Readers on the move making switch to e-books

Falling sales of printed books don’t necessarily mean people are reading less. In fact, with better technology in cell phones and portable media players, the market for electronic books and audio books is finally taking off.

Electronic Book Korea, a non-profit consortium, said that the electronic book market in Korea was only 55 billion won ($59 million) in 2005, but jumped to 140 billion won last year. The association predicted in a recent report that the market will keep growing, doubling to about 300 billion won this year, which would amount to 11 percent of the publishing market.

Electronic books, generally downloaded from the Internet, sell for less than half the price of print books. They can be viewed in two different formats ― one has digital text formatted to whatever device the reader is using, the other appears the same as a printed book, with the same pages and cover. Many digital books have adjustable font size; some support features that allow a reader to highlight text or type comments on the side.

In addition to portable media players, the industry sees cell phones as the next popular device for reading e-books. KTF, the second-largest mobile phone service provider in Korea, is launching a book service in partnership with Booktopia beginning today. Users that download an electronic book to their cell phone can share the same files on their PC or personal digital assistant without extra charges. SK Telecom began the service slightly earlier; the only downside of downloading books via cell phone is that the user must pay for connection costs while the book is being downloaded.

In addition to e-books, the market for audio books is also growing. Audio books are MP3 files with a narrator reading the book. The service is popular in Europe and the United States but is only starting to catch on in Korea. Last month, software firm Inticube Corp. began audio book services for mobile gadgets. Inticube now offers about 1,000 titles and hopes to add 90 books each month.

Demand for these digital books is increasing because people are becoming more mobile. According to a recent report by the National Statistical Office, Koreans over the age of 10 spent 100 minutes every day on the move as of 2004.

“Going to public libraries is difficult for office workers, which makes electronic book services convenient,”said Lee Lim-kyong at Pyeongtaek City Library. She said that the library began e-book services in 2003, but they are just now catching on because of cell phone downloading.

Booktopia.com has one of the biggest electronic book databases in Korea, with about 100,000 e-books, but its contents are still very limited.

By Wohn Dong-hee for JoongAng Daily

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