The best way to start talking about e-publishing and how it affects Filipino readers and writers is to mention that it is fast becoming one with publishing as we know it. People who used to "write books" are now actually writing "content," which can be available in print, ebook, audiobook, and a variety of formats. Lovers of reading worldwide have embraced this, especially the ebook format which has been hyped as the so-called competitor of print. In 2011, both Amazon and Barnes and Noble announced that they sell more ebooks than print books.
The E in E-Publishing
Even though ebooks have been around for over a decade, the medium got a shot in the arm in 2007 when Amazon, the world's largest bookseller, released its Kindle, a device for reading ebooks. The first author to sell over a million ebooks on Amazon was Stieg Larsson, of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. His Millennium series achieved this feat and yet is also a bestseller on hardcover and paperback.
Since then, other players have emerged and competed for the attention of readers and authors worldwide, from tablets and ereader devices to online ebook stores. This development has led to countless debates about the future of publishing, because technology has made it easier for anyone to publish something. As an author, publisher, and avid reader, I appreciate this trend and welcome it. We now have more ways to read, more books to read, and more ways to legally purchase them. What's not to love?
More choices for the Filipino reader
The way that ebooks can be purchased and read continues to change, but currently:
Ebooks purchased from a site (let's say Amazon) can be read not just on a dedicated device like a Kindle, but also on a smartphone, a laptop, an iPod, or a tablet. Losing that phone doesn't mean the ebook is lost as well; it can usually be re-downloaded to the new phone at no extra cost.
Ebooks can be purchased online with a credit card, although some sellers have offered more options such as Paypal and bank deposit.
Over a million ebooks, more than any brick-and-mortar bookstore can have in stock, are available now to Filipinos because of online ebook stores. Many of these books are free (classics and public domain in Project Gutenberg) or relatively inexpensive (Smashwords has 60,000 books under $2.99/Php 125). Bestsellers and new releases from traditional publishers are more expensive, ranging from $10 to $15.
Ebooks can offer interactivity and dynamic content beyond what was possible with paper, but so far many ebooks are simply digital versions of print books.
The potential of extending this buffet of choices to the cause of education is great, and there are ongoing programs (in different schools, at elementary, high school, and college levels) providing digital learning materials to Filipino students.
More opportunities for the Filipino author
In 2010, Amazon.com opened up to authors and publishers outside of the US, and changed publishing in this country in exciting ways. Prior to this, a Filipino author's best shot at having his/her books available on Amazon was through a long and uncertain process of finding an agent and a publisher. Now an author can simply create an account, upload their book, and see it on Amazon. Rival booksellers like Barnes and Noble and Apple followed suit, and all of them currently do not charge the author any fees for selling ebooks. This means:
1. An author can easily publish books in any or all formats.
Publishing can be as easy as uploading a manuscript clicking "Publish" on a website form. Of course, opening this floodgate means that many books that would not have been accepted by a reputable agency get published on a daily basis. There are tutorials, books, and seminars available to help a self-published author maintain a standard of quality in their work -- most of them are online too, and available readily to Filipinos.
2. No need to worry about international shipping and "out of print."
Once a publisher decides to no longer print a title, an author rarely gets to do something about it. It's a problem that's fast becoming obsolete, because ebooks will never go "out of stock." Paper books can remain "in stock" indefinitely too, because of print on demand (POD) options that do just that -- ensure that as long as there is a demand, even for just one copy, a book can be made available in print. A Filipino author can upload his book to international service CreateSpace, Lulu, or Espresso Book Machine, and a reader can buy his book and only pay local shipping rates (because the book will be printed at and shipped from a location closest to the buyer).
3. The book might just find a worldwide audience.
Once a book is placed in an online book store, it widens its potential audience to, well, the world. Overnight success is not guaranteed, but a book's chances of being discovered increase considerably if it's available to millions of enthusiastic readers.
"E-publishing" is no longer a separate channel that an author may consider using -- it is now the channel, an integral part of publishing, and many authors all over the world have found success precisely because they decided that they would do it this way.
This last item is why, as a Filipino author, I think this is all worth the effort. With some commitment one can learn to do this in a matter of days, even while studying or working full-time. Now that technology has made publishing easy, a writer just has to write. Today is a good day to start.