Epublishing Overview

Electronic publishing, or epublishing, uses new technology to deliver books and other content to readers. Because the technology allows publishers to get information to readers quickly and efficiently, it is causing major changes to the publishing industry as we know it. It will also impact the way we read, offering new hardware and software devices. We are only beginning to see the ramifications of epublishing.

Epublishing is a very broad term that includes a variety of different publishing models, including electronic books (ebooks), print-on-demand (POD), email publishing, wireless publishing, electronic ink and web publishing. More types of epublishing are sure to be developed in the near future. Here are some descriptions of the different methods of electronic publishing.


Ebooks are electronic versions of books which are delivered to consumers in digital formats. There are a large number of devices being developed to make reading ebooks easier for consumers. Special software, which makes documents or pages of a book easier to read on a screen, is also being developed by software companies. A standard for ebook software, known as the open-ebook standard, or OEB, has been developed as a standard format for ebooks, but competing standards such as Adobe's PDF exist. The potential market for electronic books (and shorter length content) is extremely large. Although presently there is some sales resistance to the idea of abandoning paper books for a handheld electronic reader, certain sectors of the buying public are already recognizing the benefits of ebooks over paper books. Students who are tired of lugging around forty pounds of textbooks (which become obsolete quickly) and consumers or business people who travel a great deal are two groups who seem thrilled with the idea of downloading 10 or more books into a small, portable reader.

Ebooks are already starting to be trendy. Recent issues of top women's magazines such as Vogue, have recently featured ebook readers as the latest must-have fashion accessory. This market could develop faster than expected because leading publishers and technology companies are pouring money resources into ebook technology. It remains to be seen, however, exactly which electronic devices and which software will succeed and exactly how long it will take people to convert to ebooks. When the price of handheld readers comes down to under $50.00, you can be sure that these devices will quickly become ubiquitous.

Print-on-Demand (POD)

Print-on-Demand is a new method for printing books (and other content) which allows books to be printed one at a time, or on demand. This method helps free publishers from the process of doing a traditional print run of several thousand books at a time. The technology involves complex laser printing systems and electronically formatted text which the printers can read. Many publishers, include web upstarts, are hoping this method will allow them to more effectively print smaller numbers of a book and still make a profit. The technology is currently very expensive and the New York Times recently reported that Lightning Source, Inc., a leading provider of ebook fulfillment, charges publishers over $4.00 per book, which is a higher cost per unit than that of small print run. Prices should come down as more publishers and retailers purchase the technology. POD is very hot right now; in a sense, it is a good intermediary step between the regular method of printing paper books and electronic books. However, because POD is still a method that uses paper and can not be delivered as cheaply and quickly as electronic books, in the long run, POD could decline in popularity when consumers become comfortable with electronic reading software and ebook reading devices.

Digital Content

Digital Content generally refers to the electonic delivery of fiction which is shorter than book-length, nonfiction, documents and other written works of shorter length. Publishers of digital content deliver shorter sized works to the consumer via download to handheld and other wireless devices. Technology used for delivering digital content includes Adobe PDF, XML, HDML, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and other technologies. The security of the data being delivered is the major concern of publishers who want to ensure they can deliver digital content without the risk of someone copying the work and selling or giving away the works. The market for wireless content, which is being developed to deliver content to everything from phones, handhelds, microwaves and even clothes, is a potentially enormous market. This fact has the major media companies and publishers scrambling not to be left out of the digital content arena.

Electronic Ink

Electronic Ink is a developing technology that could have a huge impact on the media and publishing industries. Electronic Ink could be used to create a newspaper or book that updates itself. The technology could also be used on billboards, clothing, walls and homes to allow content to appear. In addition, this content could be programmed to change at any time. For example, you could have a billboard that rotates different ads, or you could receive a coupon in the mail that is frequently updated with the latest offer. For media companies, the possibilities are almost endless. Someday your electronic newspaper will simply update itself every day. E Ink Corporation, a new company with major investors, and Xerox are two companies currently developing this technology.

Email Marketing and Newsletters

Email publishing, or newsletter publishing, is a popular choice among readers who enjoy the ease of receiving news items, articles and short newsletters in their email box. The ease of delivery and production of email newsletters has led to the development of a massive number of available email newsletters, mailing lists and discussion lists on a large variety of topics. Some businesses have even launched services that do nothing but deliver newsletters to consumers. Newsletters are also widely used by media companies to complement their web and print offerings. Many authors and writers publish their own newsletters in order to attract new readers and to inform their fans about new books and booksignings.

Web Publishing

Web publishing is not a novel practice any longer, but it continues to change and develop with the introduction of new programming languages. HTML is still the most widely used web programming language, but XML is also making headway. XML is valuable because it allows publishers to create content and data that is portable to other devices. Nearly every company in the World has some type of website, and most media companies provide a large amount of web-based content.

Wireless Publishing

Wireless publishing is a rapidly developing publishing platform that publishers are using to reach wireless devices, such as mobile phones, cell phones and handheld devices. The main standard being used is WAP, which stands for the Wireless Application Protocol. WAP translates Internet information so that it can be displayed on the screens of mobile phones and other wireless devices.

Staying Informed

Keeping up with the epublishing world requires a constant watch of news headlines and frequent visits to your favorite websites. As a writer, you should familiarize yourself with the emerging technologies mentioned above. The impact of the Internet on publishing has already been astounding, yet it is still in its early stages of development. The impact of ebooks and wireless content could be just as dramatic in the near future. The writing and publishing industries are changing, even as you read this page. Freelance writers especially need to keep informed about what is happening in this arena. Contracts, rights, new jobs and markets are all being affected by this new technology, and writers simply must make the time to stay well-informed.