by Edward Nawotka
BRUSSELS: “The problem in Europe is that booksellers don’t know what strategies to use when coping with digitization,” says Françoise Dubruille, director of the European Booksellers Federation and the International Booksellers Federation, “There are 25 languages for 27 countries, there are 27 national cultures and literatures, and not all have the same challenges.”
She adds, “One thing we do know that it’s more interesting for publishers to access big language markets, like Spain, France, and Germany, first,” she said. “But if you’re looking at a small language market, like Slovenia, Latvia, or Greece, digitization is going to hit these markets much slower.”
Dubruille recently led a group of 33 booksellers to BookExpo America to see first-hand how US booksellers were coping with the changes. She says she was particularly impressed with the tools the American Booksellers Association has provided, from the turnkey ecommerce solutions to the IndieBound iPhone app, which has already been downloaded more than 50,000 times.
“One of our goals as an organization is to make sure that our booksellers continue to be aware of the best practices that will allow them to keep their market share,” she says. “Digitization has become a buzz word, and it’s happening whether they want it or not. If it turns out customers want ebooks, then booksellers are going to have to be able to sell them ebooks and readers.”
As just one person in a two person office, Dubruille says her professional role is often focused on lobbying for book friendly policies, both at the macro European level in Brussels, where the organization is based, and at the micro level in individual countries.
Recently the EBF/IBF has been focused on fighting legislation in Latvia that raised the Value Added Tax on books from 5 to 21% on books. Dubruille has visited Riga twice since November. “It’s very bad news for the book industry there and sales are down 30% each month – with some stores losing 60-70& of sales. There have been job losses and publishers are being forced to review their plans for the future.”
An equally tense situation is developing in its neighbor Lithuania, where VAT on books rose from 5% to 9% in January, and there are plans afoot to hike it to 19% in July. The IBF/EBF is fighting this as well.
On other contentious issues, such as selling books at government mandated fixed prices, Dubruille remains neutral. “Some are very much behind the idea of fixed prices – the Germans, Spaniards, Portuguese, French, Greeks, and Swiss, but our position is that we cannot say fixed prices are good or bad for you, we can only support you in your search for what is best in your own market.”
As far as the future for bookselling, Dubruille says that “POD is something we are following very closely” and it’s not out of the question to envision a day when “every bookstore will have an Espresso Book Machine in their stores, making them both booksellers and printers.”
Regarding the fallout from the current economic downturn, Dubruille says that the hardest hit countries in her constituency are Ireland, the UK, and France. “We are still waiting for it to hit all of continental Europe,” she says, “Europe in general is six months behind the US, so it should affect us soon.” And, she’s not altogether sanguine about the immediate future: “I do not think Europeans will be quite as hard hit as the Americans,” says Dubruille, “but I don’t expect 2009 and 2010 to be very good years.”