Friday, April 13, 2007

The Digitization of Britain

Okay, I know I promised a follow-up to yesterday's post, but I lied. We'll have to save that post for this weekend.

Why? Because I left the notes I made over lunch at the University, and I'm too lazy to recreate them from scratch. AND because I have the latest release in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. Only my great love for you has me posting to this blog instead of curling up with White Night. If you're not familiar with Jim Butcher, go here. The Dresden Files are now a television series on the Sci-Fi Channel.

So, at the last minute, I'm punting with another story.

About a month ago, Publishers Weekly (PW) had a lengthy article titled "The Road to the Digital Future," focussing on Britain's response to the digital marketplace. The article said:

Legal and academic publishing is thoroughly digitized
. . . and e-books have been appearing since 2001. But while the digital audio market is showing distinct signs of life, there is no serious market for e-books and won't be until a decent reader comes along.

More and more British are signing up for broadband service and Internet shopping. Internet purchases in 2006 rose by more than 50%, accounting for 10% of all U.K. retail sales. (PW)

And now we come to the part of the story that interested me. The UK has more than 60 million mobile phones--approximately one per person. And the Brits are using those mobile phones to link to the Internet. In December, almost 16 million people connected to the Internet using their mobile phones. (PW)

My second ever post to this blog dated September 15, 2005, here, asked the question "Can 70 Million Japanese Be Wrong?" I explained that the Japanese were very comfortable reading novels on their cell phones.

Taking a cue from the Japanese, British publishers are moving toward digital downloads of books on mobile phones.

According to the London Times Online (LTO), a British company, ICUE, now offers "the capability to transfer books into mobile phone-friendly content."

The Times said, "Electronic books (eBooks) have been more popular in the US than in Britain but demand has been stifled by the lack of an eBook equivalent to the iPod."

Penguin, Random House, HarperCollins and Mills & Boon have all signed up with ICUE.

The UK publishing director for Harlequin Mills & Boon Ltd. said ". . . it's women who like reading on phones, and romantic fiction that's rising to the top." She also said, "When you are using your mobile phone, nobody knows what you are doing, whether you are texting a friend or playing a game." (LTO)

The Wikipedia entry for ICUE says:

The technology takes the form of a Java application which is downloaded to the user handset via cellular wireless networks. Once downloaded, the user can acess all books on their mobile phone at any time, with or without wireless network coverage. The program can be accessed for free by texting ICUE to 64888 from a mobile phone on a United Kingdom network (other country networks will follow).

The first Mills & Boon novels will be available for download next month. M&B is expected to release 8 Modern Romance titles and 20 MIRA titles. The Modern Romances will cost L1.99 each while the MIRA novels will cost L4.99.

One of the most interesting things in The London Times article was a statement by the ICUE co-founder: "Teenagers prefer reading one word at a time, but most adults prefer the horizontal scrolling style." ICUE books can be read in four different ways: with autocue-style text moving from right to left, a scrollable text block moving up and down, single words in quick succession or a full page of text.

The world, it is a-changin'.


Laura Vivanco said...

I'll look out for that at the M&B website next month but I don't use my mobile much and the screen would be far too tiny for me to read on. Also, I'm not sure if the people reading on their mobiles want to keep a large collection of ebooks on the phone, but I would. I want to be able to re-read. Do you know how much memory mobiles usually have and whether the files for reading on a mobile would be downloadable to a computer for storage?

I haven't really looked into ebooks. I had the vague impression they were still more of a US phenomenon. I've never seen an ebook reader for sale here, and when I did a quick search on some of the UK websites that sell electrical goods I couldn't find any. Could just be that I haven't a clue what to look for/where to look for it.

Another thing I wondered about was international sales from US-based websites. I know that when books are sold, different rights are sometimes granted to different publishers for different markets (e.g. US, UK, Europe). What happens with ebooks? Are US ebook sellers allowed to sell them to customers who live abroad or not? I know that might seem like a silly question, but I've noticed that only tends to stock the US edition of a novel if a UK edition isn't available, presumably for that reason, and I wondered if ebooks might be affected too. Of course, consumers could try to trick the ebook seller, but as I have to pay in pounds sterling, it would be obvious I wasn't from the US.

Maya Reynolds said...

Wow, Laura. Lots of questions. Let me see what I can do here.

I've been reading eBooks for three years now. I started at Ellora's Cave, but have now branched out to other vendors.

I have not yet purchased an e-reader. You don't actually have to have one; your computer is a e-reading device. If you want to try reading an eBook, it's very simple to go to a website (Ellora's Cave, eHarlequin or Fictionwise, for examples) and download a free format and purchase an eBook. One of the best places to see all the available formats is on the website at

I can download to my PDA, but have not found it conducive. I'm accustomed to working and reading on my laptop so that works for now--until I find an e-reader I like.

My contract for "Bad Girl" includes e-rights. Each publisher decides where and how to market its own books. Fictionwise has a wide variety of eBooks if you just want to cruise the genres and publishers.

If you go to, you'll see a drop down menu on the toolbar on the upper right for "alternative formats." You can click on eBooks, audio books, mobile phone, large print, manga or books in Spanish.

Since you pay for eBooks with your credit card, you don't have to worry about what currency you're using on the Internet websites. The credit card companies/banks sort it out between them.

As far as ICUE goes, they add the cost of any book you buy to your phone bill.

Check the ICUE website; it's a British company here: It gives a listing of the phones models that are adaptable and says that you can store between 300 and 400 eBooks at one time. It also says you can download them to a memory stick for transfer to another phone. I would think that if you can download to a memory stick, you could upload to your computer.

Hope this is at least enough information to get you started.



Laura Vivanco said...

Thanks, Maya. I think I'd still prefer to read print books, because I use a PC or lap-top for the internet and my own work, and all that time staring at a screen can make my eyes hurt. Print books don't have that effect. I might have to try getting ebooks for books which aren't available in print, or which are very much cheaper as ebooks.

That i-cue idea sounds annoying to me:

You can select the text to appear one word at a time, in phrases, or to flow across the screen from right to left. Either way, the text appears automatically – at a size and speed that you determine.

That means no more endless scrolling down the page. And no more squinting at small text.

I don't like the idea of the text flowing.

Now I'm feeling like a dinosaur (with bad eyesight).

Maya Reynolds said...

Laura: I know what you mean. I was getting a little seasick with the FAQs on the ICUE site. The questions and answers kept scrolling down in a continuous feed, and I wanted to say, "Stay still, dammnit!"