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         Volume 11 |Issue 35| September 07, 2012 |


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Still a Chicken and Egg Thing

Tulsathit Taptim

The e-book phenomenon has been likened to a psycho killer in a Hollywood thriller. The protagonist is himself relaxing, taking it easy, when he is suddenly struck from behind. This year, 2012 was touted as the one when the "knife" of e-publishing would come, although many experts are less sure now, especially for countries like Thailand, where stakeholders, no matter how fascinating they find "e-ink", are trying their best to hold sway.

The relatively high jump in the sale of tablet computers and other e-readers, plus smart phones' capable of acting as an outlet for e-books, have yet to scale the enormous wall standing between now and an actual boom in the e-reading business. That wall, analysts say, is made of five main components:

Entrepreneurs torn between guaranteed income and a promising future that has yet to offer handsome returns: Where the printing industry is concerned, self-cannibalism is not a cliche, especially if one makes an imprudent inroad into e-publishing. The threat is very real. Hence large publishers have been very cautious and understandably want to prolong the status quo of old-style printing.

Content providers stuck in the "comfort zone": Every writer, journalist or page designer wants to liberate himself from the big players, yet few are willing to accept a drastic drop in income. Self-publishing sounds romantic, but it is just not financially attractive yet. Though the grass on the other side of the fence looks greener, money is still better on this side. So, many content providers are sticking with the current state of affairs, and yet yearningly look at what might be on offer in the e-world.

Tech man's turf: E-publishing is meant to be cheap and easy, yet that has not been quite the case. If it requires a million or a few hundred thousand baht to get started, many will be discouraged. One of the main reasons for this relatively high investment is the last-ditch effort by people in the technical-support side to hang on to their own stock. Yet, with applications and platforms moving closer to uniformity, the momentum will eventually swing in favour of content providers.

Torrent-abusing readers: This obstacle is tough in places like Thailand. Even if publishers, content providers and tech men start singing the same tune, revamp profit-sharing and loosen their grip on things, there will still be one big mountain to climb - that kid next door who can download a 120 baht (US$3.8) book for himself and his friends for free. When 60 million people view the video you post on YouTube, you feel proud. Yet when 200,000 read your e-book but only 200 pay for it, then it's bittersweet at best and a bad deal at worst.

The everlasting charm of real ink: Never underestimate the still-powerful pull of ink on paper. Even young people remain drawn to the "touch" of genuine books. Besides, this conservative attitude doesn't seem to be limited to the consumers, advertisers have been slow in adopting the e-publication world. It's a real chicken and egg situation we have here - yet things might change as mobile phones become cheaper and everybody starts carrying a tablet.


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