.
“Traditional publishing houses were and are still reluctant to make the digital leap. Initially, many of them feared that e-books would open the pathway for easy piracy and undercut their profits. They were focused on short-term gains only,” says Shrestha. “Publishing houses who made their own e-book reader apps also didn’t have the necessary technological know-how and expertise to survive this ruthless market.”
In contrast, Publication Nepa~laya has teamed up with Thuprai and provided all of their book titles as e-books. Other notable publication houses in Nepal such as Kathalaya, Shangri-La Books, Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Sajha Prakashan, etc., and other organisations such as Shilpee Kala Samuha, Nepal Economic Forum, Samakalin Literary Academy, etc., have also partnered with Thuprai to provide Nepali e-books in the market.
Dipesh Acharya, co-owner of Thuprai, says that they have streamlined the process of creating and selling e-books in the Nepali market for traditional publishers. “The publishers provide the needed files in a specific format to us and we convert the file into an e-book with necessary formatting and editing,” says Acharya. “Along with the e-book publication, we also cooperate with publishers to help them sell their paperbacks and hardcovers worldwide through major retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, employing print-on-demand technology.”
As anti-piracy laws aren’t stringent in Nepal, the concerns of traditional publishing houses to transition to digitalisation through e-books is somewhat valid, admits Acharya. Taking those concerns into mind, Thuprai allows different tiers of anti-piracy setups for their e-books.
“The contract between authors or publication houses lists all the anti-piracy mechanisms they want for their e-books,” says Acharya. “There are options to disallow screenshots of pages while reading e-books which authors can customise. Screenshot-friendly e-books also have the further option of enabling watermarks so that there are source citations in our app.”
Thuprai app also has flags in place which will notify their backend team if there are suspicious activities like a large number of screenshots taken within a short amount of time. However, Acharya happily informs that they haven’t had to deal with any cases of piracy on their platforms till now.
For Shrestha, the dangers of piracy of e-books is a non-factor. “I believe that most readers do not have ill-intentions. They love the authors and they want to support them so that they can continue their writings. We have built our publishing house on goodwill and trust,” says Shrestha. “E-books were an inevitable technological advancement and we have moved ahead with the times. You cannot stop digital revolution.”