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Summary:

Book publishers worldwide are grappling with the digital transition, figuring out ebook pricing and competing against a massive number of other forms of entertainment. Here’s how these themes played out at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week.

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:

grandinetti kindle speed of growth

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:

goodreads top european markets

goodreads top english-speaking markets

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.'”

grandinetti kindle daily deal

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.”

  1. Piotr Kowalczyk Saturday, October 12, 2013

    “Grandinetti also said that markets outside the U.S. will adopt ebooks much the same way they have here”.

    I assume Mr Grandinetti is thinking about the countries where Amazon plans to launch Kindle Store the same way as in Germany or UK.

    When it comes to the rest of countries, those countries where Kindle ships since October 2009, this is a totally different story, I have to say.

    First of all, ebooks are adopted around the world already, and this is happening without the control of the publishers and content distributors. One main reason for this is the availability of the Kindle – and the lack of mother tongue books for this device.

    “English books sell globally” sounds like the topic is closed because everyone is happy to have a Kindle and buy English books. It’s a wrong assumption. Users in Poland (and there could be 200,000 of them) first of all are looking for Polish language books. There are no such books in the Kindle Store, so Amazon’s does not become the default place to get content for Kindle.

    Bringing a perspective of selling a lot of English-language books to users around the world is short-sighted. Once local markets will develop and the number of mother-tongue books will increase, the demand for English books will weaken. For now English-language books are selling well, because in countries like Poland or Sweden there is nothing else to buy.

    The major challenge is to expand the number of foreign language books. If global ebook distributors won’t do it, local vendors will fill the gap. Well, this is what’s happening since October 2009.

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  2. Louise Cosgrave Monday, October 14, 2013

    Thank you for the article. Pricing is indeed an issue and you mention making books cheaper in developing countries in order to reach a wider audience. However, in South Africa, Amazon adds $2 to the price of an ebook – this is above the list price. Making it very hard to reach local audiences. For more info please see this blogpost: http://wordsmacked.blogspot.com/2013/10/amazon-and-pricing-of-ebooks.html

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  3. Quote: 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.”

    In other words, Amazon’s Kindle did for ebooks what Apple’s iDevices did for music and later videos.

    As Steve Jobs pointed out when he introduced the iPod, piracy is a hassle. It takes time to locate a pirated copy and what you get may be low quality. The way to beat that, he stressed, was to make legitimate copies convenient and inexpensive. Like the record houses, the major publishers seem to be discovering that.

    There is a difference though. Apple did not go into the music business. It knew competing with some of your major clients was A Very Bad Idea. Unfortunately, Amazon is getting into publishing in a big way and leveraging its market power to favor itself. In the long run, that’s A Bad Move for everyone, including Amazon.

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  4. As an 18 year old Erotica Author, I decided to let a nearly 20 year old pioneer of eBooks publish my Teen Erotica stories. They haven’t done print publishing in almost 20 years and now have many authors in many genres and lots of titles, so their system to launch new authors is pretty established.

    The age of 90% eBooks is near, almost none of my friends now read print books, it’s all kindle and nook. With most of my circle using Kindle exclusively.

    I have younger siblings and now eReaders are pretty much the norm in school as well.

    We live in a digital age and printed books are obsolete.

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