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Summary:

Ebook pricing and device trends that hold in North American countries don’t necessarily work for less developed market. Executives from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, France’s FNAC and India’s Indiaplaza discussed similarities and differences between digital reading cultures Wednesday afternoon at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Which ebook trends are global and which are country-specific? Execs from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google, French retail chain FNAC and India’s Indiaplaza discussed similarities and differences at the CEO panel Wednesday afternoon at the Frankfurt Book Fair…

“Customers are going to pay for value. In the long term, we’re going to see ebooks worth something,” Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo, said. “We see a very healthy business.” As for changes in pricing models, “we just see them as fluctuations in this long-term evolution.”

Jamie Iannone, president of digital products at Barnes & Noble, agreed that “for quality works, customers are really willing to pay for ebooks”. “We [and publishers] have been sensitive to the value of the book,” he said, adding: “Even people that buy ebooks still read a lot of physical books – (which is) very different from other industries.”

Santiago de la Mora, director of print content partnerships for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said ebooks are just at the beginning of adding “tremendous additional value relative to the print book.” He mentioned functions like translations, locations, definitions and highlights (all of which are available in Google’s recently updated Play app for Android). “The ebook is a boon to the industry because, in some cases, it’s an enhanced product [over] print.”

Venkat Valliappan, head of books at Indian e-commerce site Indiaplaza.com, said ebook prices must remain low in India. “[International] publishers sell print books in India at [lower] prices and the same should be true for ebooks,” he said. The volume of Indian customers that international publishers will gain by keeping their ebook prices low “has to be given the utmost importance. That’s why the major publishers have accepted [lowered prices] in the past couple of years,” he said, claiming: “India has bailed out their business at an international level.”

Similarly, booksellers noted differences in the types of devices that consumers are looking for. “Our customers, when they’re frequent readers, just want e-readers. That’s very clear,” said Elodie Perthuisot, director of books at French bookstore chain FNAC. And she said they “don’t hesitate to spend thirty more euros to get the very new device. It’s not a matter of price, it’s a matter of content.”

Valliappan, meanwhile, said “the majority of the Indian public are looking for multiple functions, not just an e-reader. E-reader companies should look at multiple functions.”

Kobo doesn’t see the e-reader market plateauing. “We’re seeing triple-digit growth on dedicated e-ink e-readers,” Serbinis said, adding that users who buy Kobo devices buy five times more books annually compared to customers using a Kobo app on a third-party platform.

De la Mora cautioned that publishers and booksellers shouldn’t forget about smartphones: “There are more than one billion smartphones in the world.” As for device choices, “the consumer will decide, but it has to be made easy for them to access the content”.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Thomas Bethge 

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  1. John F. Harnish Thursday, October 11, 2012

    Unfortunately this panel appears to be connecting ebooks with pbook editions. This ill-fated connection results in the inflated pricing of ebooks attributed to the expense of first producing the pbook by mainstream publishers.

    Due consideration must be given to the increasing number of ebooks that are only published and distributed as an electronic edition. In many cases the author has no desire to undertake the hassle of releasing a pbook. The author doesn’t want to chase after a mainstream publisher or pay to utilize a digital “publishing service” to produce and distribute a pbook. Ebooks are purchased directly by the consumer because they want to read the content created by the author.

    There is a trend developing that when an ebook has achieved a significant number of sales the mainstream houses will seek out the ebook author and put a pbook publishing deal on the table. The transitional turmoil in the publishing industry is prompting authors to ask publishers specifically what the benefits are when they sell the rights to a popular ebook to one of the “big six” to be eventually release as a pbook.

    Authors who have earned up to 70% in royalties are going to be reluctant to agree to a much lower royalty offered by the pbook publisher. Of course there would be a sizable advance paid to the ebook author, but the advance is against future royalties. This raises the question: What percentages of books acquired by an advance have sold in significant numbers to earn out the advance???

    Born-digital is the evolving future of ebooks. Ebook are more cost-effective to produce and thusly more affordable for consumers to purchase.

    Enjoy often… John

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