Online vs. Paper Publishing

The following is a guest post by Anthony Garcia:

From novels to newspapers, popular magazines to academic reports, more and more literature is showing up on our digital screens. The Association of American Publishers reported that in 2010, sales of e-books alone increased significantly on an annual basis, up +164.4% for 2010 vs. 2009. But what exactly do these figures mean for those with the highest stakes: the publishers, the writers, and the readers? Opinions are strong and immensely divided.

One of the greatest pros of online publishing has been the reduction of overall costs to publishers, translating to lower costs for readers too. This has also enabled publishers to make their material more easily available to a worldwide base of readers who no longer need to leave the convenience of their homes to access literature, which they can simply do at the touch of a button.

On the other hand, critics have threatened that online publishing can result in “bad reading” experiences. Many people, whether in a master’s program online or reading for fun, use online media and e-book readers like the kindle to access most of their daily word intake. Alan Liu, chairman and professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara, stated in a blog published by The New York Times that “networked digital media do a poor job of balancing focal and peripheral attention because we swing between two kinds of bad reading.

According to her, we suffer tunnel vision, as when reading a single page, paragraph, or even “keyword in context” without an organized sense of the whole. Or we suffer marginal distraction, as when feeds or blogrolls in the margin (“sidebar”) of a blog let the whole blogosphere in.”

The second drawback of online publishing is its potential effect on writers. For example Ewan Morrison stated at the recent Edinburgh International Book Festival that eBooks and ePublishing will mean the end of “the writer” as a profession. “The digital revolution will not emancipate writers or open up a new era of creativity, it will mean that writers offer up their work for next to nothing or for free. Writing, as a profession, will cease to exist.” However, most writers do not write for the potential money, regardless of the medium, because there is often little monetary gain in either.

If you are a writer, you should research your genre. If you write in a genre that has a wide audience online, it could be in your benefit to write an e-book. If you do have a novel to send out, you will need to research for both paper and online. For paper publishing, you might get an advance, but with the economic squeeze on publishing houses, they are often looking to publish the “next best hit,” so you will have to understand the publisher well in order to pitch your book most effectively.

The paper publishing industry has its pros and cons too. For writers, paper publishing can be much more difficult to procure, and may have more gains in the long run if the book is marketed well, or may just go through one run with little to no advance. However, with paper, readers need not worry about bad circuitry, viruses or power outages to access literature, which is another great advantage of paper vs. online literature.

Although the online publishing industry is making great strides, there will still be those that treasure the experience of a book in their hands. Publishers will keep making books as long as it is feasible to do so. So perhaps the big question in the debate of paper vs. online publishing is really about coexistence.


Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature, and American culture.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. The problems of “bad reading” experiences, “tunnel vision”, and “marginal distraction” in online publishing seem to be valid arguments which will probably be agreed by many bloggers.

    But the end of the writer as a profession? That end is not yet visible. Yes, there will soon probably be billions of people writing their thoughts, feelings, desires, views, experience, observations, and undefinable texts. Will this decrease the value of good writing which opens new worlds and find a special place in minds? I don’t feel this will be the case.

    Thank you for the information and discussion on this interesting subject.

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