E-book Explosion Outside US at Least Three Years Away

In Digital, Frankfurt 2011 by Andrew Wilkins

By Andrew Wilkins

With the market penetration of e-books in the US now reaching almost 20%, there’s no longer any question that people are happy to read narrative text on screens, asserted the Idea Logical Company’s Mike Shatkzin. But what were the prospects for e-book proliferation in key non-English markets, such as Spain, Italy and Germany and South America?

Panelists (from left to right): Joe Li (Apabi, Beijing) Kris Kliemann (Wiley); Riccardo Cavallero (Mondadori); Sergio Machado (Record Group, Brazil); Michael Justus (S. Fischer Verlag); Giovanni Bonfanti (A.T. Kearney)

During Monday’s Publishers Launch conference, there was a consensus across a panel of executives dealing in these markets that e-books were still three years away from reaching even 10% market penetration. A “hockey stick” sales curve was even further away.

As Sergio Machado of Brazil’s Record Publishing Group suggested, the “e-book game” starts only when there is a combination of available digital content, affordable reading devices and a user-friendly buying mechanism—three factors still largely missing in his home market.

Michael Justus, Managing Director and CFO of Germany’s S. Fischer Verlag, suggested the relatively high price of e-books in Germany (currently 10–15% cheaper than print books) might be acting as a brake on the e-book market, while Mondadori’s Riccardo Cavellero wondered if the fear that e-books would cannibalize print books sales might be a factor in Italy. It was a fear he roundly rejected:

“We can’t approach this market worrying about cannibalization. If we do, someone else will come in and satisfy that market instead of us.”
Cavallero also cheekily suggested that the conservatism of literary agents had been an obstacle.

“If you think that traditional publishers are conservative, you haven’t met an agent—publishers are revolutionaries by comparison.”

The panel also discussed the increased sales of English-language e-books in their home markets, a phenomenon seemingly confirmed by Amazon’s Vice President of Global Kindle Content Acquisition David Naggar later in the day. Joe Li of Apabi in Beijing noted English was by far the most popular foreign language for books in China and expected demand for English language books there to continue growing, although market restrictions in China meant foreign e-book proliferation would only happen on China’s terms.

Interestingly, the e-books of Italy’s Mondadori are traveling in the other direction: it is now committed to selling English-language translations of its e-books directly into English-language markets, reserving rights deals for print editions should a title take off. This possibility of more foreign language editions being available in English markets was something that particularly excited Wiley’s Director of Global Rights, Kris Kliemann.

About the Author

Andrew Wilkins

Andrew Wilkins is the director of Wilkins Farago, an independent, Melbourne-based book publisher. Until 2008, he was publisher of Australia's book industry magazine, Bookseller+Publisher. He travels regularly throughout the Asia-Pacific region.