Introduction to the Mini-Series
Karger Publishers’ first publication appeared in book form, the “Geburtshülfliche Vademecum” (a handbook for obstetricians) from the beginning of the 19th century. Since then, we have witnessed many developments in the book market, book production, and book distribution, and have been adjusting the screws on our operations ever since.
This mini-series will be showing how we as a publisher of scientific and specialist works have developed our book portfolio, what effects changes in the markets had, how we intend to deal with an ever-changing publishing environment in the future, and how these changes are also reflected on the part of authors and readers.
A Long History with some Harsh Changes
According to experts, the oldest printed book in the world is the “Diamond Sutra”, which dates from 868, making it a good 600 years older than the Gutenberg Bible. Yet long before the Diamond Sutra, handwritten texts were already being bound into books. Between the revolutionary introduction of the printing press in Europe and today, not much has happened that has not somehow been connected with the technical progress of printing.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s that eBooks began to gain momentum. Since then, many have pronounced the printed book dead. However, it quickly became apparent that eBooks in PDF-form were more of a supplement than a replacement for printed books. The next big change came with the introduction of books in HTML, EPUB and other formats, and the advent of eBook readers that could replace an entire print library. Yet meanwhile, the printed book still exists.
So where is the book going, what is a book anyway, and what does this mean for our scientific and specialist publications?
When Is a Book a Book?
There are, in fact, definitions of what a book is. For example, according to the UNESCO definition, a book is a non-periodical publication of at least 49 pages. More general definitions describe the book as a larger and bound printed work, or as literary or non-literary texts published in book form.
Form(at) Follows Function
So, if books have been around for so long and their purpose (multiplying and transporting information) and form are quite clear, why did the development of eBooks cause such a stir? How could it be that the very existence of the book was seen to be threatened by what were then new digital formats? Surely it takes a bit of fatalistic thinking to conclude that a format change could wipe out an entire cultural form.
Fiction still sells very well in print. The situation is different for technical and non-fiction books. The reasons are understandable: It makes a big difference whether I’m reading a book for relaxation or using it because I need further information quickly at work, or because I’m learning something new from scratch.
After the decades in which printed and electronic books have now lived side by side, it should be clear that the use – and thus the existence – of one format or the other is directly related to both the type of content and the form of use. Finally, personal preferences also play an important role when it comes to choosing between print, PDF, EPUB, databases, audio books, and many other formats.