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South Korean publishers switch to electronic books

Seoul, Feb 24 (Asia Pulse) - The country is diving head first into the era ofelectronic books as publishers are jumping into the growing sector following thelead of cyber bookstores. An electronic book can be downloaded from Web sites for reading on computermonitors or various personal digital assistants (PDA).

Seoul, Feb 24 (Asia Pulse) - The country is diving head first into the era of electronic books as publishers are jumping into the growing sector following the lead of cyber bookstores.

An electronic book can be downloaded from Web sites for reading on computer monitors or various personal digital assistants (PDA). Consumers can download an entire text or parts at cheaper prices than regular books and pay via credit cards online. The first electronic books in Korea were available for a fee through a story download system on PC communications services several years ago.

Although several electronic book service providers on PC networks remain, the focus has shifted to the Internet. The Internet bookstore Yes24 opened the nation's first electronic bookseller (books.webfox.co.kr) in June last year. The site, with 500 daily page views and 6,000 subscribers, sells electronic books at 3,000 won (2.60 US dollars) per book and revenue is growing 50 percent every month.

Greenboat Cartoons opened Barobook (www.barobook.co.kr), or "books on demand" in Korean, in December last year. The company has 1,500 books on the site, half of which are fantasy adventure stories. Daily page views wre about 500 and the number of subscribers had exceeded 1,000, Greenboat said. All books on Barobook, which has its own viewer program for copyright protection, have copyright contracts with authors.

The company aims to secure 100,000 or more electronic books in the next ten years. Most electronic books being sold, however, are limited to stories of ancient Chinese warriors, detective novels and comics. They are gaining popularity among readers who want to "read and throw away" as electronic books are sold at 20 to 50 per cent of normal prices.

Consequently, Gimm Young Publishers is expected to start a full-scale electronic book business. It said it would start electronic book services on the Internet from March. About 700 kinds of books will be uploaded first and prices will be around 70 to 80 per cent of regular books. Other publishing companies such as Changbi Publishers and Min-um Publishers are also reportedly preparing for electronic book business as some publishers are linked to venture companies for technology development. Industry officials expect many of them to launch the service in the first half of this year.

Booktopia, an online bookstore invested by 100 publishing companies, will start operations at the end of March and electronic book service in the first half of the year. Publishing industry sources thus expect 2000 will mark the first year of electronic books in Korea. The nation hopes to catch up with other advanced nations such as Japan, which has 37 publishing companies in the field. Introduction of electronic books is expected to bring a big change into publishing itself, let alone the convenience to consumers who can buy necessary parts only, edit them and easily carry several books together with them.

At present big-sized publishers can print only a small part of manuscripts received because of huge publishing costs. With the electronic book system, however, manuscripts can be easily edited, uploaded on line and published in paper based on feedback from readers. "Electronic books will account for half of the publishing industry in 20 to 30 years," a publishing company official said.