The 1970s saw the advent of new technologies for the transmission, storage, and distribution of data, which posed challenges to the book publishing industry.
Television screens and databases became symbols of these challenges, while the increasing use of sophisticated copying machines raised concerns about protecting property through copyright.
In the twenty-first century, computers and related innovations such as the CD-ROM and the internet have allowed publishing to expand, making readily updated text available online and on disc, fostering multimedia presentations and interactive uses. However, questions remain about whether the emergence of hypertext will replace traditional books.
Electronic publishing offers several advantages over conventional publishing. Data can be kept up-to-date, allowing for on-demand publishing and retrospective searching. Electronic publications also offer aids for connectivity, audio visualization, customizability, creation and revision of documents, interactivity, and rapid information retrieval.
One major advantage of electronic publishing over conventional journals is the elimination of time lags in submission, refereeing, revision, editing, composing, printing, binding, and forwarding. This enhances timely publication and is suitable for letter-type journals where rapid communication is important. Electronic versions also offer a Boolean search of the full text to browse and read-only selected items.
E-books promise another kind of restructuring in the publishing markets. In a world of e-books where there may be few cash transactions, publishers may get to know and track the behaviour of their consumers for the first time. Network-based retailers will also be able to track their customers better because few will be anonymous.
However, there are also problems associated with electronic publishing. These include high initial costs for publishers to invest before benefits are expected, non-compatibility of hardware due to the absence of common standards, and the usage of different retrieval software by different publishers.
Not every digital book can be viewed using every viewing technology. Some are highly targeted to specific viewing technologies while others are versatile and can be easily delivered to many diverse viewing environments.
Viewing technologies can also be thought of as defining markets. Authors may choose to create works that deliver well to particular viewing technologies based on the size, reach, or profitability of the market.
The acceptance of electronic journals depends on user-friendly retrieval software and the availability of a computer and communication network. However, the gap between developed and developing countries makes electronic publishing an elitist technology.
One major drawback of electronic journals is their delayed release. In many instances, when a publication is issued in both printed and electronic forms, the electronic version is released after a gap of several weeks.
Issues of searching and selecting the right books and passages become important functions that current reader manufacturers may not be considering. It is also unclear whether it is reasonable or realistic to integrate subscriptions for reference libraries from multiple sources or combine a reference library subscription with random purchases from specific publishers.
Other problems include the necessity of training for subscribers and readers, multiple copying license/charges, and restrictions on access. Despite these drawbacks, electronic journals are expected to become as pervasive as their printed counterparts in some subject fields.
Losing access to an entire personal library built up over the years is a problem of a different magnitude altogether. Can books be withdrawn from a digital library subscription, and if so under what terms and with what notification? These are all unexplored questions with implications for standards, digital rights management, and individual privacy.