Can eBook replace pBook?
Can eBook replace pBook?
  • Kang Min-jeong, Ryu Dong-chan
  • 승인 2014.02.10 03:03
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A passenger in a train takes an electric paper out of his briefcase. He touches on it, and newscasts spread out. It is a scene of the movie Minority Report (2002). The multimedia device is not merely a dream that is unattainable. There have been smart phone that functions as a cellular phone, television, computer, camera, camcorder, navigator, MP3 player and so on. Electric paper will appear in the near future with the constant development of smart devices. The electronic book (eBook) market in South Korea is increasing steadily. A great many people, however, feel unfamiliar to eBook. ST examines the perception about eBook and the reality of the market closely.

Appearance of Electronic Publication

Microsoft launched “Microsoft Reader” as a reading device in August 2000. Since then, “the end of printed book (pBook)” has been a word on the lips of many people. eBook hasn’t yet become a major part of our reading way. According to the Pew Research Center, 23 percents of the people in the U.S read eBooks and 33 percents said they had at least an device only for eBook. There has been a noticeable increase (233%) in sales of eBook than last year by BIG &APP. On the contrary, the local eBook market in South Korea makes a slow progress. When a book was published as both eBook and pBook, the sales of eBooks were just one percent of the pBooks’. According to a survey from Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, 14.6% of two thousand Koreans read eBook. 44% of the eBook readers said they use smartphone to read eBook. Although eBook is a promising way of reading, it is still like a frail child as things stand in South Korea.

The Survey

What do Soongsilians think about eBook? ST conducted a survey on perception and utilization of eBook from Sep 26 to Oct 2 for 129 Soongsilians. A majority of students (67%) have never experienced using eBook in the past six months from [Chart 1]. Most of them are unaccustomed to this kind of medium and unwilling to accept it. Some of them, however, have a good mind to read it if various contents are offered sufficiently.
Nearly as many (80%) students prefer pBook contrary to the case of eBook (5%) from [Chart 2]. The result provides a revealing fact that those who have read eBooks tend to support pBook. That means the user satisfaction on eBook is fairly low. The main causes, Soongsilians say, are discomfort which leads eye strain through reading letters on the screen and weak concentration to understand the context.


Interestingly 41% students think the outlook for this new medium look very promising from [Chart 3]. The positive rate is nearly twice as much as the negative (21%). Some students have an ambivalent attitude toward it.
Why do people prefer pBook to eBook? The disadvantages of it seem to affect more than the advantages. The weakness is the shortage of various contents and analog sensibility. The strength is, however, the usability from digital functions. People in general think that using eBook is eco-friendly. Against popular opinion, the matter is undeterminable. ST is dealing with the light and shade of eBook.

Light and Shade of eBook
One of the advantages is portability. An eBook device can have a lot of book contents without weight. It enables people to read eBook at any time, and anywhere. eBook users can change the size and type of the letter freely. If you don’t know what a word is, you can look up the word quickly through the function of Internet. You do not need to drop by the bookstore to purchase books. The device make it easy to buy books regardless of time and place. eBook has a weak point that reading leads the eye strain and busy brain. It makes the eyes fatigued to stare the screen too long. Also, reading letters on thescreen leads difficulty concentrating. There is lack of the texture, scent of paper. Many people are still familiar with such analog esthetic. Above all, the provided eBooks are very scarce. The eBooks on offer are limited such as the best seller. It is urgent to provide the abundant contents. eBook companies need to develop a differentiated service contrary to pBook’s. I am using two types of “Amazon Kindle.” First reading eBook with these devices than the screen of smart phone is easy and less tiring. I also can read a lot of books conveniently in a eBook device when moving or traveling. One disadvantage is just not to be used to use the device for me. - Professor Park Woong-ki (Journalism, PR, and Advertising) Now it is the turn on whether eBook are beneficial to the environment. Making an eBook does not influence directly on the forest. According to the report of Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI), the carbon dioxide emission on producing an eBook reader is equivalent to that of 63 pBooks for three or more years that each has three hundred pages. If someone reads more than 63 eBooks for three or more years, using eBooks has the eco-friendly value.

The Reality of Domestic eBook Market

Almost all eBooks in South Korea have been published as the copies of pBooks. Many people don’t feel the need to buy and read eBook because this simplified converted eBook has poorly readable typography. To be more specific it is that the reading using smart phone is inconvenient to read difficult or long contents. This causes eBook to have been published including easy and short composition. ST interviewed Lee Gil-jae, a Korea Electronic Publishing Association (KEPA) official, in order to know the current problems of the eBook market in South Korea. 

ST : Could you introduce KEPA and its major business in simple language?

Lee : KEPA was established in 1992 for the advance of South Korea electronic publishing industry with 20 companies in publishing or IT. It focuses on raising public awareness, building the certification system for eBook, and training for electronic publishing professionals.

ST : There was a report on the eBook market; it reads that the cumulative sales volume of the paid market  reached 100,000 and the contents numbered in a billion. Why do you think that our eBook market, compared to foreign countries,’ have low growth rates?

Lee : Reading materials, or contents is not sufficient for readers. South Korea was not equipped yet with a standard Digital Rights Management (DRM) It is one of the main causes for slow progress because each distribution companies have its own DRM. Another cause is the absence of adequate devices. The eBook devices supplied in South Korea make up the majority of smart phone due to its dissemination and familiarity. This device, though, has three disadvantages: difficulty in focusing only on reading, the cause of eye fatigue, and high battery consumption.

ST : The growth of the eBook market is at present tardy but steady, so the outlook for this business
looks very promising. What assignment to work on do you think to build eBook culture?

Lee : Institutional basis is to be prepared that encourage eBook market expansion for publishing companies. The government should actively support for developing superior eBook contents. Also, eBook companies  need to be aggressively intervening in making a standard DRM technique so that eBook publishers will dissolve fear of pirated book and eBook readers will dissolve discomfort about contents. Make readers encounter eBook for the advanced environment: the devices appropriate for eBook and the software of applying to the  resent device. Finally, the reading public is to increase. Our reading population has been decreasing each year. It leads the whole publishing market to stagnate. The government and companies should cooperate for obtaining reading population.

eBook Rental Service

Nowadays, South Korea eBook companies are preparing eBook rental service for readers. Following eBook
rental service ‘sam’ of Kyobo Bookstore, Interpark Book started ‘eBook Rental Shop,’ Aladdin plans to start the service within this year. At first, some people said that eBook rental service would harm the publishing ecosystem. Selling a copy when eBook rental service started has extremely low profit than selling eBook by a copy. In other words, if the price of eBook through eBook rental service is shockingly low, the price that publishing companies sell eBook for distribution companies also decreases. For escaping financial problems, publisher sell just popular genre books such as selfimprovement, chivalry, fantasy, and romance books. Publishing of the books in scholarship/literature field has remarkably diminished. These worries didn’t block starting of eBook rental service. Because those who re-read are not many, the rental service is cost-effective. The service resolved burdensome price of eBook by a copy. And our country can’t avoid this service widely used in distribution companies abroad. First of all, it contributes to increasing sales. Limited contents are its only flaw. To know more about eBook rental service, ST interviewed Ji Young-kyun, a manager of e-bussiness team in Kyobo Bookstore.


ST : Can you explain about eBook service of Kyobo Bookstore?

Ji : Kyobo Bookstore starts eBook service in 2006. Kyobo Bookstore, called as a traditional bookstore which distributes pBooks for 30 years, now in 2013, services to customers distributing eBooks and making a  device, an application, and a platform for eBook. Kyobo Bookstore introduces an eBook service ‘sam’ in membership system which reduces the price of eBook significantly on February this year. It is a service
for the people who feel so burdened about the costs of eBook device and eBook contents which offer a device and some of eBook contents as the price of one book in a month. I hope many people will read eBooks. It will make a forum for communication and discussion of them.

ST : Do you think eBook substitutes pBook?

Ji : When eBook service started, the popular idea was that eBook contents were not thought to be paid
money. Many consumers thought that there were already a number of pBooks, so they didn’t feel the need to read eBooks. eBooks were also distributed illegally to anyone and the contents were thought to be free. Now, because the concept of copyright and currency right takes root in South Korea, illegal duplication of eBook contents is becoming increasingly infrequent. Most people realize that they have to buy eBook contents if needed. However, I think eBook does not substitute pBook perfectly. eBook is an item that has convenience, reasonable price, and diffusion but it is originated from pBook. Essence of the contents is not changed, but the pattern of consuming them is not one-sided.

The future of eBook is simple. pBook sales as a copy are bigger than eBook’s; the later one is competitive in the gross profit on sales and far-reaching powers of consumption. eBook market scale will be growing beyond imagination. In 2014, digital textbooks will be introduced. Recently even four- or five-year-old child can deal with digital devices; accordingly, new generation accustomed to eBooks than pBooks appears to be fait accompli. Three things: development of technology, stabilization of distribution, and emergence of new digital generation, enable growing of eBook market. There are a various forms of platforms consuming eBook such as PC, laptop computer, smart phone, and tablet PC. The local eBook market started to publish both pBook and eBook two or three years ago. 20~30% of the pBook bestsellers were being published as an eBook form in same quarter. It is a very inspiring phenomenon. There was a report on eBook market; it reads that the cumulative sales volume of the paid market reached 100,000 and the contents numbered in a billion.

However, the future of eBook is expecting many difficulties. In South Korea, IT environment is faster established than other countries, so the consumers have high expectations about digital contents and don’t know well about copyright of digital files. They are difficult to be satisfied to this style and method of eBook.
In near future, thus, eBook has to include the distinctive elements that pBook does not provide, and new system of coexistence, not substitution, has to be constituted. The biggest problem is the decline of reading. It is important to improve the quality of contents rather than the function of an eBook device.

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