Being Dutch—and Digital—Offers Unique Publishing Opportunities

In Europe by Daniel Kalder

“I would have thought that the book would have been re-invented by now. And that’s still not the case.”

By Daniel Kalder

Timo Boezeman, Digital Publishers of De Arbeiderspers|A.W Bruna

AMSTERDAM: Being a full-time Digital Publisher, says Timo Boezeman, of the Dutch house De Arbeiderspers | A.W Bruna means “I’m working all day on everything that exceeds standard e-books. E-books are just as normal as print books for us, so that only needs special marketing and sales. But we believe in more than that. And it is my job to explore that world and to experiment in (money making) new product forms. And that’s no playground.”

Although the digital market is currently small (3.1% of book sales), Boezeman points out that since 2010 (when it was 0.5%), it has almost doubled every year. “If you take a closer look at this percentage, you will notice that The Netherlands follows the exact same trend as the US did, but with a delay of three years. That was the case in 2010, and that still the same today. So if you draw that line further, we foresee that in two or three years’ time, we’ll reach the same numbers as the US has at this moment- between 20% and 30%.”

But the comparison between the two markets is not direct, says Boezeman. With Amazon poised to enter the Dutch market, e-book sales are currently dominated by local player, and even then the digital book world is much more “fragmented” than in the US or UK. Boezeman also argues that A.W. Bruna is showing more initiative than many of the big international players when it comes to realizing the potential of digital:

The Argument for Apps

“Are we following the rest of the world? In short: no. The trend in making book apps for instance, is that a lot of international publishers have come to the conclusion that they are expensive, don’t work and don’t earn themselves back. How we see it, is that it indeed costs a lot of money, but that you have to do two things: first, it’s a whole new game you have to learn so you need dedicated and trained people for creating them and selling them and, second, you need to be smart in your investments and development.”

“Smartness” according to Boezeman means that “You build incrementally, re-use previously build blocks, create formats that can be re-used for other titles and authors and create smart partnerships with developers and other publishers that are part of the same publishing group as you are.”

“Two years ago,” he adds, “I would have thought that the book would have been re-invented by now. And that’s still not the case. E-books now are just the print book, but then digitized. It still uses conventions and limitations we had from print books. Some of them might be real handy in digital as well, but others are clearly not. We do see some interesting developments in apps such as Readmill and what Kobo does with social in their e-readers. But it’s not what I think of when we talk about the book of the future.”

The World as a Market

Boezeman suggests that the relatively modest size of the market for Dutch language books drives creative thinking. “That makes it hard for us up front to earn our investment back. But it also means that we are very smart and cost-efficient in the way we develop our projects and that we have to think of other possibilities. And yes, that means the whole world.”

However, stresses Boezeman, merely dropping an app into the US Apple App Store “doesn’t bring you anywhere. Your potential market is the world, but you also need to know how to service that whole world. My dream is to create an international network of people who do the same thing, but in another country, and can help the other in successfully launching their product in another territory. I know who you need to speak [to] (or convince) to get attention in The Netherlands. I would love to get in touch with people who can do that in the US, UK, Germany, and so on.”

Does the national facility for the English language give Dutch publishers a potential advantage when competing internationally? Yes, says Boezeman, though it is not straightforward:

“That also means that a lot of people in The Netherlands already consume English media, which you could see that as a disadvantage for us, and it is in a certain way. But you can also turn that around and look at the positive side: we could easily enter other markets where English is the official language and offer our own (self-translated) products. Again, that would ‘only’ require knowledge of the market. And that is for us, as a small country, far more interesting than the other way around — US publishers translating their work into Dutch and selling it over here by themselves. It’s also in our genes. We have a centuries’ old tradition of trading oversees. And I think this could also happen for digital books as well.”

Timo Boezeman will be speaking on the Frankfurt Tools of Change panel “Pricing Digital Content: Publisher and Consumer Perpsectives” this Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., along with Ann Betts of Nielsen and Ashleigh Gardner of Kobo. The panel is moderated by Ed Nawotka of Publishing Perspectives.

DISCUSS: Publishing Perspectives’ Events at the Frankfurt Book Fair

About the Author

Daniel Kalder

Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, currently based in Texas after a ten year stint spent living in the former USSR where he (more or less) picked up Russian. He has written two books about Russian life and culture and contributes features, reviews and travel pieces to publications around the world.