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E-books or the real thing? Expert offers his opinion

The National Book Festival is being held online for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is running till June 10 at the website book365.vn after beginning on April 19.

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Nguyen Canh Binh, chairman of the board of directors of Alpha Books. Photo courtesy of thethaovanhoa.vn

Việt Nam News reporter Nguyen Binh interviews Nguyen Canh Binh, Alpha Book’s chairman of the board of directors about e-book development in Vietnam.

This is the first time the National Book Festival has been held online. Do you think this is a chance to develop e-books?

We are attending the online festival which is being held for more than 20 days. The success of the festival will promote new book distribution for publishers.

Indeed, we used to be quite optimistic and looked forward to the development of e-books.

The e-book has the absolute advantage of low cost and they make it easy for readers to access the content of the book.

Compared to e-books, it takes longer to print a book. There are many processes with a paper book such as printing, transportation and distribution.

Normally, printing cost accounts for 40 to 50 per cent of the total cost of a paper book. In fact, the e-book business in Vietnam is still under development. In the last 10 years, e-book use has not grown.

I see book companies have tried to distribute e-books but their turnover is very low. I know there is a company which was founded with the purpose of selling e-books. But it had to close due to a lack of revenue. 

What do you think about free e-book websites appearing recently?

I think there are two kinds of e-books. The first includes short and simple stories. This is a trend in developed countries. These stories are less likely to be commercially available on paper books and are often entertaining for readers to have a look at.

The second is more popular with good stories which are copied illegally from paper books. In my opinion, this kind will promote the e-book market but it plays a role to kick-off only.

If illegal websites are widespread it will destroy the publishing sector and e-book start-up businesses. It is the same as an illegal paper book. 

Do you think this is one of the things that makes the e-book business difficult?

I can confirm that bookmakers like us don't see the potential of the e-book business. I think we need to eliminate illegal e-books. 

If you compare the US and Vietnam, the two countries have quite opposite business environments.

In the US, it is easy to establish a publishing house and to print a book. It is almost at no cost. You don't need to register and get permission. But you will be fined strictly if an illegal e-book is discovered. 

It is different in Vietnam. It takes time to finish procedures for publishing house establishment and printing a book, but the punishments for illegal trading of e-books and paper books are not strict enough.

This causes difficulties for legal businesses while harming the publishing industry. 

Plus, publishing companies just focus on the content, not technology. They have struggled to develop an application for reading and the e-book business. 

We distributors or high technology companies to create a commercial platform. Publishing companies should be the coordinator only. 

As I said above, the e-book business does not have potential in Vietnam. So not many people are ready to invest in it. Generally, it is still related to reading culture, market, and copyright. 

Book companies are not ready to invest in e-books. It is understandable. 

What do you know about the competition between e-books and paper books in developed countries?

E-books have developed rapidly in many countries, particularly the US. E-books now occupy a market share equivalent to paper books on Amazon. 

E-book companies have been set up in some other Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and China. 

I think that e-books have an advantage in some certain areas. During the past 10 years, paper dictionaries seem to have disappeared as they cannot compete with online dictionaries which are systematical. 

So I think that in the future, e-books will be useful for readers who want to research and look up information on education, health care, science and technology. 

Literature, history and fine art need paper books. 

Will Alpha Books publish e-book? 

We are thinking about this trend. However, we need investors and to work with high technology companies. Furthermore, we need copyright protection. 

E-books need applications such as multi-communication, sound, image and interaction. 

They also need features which help to follow reading, share information and support analyses in reading progress. VNS

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