E.U. Tries to Tame the ‘eBook Monster’…
In Madrid, European publishers trade digital publishing strategies. Tereixa Constenla from Spanish daily El País reports.
The virtual world is here to stay. But the physical one is not completely gone either. To master juggling both worlds requires imagination and audacity, as well as a good dose of wisdom, trial and error. These days, that is the world in which publishers live, with each one of them exploring different venues.
Different strategies (as well as sensibilities) came to the forefront during The European Publishers Meeting (Encuentro de Editores Europeos) being held these days in the Casa del Lector (House of the Reader) in Madrid. All of them mean to address the changing landscape caused by emergence of digital publishing. These days, publishers are very much aware that we are not about to return to the times of Benjamin Franklin, as related Henryk Wozniakowski, president of ZNAK, Poland’s most prestigious publishing house.
The United Kingdom is the leading market in Europe. Digital sales in the publishing industry reached 12% last year. A far cry from the figures registered in Germany, France, Italy or Spain, which range from 1% to 3%, as reported by the Federation of European Publishers.
Anna Rafferty, Digital Development Director of Penguin UK, started her presentation with an ounce of pride (“At Penguin, we make money with digital formats, which represent 17% global sales”), and ended with a lesson in optimism (“We want to play an active role in this new era. We are still a company that prints first and then does the rest…”).
And what exactly is the rest? Not just books in electronic format, which most every company produces.
Because electronic reading devices represent just a few of out of many possible devices (with limited options), Penguin is developing apps for tablets and mobile phones that enable interactive reading. One of the latest examples is the “Diary of Anne Frank”, which allows the reader to download a virtual plan of the house and the cabin in which Anne Frank was hiding as a child. “It allows for new forms of storytelling. In children’s books, for example, you can use applications with the advantage of being interactive, something that is not possible with e-books”, she said.
In France, the battle has been on other fronts: taxation and legal primarily. France was, along with Luxembourg, the only European Union country that has adopted the same VAT for e-books than for printed books, a big “no-no” for Brussels, which has taken both countries to court claiming “serious distortion of competition” from other community partners, a practice that is forbidden by Article 85(1) of the EEC Treaty.
“We have established a constructive regulatory environment,” said Eric Marbeau, Digital Development Director of Editions Gallimard. In addition to the VAT, which has resulted in lower prices for electronic formats, the Government established by law that the pricing structure is meant for e-book publishers, but we have the flexibility to change it as we see fit. The six major French publishers have also created a distribution platform for electronic commerce, in parallel to the multinational companies (Amazon, Google, Apple …). We don’t support oligopolistic distribution channels,” Mr. Marbeau added.
In Italy, the tablet market is flourishing. The country is expected to grow from 1.5 million devices in circulation in 2011 to an estimated to 11.6 million in 2015. “We have to make an effort to understand this new world. People read paper books because they had less leisure options. But today, we are competing with movies, music, social networking”, said Stefano Mauri, chief of the Italian publishing house Mauri Spagnol. Mr. Mauri is a strong advocate for the role of publishers, stating that “many books would not be on the list of best-sellers without them.”
BOOKS IN EUROPE
– European publishers released 530,000 new titles in 2011. The figure has continued to grow since 2004, according to the Federation of European Publishers.
– Overall employment in the industry has fallen: 10,000 jobs were lost between 2004 and 2011. Today 135,000 people are working in the sector.
– Digital sales are still small but are growing at a rapid pace, although the geographic distribution of those sales is not homogeneous. In 2012, sales reached 12% the UK, while in France, Germany, Italy and Spain sales of digital books vary between 1% and 3% of total revenue.
– In the European Union, taxation (VAT) applied to e-book varies from 5.5% to 23%, due to the fact that France and Luxembourg decided to ignore the position of the European Commission to implement a super-reduced rate across all EU countries.