by Trung Hieu
Electronic books (e-books) have gradually won the hearts of frequent readers, particularly bookworms in large cities of Viet Nam, but piracy remains a problem.
Nguyen Hung Sang, a self-confessed bookworm and an employee of an import enterprise in Ha Noi, used to wander through bookstores along Nguyen Xi and Dinh Le streets near Hoan Kiem Lake on weekends to find new books.
However, an e-book reader recently made his old habit unnecessary.
"It's not hard to find e-book devices of Sony, Amazon or Barnes & Noble with enough functions, and the price is just about several million dong. It's roughly equal to the cost of about 20 or 30 novels, but e-book readers have much more functions at their disposal," Trung said.
Nowadays, e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony's eReader have become familiar to Vietnamese users, providing easy accessibility in terms of price and demand.
Using e-ink technology, these e-books make users feel like they're reading a printed page instead of a tablet, which causes eyestrain.
Ngoc Viet Ha, a fan of novels, said: "If you buy iPad or Android tablets, you will only use them to play games or surf the web, but for reading, you surely need a specialised device like Kindle."
Moreover, searching for online e-books is quite easy. Even shops selling e-books are generous enough to present clients who buy their equipment with a few DVDs containing thousands of e-books.
Hoang Nguyen, a student of the Ha Noi University of Foreign Studies, is fascinated with Japanese manga, and that's why her Kindle device is full of comic books.
"Many of the manga comic books are no longer available, so we can only find scanned copies online. If we download them each time we want to read, we have to turn on the computer, which I find inconvenient. Ever since I bought this Kindle device, things have become much simpler because I can read comics everywhere."
E-book reading is an inevitable trend. These days, when you go out to buy e-book readers in stores in Ha Noi, most buyers are presented with a DVD containing thousands of e-books. Of course these are not copyrighted. But none of the buyers have rejected this promotional gift.
This is an example of e-book piracy that makes publishers reluctant to enter this market. The most significant impediment to e-book development is the same as that of paper books - their copyright.
"If we don't make and release e-books, in one or two weeks, people will re-type our books to make them e-books, but their quality is not high," said Nguyen Xuan Minh, an official of the Nha Nam Book Company.
"But if we issue e-books, in only 15 minutes, the e-books are copied, and their quality is the same as that of the original."
The sharing and circulation of e-books is rampant on websites, with groups of students and people who enjoy reading often typing the contents of printed books, then converting their formats into e-books for free sharing.
E-thuvien.com offers hundreds of e-books. Vnthuquan is an online library that also provides e-pub formatted e-books for readers to view offline.
Although book-sharing pages consider themselves to be "sharing books free for the community", they are clearly violating copyright.
Currently, about 30 per cent of books from the Nha Nam Company were released as e-books. But about 70 per cent of its books have been typed and shared by book sharing pages. As a result, sales of its e-books are quite low.
"The situation in Viet Nam is quite the opposite of that overseas. In the United States, they also have illegal e-books, but these are only surreptitiously put online. If someone reports, that e-book will be deleted. But in Viet Nam, pirated e-books prevail over original ones," Minh said.
With the emergence of e-reading devices and the popularity of social networking sites, pirated e-books have spread far and wide, with many online forums containing boxes for sharing e-books.
A new and emerging trend is the sharing by online groups of e-books on a narrower scale, with members still striving to respect copyright.
For example, Facebook has a page for "the six-month e-book group", which creates e-books for sharing only six months after the printed book is released.
Another group, called the Bookaholic, converts mostly literary classics into e-books for sharing with a limited number of members.
When publishers complain, these groups immediately remove e-books from their pages. "Conscience still has a tooth," a member commented.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Ha, deputy director of the Phuong Dong Book Company, said e-books of official publishers were being upgraded with intelligent and standard software that supports readers better in copying, searching, and marking pages. The quality is much higher than that of pirated e-books, which have numerous errors, including translation inaccuracies.
In Viet Nam, official e-book publishers include Alezza, Lac Viet and newcomer Anybook.
Tran Xuan Phuong, director of the Vinapo Company, which manages the Alezza e-book sales page, said he found that readers' awareness of copyright has recently improved.
"It is important that the copyright law be strongly enforced, not only for e-books but also for other digital content such as music and movies," Phuong said.
"The book-sharing websites now have hundreds of thousands of members, so if there are legal sanctions that will turn these sites into copyrighted sharing sites, that can make book lovers and publishers join hands and convert these websites into a market with high potential," he added.
Nguyen Minh Nhut, director of the Youth Publishing House that is converting all of its books into e-books, said publishers were developing and perfecting the e-book making process.
"Copyright infringement happens for both paper books and e-books. Even products from big companies such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and Microsoft are being pirated, so if we worry too much about this problem, we might find no way out. As long as we do a good job, I believe readers will support us," he added. — VNS