#EthicalChristmas: The Ethics Of Publishing In A Digital Age
On Sat, 22 November, 2014 - 13:44
The publishing industry is in the process of going through a huge, seismic change. Whereas ten years ago we were buying all of our books from our local bookshop, today we’re more likely to purchase them online, in eBook as well as print format. Publishers are having to adapt to these changing conditions in order to survive. In addition, some companies are adopting dubious methods to make up for decreased profit margins – the recent tax avoidance schemes of certain large international online retailers have been well-documented in the media. But as a Buddhist business, Windhorse Publications is committed to living by the ethical standards that it promotes in its books. So how does a right-livelihood publishing company do business in the modern world? And what is the future of ethical publishing? We interviewed Priyananda, Publishing Director at Windhorse Publications, to find out more.
“As a small, independent publisher, we’re actually in a very good position to adapt to these changes because we can be light-footed in a way that the bigger publishers perhaps can’t. And we’re also able to have more of a direct relationship with our readers, involving them in the publishing process right from the start.”
Windhorse Publications’ first major response to the digital revolution was to launch their new website in 2011. Since then, their online sales have increased from just two or three books a month to nearly 100. “This means that customers can now buy directly from us instead of going through the big online retailers, and the profits can be invested straight back into our business”, Priyananda added.
“In the last year, we’ve also converted most of our books to eBook format, and all of our eBooks are DRM-free. Digital Rights Management is the encryption on a digital book which ties it to a particular format, whether it’s the Nook, Tablet or Kindle, so by making our eBooks DRM-free, we’re giving our readers the same ownership of their eBooks that they have over their print books.” This essentially means that Windhorse Publications is trusting its customers not to copy the books to others. “It’s important for us to create a relationship with our customers that is based on mutual trust”, Priyananda explained. “In an age where many people are losing confidence in the big publishing industries, we want our customers to know that Windhorse Publications makes high-quality books which are ethically-produced.” Although few companies currently sell their eBooks DRM-free, Priyananda considers that is will become it will become the standard in publishing in the long term.
Along with many other publishers, Windhorse Publications is also covering its decreased capital by asking readers to sponsor their new books. Priyananda sees this as allowing the donors to participate very early on in the book’s production: “The idea is that we create a more democratic model of publishing than an all-knowing and godlike board of directors who have a monopoly over the books that get published.”
So what is the future for publishing? “Three years ago, a lot of people were panicking that the print book was going to disappear; that in a few years we’d all be reading on our tablets and smart phones. However, the figures today show that the move to digital books is actually decelerating, and that there is more optimism for the print book. The industry figures tell us that not only are readers very attached to the print book that they can hold – that colour, texture and heft – but also that they are looking for higher quality books with more attractive covers, better quality paper, and better overall design.”
Priyananda explained that a UK survey published early in 2014 found that out of those who read books, 5% read digital only, 20% read print only, and all the rest (75% of us) read a mixture of both. Some publishers are therefore bundling their books – when a customer buys a book, they get both the print and eBook versions together, and this is something that Priyananda is keen do in the future. “I think, in the longer term, this also will probably become a norm in book selling.”
And what is the future for Windhorse Publications? “We know that we have to remain flexible and inventive; we need to allow the changes in the publishing industry to change us too. This ethos is embodied in our strapline: ‘life changing books’. Not only do we believe that we sell books that are life-changing but we also acknowledge that life (that is, the universe) is changing the books that we create and the way in which we put them out into the world. I don’t know exactly what the future is going to hold, but that’s what makes the publishing industry such an exciting one to work in!”