Weekly Recap: Digitalizing Europe, Chinese Opportunities, Israel On Sale

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

June 2009This week Publishing Perspectives brought you news from an increasingly digitalized Europe, overpublished US, burgeoning China and bargain hunting Israel.

Next week, you can look foward to more fresh and enlightening stories from across the globe, including a the challenges faced by the Cape Town Book Fair as it enters its third year, yet another new E-reader — this time from Germany — and more. Till then, enjoy the week that was:

We started Monday by speaking to Françoise Dubruille, the director of the European and International Bookselling Federations, who conceded that booksellers in Europe are still struggling to find a strategy for how to cope with digitization.

“It’s happening whether they want it or not,” said Dubruille. “If it turns out customers want ebooks, then booksellers are going to have to be able to sell them ebooks and readers.”

She was also candid in addressing Europe’s divided attitude toward fixed book pricing, as well as the impact of the economic crisis on booksellers’ bottom lines.

“I don’t expect 2009 and 2010 to be very good years,” said Dubruille.

On Tuesday, Douglas Rushkoff – author of the new polemic Life Inc. — critiqued Publishing Inc., starting with the suggestion that the industry would be much healthier if “half to two-thirds of it just disappeared.

His argument is simple: The corporations that own publishers are interested in making money faster than publishing can produce it. “What we’re learning is that publishing is an industry that doesn’t scale-up quite as profoundly as our corporate fathers would have us believe,” he said.

Looking to the future, Rushkoff believes publishers would be better off by creating small, elite teams of people focusing on limited, highly specialized lists.

This Wednesday, Harper Collins UK rights director Lucy at Vanderbilt – who was named Rights Professional of the Year at the British Book Industry Awards — told us details about the kinds of opportunities that exist for publishers in China.

“The potential is enormous, just because of the size of the market,” Vanderbilt told Publishing Perspectives. “The Chinese people want brand name fiction, business books, dictionaries, language and learning – and there is a huge interest in children’s books too. Chinese parents are willing to invest, particularly if a title has an award, or is a classic.”

Perhaps the most surprising revelation was that Harper has successfully toured English-speaking authors to China, including Tony Parsons, Simon Winchester and Neil Gaiman.

Finally, Thursday’s story on Israel’s Hebrew Book Week uncovered an intriguing battle for market share between the country’s two biggest bookstore chains, Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim. Their weapon of choice is the discount, and publishers have been bloodied in the crossfire. Avner Fahima, owner of Korim publishing house, told The Jerusalem Post. “As time goes by they announce another sale and another and another. In short, we’re selling at a loss.”

The bargains have boosted overall sales, which were up 7% in 2008 over the previous year. But how much of that is reaching the publishers’ bottom line?

Our Bonus Material this week featured Iggy Pop’s homage to French novelist Michel Houellebecq, the start of our campaign to convince Oprah to Twitter about books, a Palm Pre vs. IPhone shootout, and statistical breakdown of Israeli book publishing.

READ: This week’s stories.

TELL US: What’s new in publishing in your part of the world.

ENJOY: Our bonus material.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.