Monday April 23, 2012
Stories by ELIZABETH TAI
A local book distributor is offering Malaysian authors e-publishing services.
IT’S an exciting time to be an author. A process that used to take months, even years, can now potentially be reduced to a few days (in some cases, minutes): authors can now upload their books online and get them read and bought by people from around the world with just a few mouse clicks.
Publishers in Malaysia are well aware of the seismic shifts in the publishing business abroad and have been moving to join e-publishing authors rather them fighting them.
In January, Star2 spoke to the founders of eSentral (e-sentral.com.my), a digital portal where local publishers and writers can sell and buy books (More room for local authors, Reads, Jan 3). It also offers a service to convert books and manuscripts into e-books and distribute them to digital resellers around the world.
Now, there’s MPH Digital (mphdigital.my). An e-book publishing division under MPH Group Publishing (M) Sdn Bhd, the portal was formed late last year and aims to publish e-books for the local and global market.
The team behind MPH Digital has been observing the e-book market since Sony launched its e-reader in 2006 and Amazon its Kindle in 2007 (see Brief history, below).
“Since then, we have monitored the massive change that has resulted worldwide,” says MPH Digital senior manager Toh Seong Yuen via e-mail. “We decided that e-books will not go away and, as a strategic decision, MPH has to marshal the skills and technology needed to adapt to the change.”
The company cannot afford to be ignorant about the changes taking place in the publishing industry, says Toh. “New ideas and innovations keep changing the rules of the game on many fronts. Leadership is crucial in such times.”
Previously, publishers had to be certain that a manuscript is marketable to justify the high costs of printing, storing and distributing. E-books eliminate all three costs so are obviously much cheaper to produce. “This allow publishers more flexibility,” says Toh.
Furthermore, e-books have a further reach. Readers from around the world can buy the e-books without any restrictions, and they can be read from many devices.
E-books uploaded via MPH Digital are sold at international resellers such as mphonline.com, booksonboard.com, fictionwise.com, diesel-ebooks.com, bookdepository.com, and lybrary.com.
However, unlike e-book distributors like Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords.com, books submitted to MPH Digital will be screened first. This is to ensure that manuscripts are of good quality, says Toh.
For manuscripts to be accepted, they need to have been professionally edited and proofread.
“We do not do editing because we don’t charge a fee for the conversion service and we do not have the manpower to cope with the volume of editing required. And the editing process is a long, time-consuming one,” Toh points out.
Once the manuscript is accepted, the author will have to sign a contract. After that, the manuscript will be converted to the e-pub format (“electronic publication”, a file standard set by the International Digital Publishing Forum).
“The shortest turnaround time to convert a manuscript from a Word document to e-pub is about one or two days. We will then publish the e-book to our international resellers, which will take another one or two days,” explains Toh.
Authors enjoy 25% royalties off the listed retail price, which MPH Digital claims is a good deal. While some e-publishers might offer a higher percentage, like 40%, it is usually off the nett price.
Books sold via MPH Digital are protected by Digital Rights Management, which Toh says is used internationally to prevent piracy and protect the intellectual property rights of copyright holders – “This will ensure all e-books sold will eventually result in royalties rightfully due to the copyrights holders.”
Authors would also have to play a part in marketing their e-books.
“We encourage all authors to actively promote their e-books by using social media and not wait for the resellers to do so because there are so many e-books fighting for attention,” says Toh.
But wait, print’s not dead!
Despite the popularity of e-books, though, Toh believes that printed books will continue to exist for a long time.
“Text-heavy books are suited to be made into e-books. Coffee table books and pictorial books are not so suitable,” he points out.
He also believes that Malaysians still enjoy the look and feel of the printed book. Also, “The e-book market is an emerging market in Malaysia and the early adopters are restricted to the more tech-savvy readers.”
Currently, there are not many e-books on MPH Digital, but the number is growing, it seems.
The portal is currently seeking the copyright holders of books previously published by MPH to gain permission to put up e-book versions.
Also, the division has been receiving many enquiries about its services and now has an “overwhelming load of books to convert”.
“I think this is a great opportunity for a lot of would-be Malaysian authors. This is a way we can nurture local writing talent,” says Toh.