European Booksellers Cheer as Digital Market Talks on Ebooks and Geo-Blocking

In News by Porter Anderson

Booksellers applaud the decision to exclude sales of ebooks and copyrighted material from the EU’s proposed legislation to curb geo-blocking.

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By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Specific Nature of the Sector’
When Publishing Perspectives readers last were updated on the “geo-blocking” controversy for publishers and booksellers in Europe’s Digital Single Market developments and the draft law under discussion, the European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) had raised the alarm.

In our June interview with Dr. Jessica Sänger, legal counsel and director of European and international affairs with the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, Germany’s Publishers and Booksellers Association, she explained why the EIBF opposed the legislation that would end geo-blocking of online sales inside the EU. Sänger said the draft law could force booksellers to sell ebooks to users in all EU countries, and that requirement to serve the EU’s wide range of taxation levels, fixed prices, and other constraints would be too costly for many booksellers to bear.

Jean Luc Treutenaere

EIBF now, however, has issued a statement, headlined “EIBF Rejoices at the Result of the Second Trilogue,” referring to discussions that have now excluded ebook sales—and that of other copyrighted creative content—from the legislation to end geo-blocking.

In its statement to the press, EIBF’s administration says that it “notes with great satisfaction that the negotiations held between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council (trilogue) about the geo-blocking regulation were positive. The proposal agreed yesterday [November 20], and tabled by the Estonian presidency leaves copyright-protected material, including ebooks, out of the scope of the regulation and proposes a review clause of two years”—and in actuality, the organization notes, this will put the review near the end of 2020 or early in 2021.

Fabian Paagman

“The inclusion of copyright-protected content has been one of the most contentious elements of the proposal, and a source of major concern for the book industry. This is a great day for our organization as well as for all the other stakeholders of the cultural and creative sector with whom we have worked in close partnership. This second step in the decisional process rewards months of advocacy and confirms that the European Institutions recognize that the ebook market is a nascent one, at least at the present time.”

Dr. Jessica Sänger

Sänger, speaking from the Börsenverein, is careful to place a note of caution in her response, telling Publishing Perspectives, “It’s very important to us that a proper impact assessment is to be undertaken before traders are potentially compelled to make their Web shops capable of selling ebooks to every member State” in the European Union.

“We trust that the European Commission will take the specific nature of the sector into account.

“Booksellers are eager to sell as many books as possible to readers anywhere. Due to natural linguistic borders, however, cross-border sales volumes are generally quite low, and investments in the necessary capabilities need to be recouped.”

And EIBF’s co presidents, Fabian Paagman and Jean-Luc Treutenaere, are quoted by Brussels in a prepared statement, saying, “Booksellers need time to adapt to the nascent and uncertain ebook market and to see some crucial issues sorted out by the European institutions.

“In a nascent market–the profitability of which still has to be demonstrated–forcing traders to offer ebooks across borders at this point in time would, in the end, be detrimental to European consumers: many SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] could be forced to exit the ebook market, and far from opening up the single market to consumers, this would be highly detrimental to cultural diversity and consumer choice in the EU, and only beneficial to major non-European international platforms.”

It’s expected that the text will be adcopted by the European Parliament for a vote by the council, relatively early in 2018.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.