The what, where, when and whys of publishing
Reading, food for thought?
At KassaiLaw we know it is essential to spend our free time on nourishing pastimes in the interest of work-life balance, and one such activity is reading. In our latest campaign we would like to analyse this activity from as many aspects as possible, which is why we are giving you a little summary, not just of the latest statistics on reading and the book industry, but also on its history and, as lawyers, we can’t ignore the intellectual property perspective for authors.
Reading during the pandemic
In the few years prior to the pandemic, it had looked as though the age of the book was over, people were buying fewer books and audiobooks. However, while the COVID-19 pandemic was globally shocking, from the business perspective of book publishing companies it was a case of ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. People realised that they had more free time during the lockdown and finally they could find time for the activities that they had been dreaming about. It was a life-changing moment for many people, which explains why book sales soared as people started to read novels and textbooks, and also started to study in various fields with the help of good books and guidelines. According to the British Publishers Association, sales of fiction grew by 16% in the UK in 2020 despite the fact that book shops were closed for months during that year. It demonstrates the fact that while reading is an ancient activity, we cannot exclude it from our everyday modern lifestyle.
Forms of today’s reading
Although eBooks are very popular today, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, the era of printed books is not over, yet. Preferences have diversified, and while there are people who only read from paper books because of the feeling, weight and even the smell of the texts, there are also people who love eBooks because of the modern, diminutive and lightweight solution they offer. The aforementioned survey states that 37% of Americans claim they only read print books and just 7% say they only read e-books. From the general reading perspective, 65% of respondents claimed that they had read a book in the previous 12 months.
EBooks are often mentioned, but what kind of technology lies behind them? It will come as no surprise that the most popular e-reader on the market is Amazon’s Kindle, which has 72% of the e-reader market. The Kindle is available in a variety of models—varied colour, glare-free, etc.—but all use the AZW eBook format. Most other e-readers, like the Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple Books, use the more ubiquitous EPUB format for eBooks.
We just cannot resist sharing some statistical data on physical books with you. Print books are still the top income source for publishers. While publishers are trying to move into different media formats, such as audiobooks, they are still investing most of their marketing effort in physical book sales. The latest statistics from the US show this perfectly, because book sales revenue in 2019 totalled $26 billion, of this, physical books generated 74.7% while eBooks accounted for only 7.48% of it. The remaining part was generated by publications in other formats, like audiobooks.
History of reading
While at a basic level, writing is simply characters printed onto paper or stored in a digital form, at another level it is something ubiquitous and unavoidable. Think about it, all of us read on a daily basis, we read newspapers, social media, charts and billboards, and books. Furthermore, software codes are also based on reading, so we can post that reading is something that will never be obsolete. In our modern world, however, the tools of reading have naturally changed.
Going back in time, we cannot skip over this amazing story that began in antiquity. While we are not intending to write a history of literacy in the Western world from the Greeks to the present day (Please note, that the before-used link takes you to a study available in Hungarian), we would like to give you a brief summary of the most important stages. So don’t worry, we don’t want to put you off reading this article, just stick with us for a few fun facts.
The story of reading is closely connected with the physical appearance of writing, which seems kind of obvious. The earliest known examples are clay tablets that used picture-like signs to depict lists of goods, when agricultural prosperity and the increasing complexity of social structures in urban centres started developing in Mesopotamia in the 4th Millennium BCE. Around 2600 BCE, cuneiform script was developed and writing began to be used for other purposes too, not just for keeping records of transactions but also to document laws and narrate the deeds of kings. In the cuneiform script, each syllable was represented by a different sign, and the number of characters one had to learn in order to be able to read ran into hundreds, which made being a scribe in ancient Mesopotamia an enormous achievement.
It is interesting to note that initially, people read aloud, it was not until the early Middle Ages that silent reading came into fashion, seeming at first to be an almost supernatural skill. The masses continued to be illiterate, and written material only reached them through public readings, which is why public reading events were held. Jumping forward in time (Please note, that the before-used link takes you to a study available in Hungarian), we need to mention that reading remained the privilege of the elite until the 19th century when new readers, including women, children, and workers began to appear. After that, reading spread rapidly, until certain historical eras in which some systems sought to ban books because of their ideological content.
The Intellectual Property view
Intellectual property (IP) is a generic term used all over the world, defining creations of the mind—in other words, ‘things’ that people create using their imagination: a story, a wood carving, a song, a dance routine, an invention, etc. You need to note that there is no law to protect an idea that has not yet been expressed. Hence copyright does not protect ideas. The underlying principle of IP law is to protect and reward products of the mind, but an idea has to be expressed in some form before it can become the subject of legal protection.
If we are going to talk about reading, then we should mention the rules for publishing texts. Among the various IP rights, copyright is the most significant from the perspective of an author or a book publishing company; but what exactly is ‘copyright’? Copyright is a legal concept describing rights given to creators for their literary and artistic works. A work does not need to be published or made available to the public to be protected. It is protected from the point of its creation. As a main rule, the first owner of the copyright in any work, e.g., novels, biographies, photographs or drawings, etc. is the person who created it. The general principles of copyright law are applicable worldwide, although legislation varies from country to country, e.g., if the copyright is an employee’s work created in the course of employment the employer gets the rights.
The question arises of how a publishing company can acquire the rights from an author in order to publish the work and issue copies of it in sufficient quantities to satisfy public demand. They have to conclude a contract in which the author usually grants the publisher an exclusive, or non-exclusive licence. This agreement ensures the right for the publishing company to publish a text in accordance with IP law.
Have you got to this point?
After all of these different aspects, hopefully we can agree that reading is a great activity, the basis of many fundamental inventions of humanity, and one which can be enjoyed in today’s AI-based modern world in the form of an actual paper book, an eBook, or aurally thanks to audiobooks.
So these were a few little thoughts on books and publishing, which despite being a very old industry continues to flourish unabated, and most of all across borders when developed alongside available technology and in the knowledge of the relevant legislation as well.