Free Online Reading: how does it affect authors and publishers? What are the challenges and opportunities?

The rapid growth of technology has significantly increased online and electronic reading over the past half decade. While online reading and electronic reading is not the same thing, they are not mutually exclusive. Both shy away from print.

Print costs money, hence print publishers are very particular about what they print. It is not that electronic media is cheap to produce, not in the least. However, the costs involved in print are significantly higher.

With a cheaper medium for publication, many publishers, and indeed individuals, turn to digital publishing. But costing is not the only factor. Demand, as with any product, is the main focus.

It is no secret that eBook sales have significantly increased in recent years and continue to do so. Amazon announced in 2010 that their eBook sales surpassed that of their print sales (MK 2012). The same source shows that in early 2011 eBook sales increased by 159.8%, and print sales declined by 23.4%.

However, this still only addresses paid material. What about free material and publications? In considering the question, ‘how does free reading affect publishing?’ more questions arise.

Firstly, where do readers find free material? Most free material is online and available from different sources and outlets such as journals, magazines, blogs, websites, newspapers, etc. Free eBooks and other electronic media such as PDF documents are readably available for download, again covering almost any topic imaginable. But not all free media is online. There are free print media available, too, such as magazines and newspapers. But how are they able to do so, and why? Major publishers like News Limited offer free printed material, like the newspaper, MX, available on almost every street corner in major towns and cities (News Limited 2013). Many of the articles appearing here, and indeed in their other publications, serve as a preview for what you can expect to find when you buy one of their major papers like The Daily Telegraph.

It is safe to assume that all major newspapers have an online presence, and most magazines do, too. How do they make their money, though, if the material is online and free of charge? The answer is simple. They employ the same technique that they always have: advertising. But online advertising isn’t the same as print, and somehow it seems that as online users, we have become desensitised to flashing ads on our screens. Online advertising, as suggested by Michael Rosenblum (2013), does not yield the same revenue as it once did for print advertising. He suggests that publishers should “get into the business of immediate online transactions,” selling products straight from their own websites instead of being redirected (Rosenblum 2013). This seems an especially viable option for magazines.

Mobile devices are increasingly popular as well, and applications are becoming a norm, a part of every-day-life. Richard Counsell (2013) is of the opinion that considerable focus and energy should be invested in mobile applications in regards to advertising. He predicts a major shift into mobile readership and encourages newspapers and magazines to take full advantage of this.

Free online content is a very effective tool for exposure. By gaining readership through free online content publishers better their chances of selling their print media. Some publishers’ online presence also serves as a storefront from where they sell not only their print media, but also merchandise, special offers, etc.

But the issue is not exclusive to publishers, readers and booksellers. Authors are affected, too. All authors MUST have an online presence. A report in the New York Times suggested that 81% of people feel that they have a book to write (Book news 2010). So, in the US alone, with a population of 312.8 million people, 250 million of them feel that they can write a book (Schlesinger 2012). While a majority of these books might never be published, it is nevertheless an alarming number for authors who are serious about their work. With a myriad of titles flooding the market, how do single authors promote themselves? The answer is social media: a blog; a Facebook page and profile; a website; a Twitter account; Goodreads and a LinkedIn account; any social network available for writers. Online presence is significantly important and the fact cannot be stressed enough.

In the words of Oscar Wilde, “In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody” (Wilde 1977, p 1205). Writing has become a business; to treat it differently is authorial suicide. Promotion in a digital age is essential.

Reference list:

Book news and publishing industry statistics, 2010. Available from: <>. [25 September 2012].

MK 2012, The Future of Books, Bookstores & Publishers: E-Books vs. Hard-Copy Books. Available from: <>. [05 May 2013].

Mobile and classified advertising for magazines and newspapers. Available from: <>. [05 May 2013].

News Limited, 2013. Available from: <>. [05 May 2013].

Rosenblum, M 2013. Newspaper advertising makes no sense in a non-linear world. Available from: <>. [05 May 2013].

Schlesinger, R 2012, ‘U.S. Population 2012: Nearly 313 Million People’, U.S. News and World Report 30 December. Available from: <>. [25 September 2012].

Wilde, O 1977, The complete works, Collins, Great Britain, p 1205.