French Publishers Association Discovers Enhanced E-books, Confusion Ensues

In Europe by Olivia Snaije

One had the distinct impression that people in the audience were seeing e-books for the first time…

By Olivia Snaije

Albin Michel's Fairy Herbariaum was one of the few highlights of a lackluster day of digital discussion

PARIS: The topic at the annual meeting of French publishing professionals on Tuesday was the enhanced e-book and EPUB3. Hosted by the French Publisher’s Association (SNE), the meeting kicked off to a round table moderated by Alban Cerisier, head of the association’s digital committee. Representatives from e-book conversion companies Nord Compo, Jouve and Isako conversed disjointedly about EPUB3 in front of an audience that was generally uninformed and confused. A small percentage of the professionals, for the most part under 40 years old, joyously and viciously tweeted comments such as:

  • “No wifi. No official tag. Welcome to the meeting on e-books.”
  • “E-book publishing for idiots live from the SNE. Yup, we haven’t gotten beyond…”
  • “French publishers discovered the fixed-layout!”
  • Or simply “ZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

Next, publishers from Hachette Livre, Albin Michel, Gallimard and Fleurus demonstrated their applications or e-books on iPads. Showing some of their e-books on a large screen, one had the distinct impression that people in the audience were seeing and thinking about e-books for the first time.

Albin Michel’s Nicolas de Cointet demonstrated how the book De Gaulle and the Free French had been adapted into an enhanced e-book. The exercise had cost the company around $27,500 and would retail for about $27. “On top of it the [e-book] market is quasi non-existent,” he said, to general laughter.

Three hours into the conference the one highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of the enhanced book L’Herbier des Fées (The Fairy Herbarium) by the children’s division of Albin Michel. Marion Jablonski of Albin Michel Jeunesse described “taking off on this crazy adventure,” working with the young writer Sébastien Perez, painter and illustrator Benjamin Lacombe, and Prima Linea Productions to create a gorgeous and magical tale with 100 interactions.

“This work is proof that we can remain in the domain of the book, even if we are in the digital era,” said Jabolonski. “Even though it’s multimedia, culturally, it remains a book.” Already out in hardback, the e-book, which should be ready this month, will likely retail for $21.

Besides The Fairy Herbarium, which is a book that can make publishers dream, the annual meeting confirmed that French publishers are still in the very early stages of e-book development. Far from being behind in design or technology, as companies like Jouve or the start-up Walrus have shown, the disconnect here seems to be situated with the publishers.

DISCUSS: What’s Holding Up French E-book Adoption?

About the Author

Olivia Snaije

Olivia Snaije is a journalist and editor based in Paris who writes about translation, literature, graphic novels, the Middle East, and multiculturalism. She is the author of three books and has contributed to newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Global Post, and The New York Times.