No matter what country they’re in, book publishers worldwide share some of the same challenges. They’re grappling with the digital transition — which, depending on where you live, has either already arrived or is about to come knocking. They’re battling for readers’ eyeballs, trying to make books stand out in a sea of other forms of entertainment. And they’re figuring out how to price their digital content.
These themes were major topics of discussion at the 2013 Frankfurt Book Fair, which brings over 200,000 book trade professionals to Germany each fall and took place this week. Here’s a roundup of the best coverage and biggest trends from the fair.
International ebook markets: What’s the same, what’s different
By next year, more than half of all books sold in the U.S. will be purchased online rather than in stores. Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s VP of Kindle Content, said at the Publishers Launch Frankfurt conference that “the U.K. is only another year away” from hitting the 50 percent mark, “and he believes the same trend is ‘not more than three years’ away for most of ‘the rest of Europe.”
Grandinetti also said that markets outside the U.S. will adopt ebooks much the same way they have here: ”I see very little that makes us think these countries are not tracking the same way, relative to their market sizes, as we have seen in the U.S. or the U.K.” Here’s a slide from his presentation:
Otis Chandler, CEO of book-based social network Goodreads (which was acquired by Amazon earlier this year) said at Publishers Launch that 45 percent of the site’s users now come from outside the U.S. A couple of slides on the company’s international growth:
The battle for customers’ attention
“We want [readers] to choose books in the future and not Netflix,” Markus Dohle, CEO of Random House Penguin (now the world’s largest publisher), said in a panel, acknowledging it’s “a big task.”
Amazon’s Grandinetti, too, said that publishers should be asking themselves, “Am I attractive relative to other entertainment choices?” And, Publishers Lunch noted, “he portrayed Amazon’s daily deals initiative as part of this battle: ‘Daily deals are not as much about pricing as people initially suggested. It’s about attention. If we can get a customer to think about us every day, we have an opportunity that’s very difficult to come by online.’”
Charlie Redmayne, the former CEO of J. K. Rowling’s interactive Harry Potter site Pottermore.com and now the CEO of HarperCollins U.K., discussed some of the new places HarperCollins is looking for customers:
“We’re going to be doing things more along the lines of what I did at Pottermore with things like The Book of Spells…where we took a work of fiction created by J. K. Rowling but, as opposed to publishing that as a book or an ebook, we published it as an augmented reality experience on PlayStation 3. Now that can subsequently become a book, or an ebook, or all those different things, but we need to think about how content can be experienced and enjoyed by different audiences on different devices.”
German ebook executive Rita Bollig said at the annual Rights Directors meeting that “you can’t tell the customer what to want.” Bastei Lubbe, the publisher she works for, has experimented with two German ebook subscription services, Skoobe and Onleihne:
“While both services allow partial use of books for a fee significantly lower than full retail price, Bollig cited figures from Onleihne that suggested that readers spent 43% more time reading if they could borrow an ebook, rather than buy it. She emphasized the importance of having lending rights clauses in contracts to take advantage of this emergent market.”
Speaking of ebook subscriptions, a tidbit from Scribd, which just officially launched its own subscription service: In the first six months that the service was up and running, but under the radar, only 2 percent of users read more than 10 books a month.
Pricing, not piracy
“At this year’s fair, piracy has been a noticeably absent topic,” Andrew Albanese wrote for Publishers Weekly, “replaced by a new, more pressing concern for publishers in the digital age: Pricing.” Albanese argues publishers are now more worried about how to correctly price ebooks — both in the U.S. and for an international market — than they are about those ebooks being pirated.
To that effect, Random House Penguin’s Dohle said, “Kindle has at large prevented us from piracy in the first place because [Amazon] created this wonderful, very convenient Kindle system with a fantastic Wi-Fi device with a huge selection of titles and a fantastic convenience to buy books. And that was sort of a gift for the book world and the value chain of books.”
Pricing is also a key issue for publishers that want to penetrate international markets. “If we employ a ‘one size fits all’ type of policy and keep the same prices in developing countries as for the U.S. or Europe, we will probably only reach the wealthiest 15 percent of the population,” Octavio Kulesz of Buenos Aires’ Alliance-Lab wrote. “Concentrating on this segment may prove lucrative enough for some projects, but if we are interested in reaching the remaining 85 percent, then we will have to revise our business models.”
And Michael Tamblyn, chief content officer at Kobo, told the blog Good E-Reader that publishers should pay attention to “the extent to which self-published works, regardless of where they originate, have made their way into markets [for] which they were never considered or intended…[In developing markets], there isn’t the price point tolerance of more developed markets” so “self-publishing has moved in to fill a niche of a desire for reading.”