All India Radio, Panaji 17/22April 2012 Author-Publisher-Book Relation in the Digital Era Kanaka N. Swamy23April is a symbolic date commemorating the death of two literary giants –the English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare and the Spanishnovelist Miguel de Cervantes. Hence to make this day more memorable andmeaningful, the UNESCO deliberates on issues related to books, author,publisher and copyright all over the world.The ‘technology’ of books is old; the print-reader relationship spanningmore than five and a half centuries is unquestionable. The scholarly worksthe world has seen stand witness to that! The information storage format onits long journey, from clay tablets to palm leaves, from papyrus to print andfrom print to digital media is no small achievement. As the paperback,which created a revolution in the publishing industry kicked off , it wasconsidered a threat to the very existence of print medium .But the beautylies in the fact that all these remain indispensable to date. Yet change isinevitable to keep pace with the demands of a generation. What baffles thepresent day adult is the Information Overload resulting in the inability tofilter the right information, rather than the paucity of information.It may not be too prophetic to declare the demise of a technology that haswithstood the test of the time .. But we need to welcome new elements thatcreep in assuring qualitative mode of transferring and preserving ideas.Print is no longer a dominant element of the 21st century. Electronic books,like paperbacks once, are the new avatars here to create another revolution inthe information arena .This might cause temporary inconvenience to theinformation industry but will, in no way, create discomfort, or crumble downthe print version. A significant trait of an online version is that -the contentis the king, and the form and format which are the delivery mode of adocument take the back stage. To make the statement more clear it meansthe updates which is very crucial in the area of knowledge transmission canbe handled much easily. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, as the current stockof 2010 edition runs out, will no more be available in the printed form. For
a long period of time this reference material has been under severe criticismfor the inconsistencies present in macropaedia with its correspondingmicropaedia, obsolete articles and its out dated bibliographic content.Perhaps this is one area where the electronic mode seems to have a cuttingedge over other modes of gathering informationMoreover the nature of electronic contents is analogous and digital in formwhich could be read on a computer screen. This helps the user to openmultiple windows, and, flip through the pages in a linear fashion to follow afavorite theme of his, that cuts across several chapters which he may preferto download or read online. They are high quality texts published by bonafide publishers, digitized and diligently proof read with the help ofvolunteers. The electronic readers help the users focus on the minutestdetails to make reading a pleasurable event. The digitized version ofGutenberg Bible available at the Library of Congress, which belongs to abygone era, is a concrete evidence to substantiate the statement. The InternetArchive that offers downloadable texts that are out of print, rare books anddocuments which are not easily accessible to patrons, The Random Housewhich has been making aggressive effort to publish its fiction and non-fiction titles through its newly created e-book unit are indicators showingtheir path to success.The intricate and intimate relationship of a reader with the print documentsspanning a period of five and half centuries is highly understandable. Thefeel of a book, the texture and the musty smell which pervades all over thepages of an old collection, the physical proximity the ambience no doubtmakes us nostalgic. Recreating the same physical proximity may beimpossible .But efforts to preserve the physical appearance –for example thecolour of the paper with due consideration to the date of publication is doneto make the user feel nothing is missed out while reading the digital version.The fact that some of the major companies that control the majority ofdigital books with e-reader outpace their hard cover sales reinforces thecapability of the digital media.At this point an analysis of the relation between author, publisher and theinformation seeking behavior of a reader in a digital environment becomesinevitable. Considering the reader as focal point it can be said that thepresent day youth is ‘Digital Native’. He views the world of informationand the communication medium differently from most of the adults who are‘Digital Immigrants’ or digitally naïve. To him the new technology hasrepositioned the learning and reading process. The reader is more on thecomfort zone getting enough flexibility in terms of time and space. He has
the access to new techniques in solving old issues probably on a short spanof time. If confronted with a genuine question -has this helped increasereadership, the answer may be confounding. It may not have made readersout of non-readers. But will definitely withstand the brickbats with nothreats to any of the existing medium. What will happen is the convergenceof technologies. Haven we see the radio come back with much greater forceand have not the listeners welcome with great enthusiasm? But the author on the other side is not much convinced on the argumentslaid out by new technology. A traditional writer is much apprehensive ofthe new ways and too skeptical of the new mode with all its tall claims.Technology needs to reassure the author, as the creator of a scholarly pieceof work that he too stands to benefit, that he could think of different modelsthat would work to his advantage. He can simply post his work online withretailers. He can offer his book as downloads or through print on demand.The transparency in the electronic medium gives him the flexibility to assessthe market. Here the publisher is on the scrutiny of the author, whichpermits him to reassess or withdraw his consent and settle royalty matters. Ifa publisher performs well and turns a book into a bestseller then he is boundto cough up more royalty.This simply makes the writer retrospect, ‘Do we need publishing houses totake care of our creativity?’ The answer is YES! They are a bridge and asupporting partner investing heavily on publicity with good marketing skilland a strong editorial voice. The scholastic work of an author, be it a bookor an e-book, or an article pay-per- view, or an audio-download, he is safein the hands of a publishing house for boosting his sales and promotion andpreventing piracy which is a by-product of this technology.But the sudden switch over to a new platform which is yet to prove itscompetence and credibility has given way to sharp new debates questioningthe basic philosophy of- (1) what constitutes an electronic book? (2) Does an author who has signeda contract with a publisher to publish a document in print form before theadvent of internet has handed over the publisher e-book rights? (3) What arethe remedial steps which can stop a publisher from converting the author’sintellectual resource into different and can cause financial inconvenience.Hardly one seems to realize that the publisher venturing into this newly-found technology is also vulnerable to serious consequences which mightjeopardize the entire information industry.. Unless adequate measures
safeguarding the pitfalls that could creep in are put in place the e-books arepoised to become another branch of copyright disputes as in the music andmovie industries. A law acceptable to authors, publishers and booksellersprotecting their rights need to be put in place. Serious thinkers in this fieldfeel the laws must be on par with copyright laws of traditional format or thatexceeds a hard bound or paperback document. The publisher needs topublish physically and electronically together for a long time. The author-reader- publisher relation is so delicate a sincere effort from all sides islikely to clear the confusion that haunts the mind of these intellectualcommunities.. Hence with the conscious attempt of intellectuals related to knowledgesector, a World Forum on ‘Culture and Culture Industries’ will be held onJune 2012 in Italy, spearheaded by Unesco to discuss the theme “The booktomorrow, the future of written word”. According to UN Secretary- Generalit is a pledge by United Nations to provide reading material available to800 million adults that lack reading skill all over the world.To reinforce the principals of the June summit, the UNESCO on itsinitiative will deliberate on vital issues like translation across borders,copyright, author- publisher relation, and nuances related to technology,calling experts from all quarters on 23 April 2012 . The very edifice of asociety is built on a culture that entertains diverse ideas beyond borders.