By Siobhan O’Leary
Apple may have announced that more than 3 million iPads have been sold worldwide since the US launch in April, but just a few weeks after the international launch of the iPad, it appears that many publishers in Europe are still choosing to exercise caution when it comes to the iBookstore.
According to Apple spokesman Adam Howorth, there are now some 15,000 titles in the iBookstore in the UK, France and Germany (a breakdown per country was not provided). But new local content has only been provided by a handful of publishers in each of these territories thus far: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Penguin in the UK; Hachette, Albin Michel, Eyrolles and the aggregator Immateriel in France. And while Random House US has made headlines for its absence in the iPad iBookstore, Verlagsgruppe Random House in Germany has been in the news as one of only two German book publishers -– the other is Bastei-Luebbe — to have signed on to make its titles available on the platform.
“There are more than 2,000 of our frontlist and backlist titles available in the iBookstore and this offer will be continuously expanded,” said Florian Schuhart, a spokesman for Random House Germany.
E-books, like printed books, are subject to the fixed book price law in Germany, meaning they need to be sold for the same price across all sales channels (though e-book prices tend to lie 10-20% below the respective print prices). Publishers are used to setting prices. It’s hard to imagine that the fixed book price law is not a big reason, if not the reason why the German firm has chosen to pave the way to the iBookstore while Random House US remains reluctant to embrace the agency model.
At least that’s why French publisher Albin Michel — which has now made some 300 of its titles available for the iBookstore — favors the model. According to Agnès Fruman, the Secretary General of Albin Michel, French publishers are accustomed to fixed pricing, which has been in place for non-digital books since the signing of the “Lang law.” She adds that the majority of the profession would like this law to extend to digital books, as it does in Germany.
“The agency model is the contract that is most reassuring for us in these times of change and seems the best way to guarantee the rights of our authors, of traditional booksellers and of publishers alike. We wish to avoid e-books being discounted by some retailers, thereby destabilizing what is a relatively healthy but fragile market,” Fruman added.
It must be noted that there are also several European publishers developing apps for the iPad. For example, in Germany, the entire textunes product line is now available for the iPad. And while no one denies that it is a game-changer for e-reading, the question remains how much does the iBookstore matter to European publishers and customers?
Albin Michel sees the iBookstore itself as a way to attract new readers who might not otherwise have bought their books via the traditional channels. The iPad in general, Fruman said, also “offers new perspectives for illustrated books, practical books, children’s books that we are eager to explore.”
Of Random House Germany’s participation, Schuhart added, “We want to offer e-books to our readers on as many devices and platforms as possible and are in discussions with many potential partners, provided that they comply with German law with respect to fixed e-book prices and offer appropriate copyright protection [DRM]”.
What’s more, Europeans are somewhat less prudish than Americans. Apple has made no secret of the fact that there is no place for wardrobe malfunctions on the iPad. The company recently raised concern among German publishers when it removed the weekly magazine Stern’s gallery of nude photos. Such displays of app censorship in a part of the world where crossing against a red light is a bigger offense than walking around in one’s birthday suit could pave the way for other tablets like the WeTab to snatch up more publishing partners.
“Today they censor nipples, tomorrow it’s editorial content,” a spokeswoman at the German newspaper Bild told AOL News.
The WeTab is scheduled to launch in Germany in September and, though publishing partners at this point seem to be limited to the newspaper and magazine world, it will be interesting to see if their still as-yet-to-be seen open platform and attitude can win over German book publishers and customers.
In France, Fruman of Albin Michel embraces the emergence of new tablets as a positive development for French publishers and customers. “We expect there will be many new tablets in the months to come, and this seems like a good thing for the market in general,” she said. Though she underscored the importance of DRM security, she added, “at the same time, if we want satisfied customers, we must work together on interoperating technology.”
DISCUSS: Why haven’t more European publishers signed on with Apple?