The Global eBook report 2016, the reference and resource on the development of key book publishing markets and drivers for the current transformation is now available at www.global-ebook.com for an introductory price of € 15 (instead of € 20).

Banner_petrol_schmal

 

Highlights include

  • Freshly updated market close ups for US, UK, continental Europe (Western as well as Central and Southeastern), and emerging markets (Brazil, China, India, Russia);
  • Book publishing versus other content media (including mobile),
  • Comparisons of key drivers for biggest publishing corporations worldwide, and US, UK and EU markets;
  • Exclusive sales analysis by genre, price points and user habits (as seen through piracy usage) for selected European markets;
  • Summaries of international key debates (global actors, pricing, piracy, DRM, industry consolidation, et al.)

Find the executive summary, and direct options to purchase the report at

www.global-ebook.com

 

 

Leave a comment

All that Publishing!
Check out our agenda for Publishers’ Forum on 28 & 29 April 2016 in Berlin

At the moment, the book business is plagued by uncertainties. Informed orientation and solid fundamental information are the key to successfully managing the transformation of the publishing industry.

Berlin_Panorama

Strategic correlations and their condensation into everyday publishing practice will be broached at the Publishers’ Forum 2016.

  • Speakers include Anki Ahrnell (Bonnier), Annette Beetz (Random House), Andrew Franklin (ProfileBooks), Florian Geuppert (Holtzbrinck), Michael E. Hansen (Cengage), Birgit Hagmann (Tolino), Klaus Kluge (Luebbe), Carmen Ospina (Penguin Random House, Douglas McCabe (Enders Analysis), Karla Paul (Edel), Kate Worlock (Outsell) et al.
  • Special focus on digital education and learning: International debates and German initiatives;
  • …and a call for innovative concepts in publishing!

Join us in Berlin!
Register here.

 

Leave a comment

RĂŒdiger Wischenbart

Freedom of Expression, in practical terms.
A review of debates in 2015. In memoriam of Charlie and all others persecuted for their speech and attitude.

1.

Throughout 2015, debates on the freedom of speech, and attitude, have shaped, as a polarizing force, like some restlessly flickering, and menacing neon sign projected onto the screens of media and public debate all over the world.

What converges in German in one single word, “Meinungsfreiheit” (or, in English, in the short phrase of “freedom of expression”), is formally well-founded in a complex hierarchy of legal standards at all levels, from a UN Charter, to the individual level, as a moral premises for one’s personal life. And yet, a choir of multiple dissonant voices gained ground last year, some urging to maintain the universality of the claim, while others either called for limiting its grounds, in order to juxtaposing the universal freedom to other practices, be they religious, or simply customary, or at least by emphasizing that the universal freedom of the word was simply impractical in today’s complicated world.

All these intricate movements run like under a magnifying glass together in a statement by Salman Rushdie, the writer who, by his pertinent experience, speaks from a fairly unique background of authority in that matter. He did, said Rushdie, not think that a book like his novel “The Satanic Verses” might get similar backing now, as was the case when it was originally published in 1988: “We’re in a difficult place [today], because there’s a lot of fear and nervousness around.” Interestingly, Rushdie made this statement not in 2015, but already three years earlier, in an interview with the BBC, in 2012.

The questioning of the freedom of speech, and of the attitudes of 2015, had a lead. However, for this essay, I am fairly disinterested in that history, and instead want to focus on the current practicalities of a controversy which, I presume, will keep haunting us in the months, and probably in the years, ahead.

For Rushdie, the argument condensed in a simple fact: Can a book appear? And, is there an immediate threat to its author, or its supporters (like publishers, critics, or translators), or not?

For all bystanders, the respective question reads: How do I stand by it?

In other words, I firmly believe that the challenges with regard to freedom of expression in 2015 are not so much philosophical, or religious, but very practical in nature.

The Saudi poet Ashraf Fayadh, a writer and also, for many years, an experienced mediator between the cultural worlds of his native Arab lands, and the West, had been convicted in 2008 for a volume of poems, “Instruction Within”, to four years in prison and 800 lashes with a whip, whose execution a person normally cannot survive, and that judgment has recently been exacerbated: Ashraf Fayadh has been sentenced by a Saudi Arabian court to death by decapitation. The 47 executions all across Saudi Arabia on January 1st, 2016, have given additional credibility to this threat.

Worldwide protests across Western countries were the result, often with photos portraying Ashraf Fayadh together with representatives of the most recognized European art institutions, with whom he has worked for many years together, as in the Biennale in Venice or at the Tate Modern in London. Very similarly, earlier last year, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi had been convicted to 1000 lashes, and 10 years in prison. Badawi, from what we know, is currently on a hunger strike.

Saudi Arabia is such a comprehensive and exemplary case, more so, in my view, than for instance China, which, to a degree, and despite all objections to “the West”, aims at occupying a role with some consensual legitimacy in the global context of nations; though I admit that this is debatable. This contrasts to the Saudi government which has always understood, as a core to its international policy, to project the difference to a higher – namely: religious – ground of legitimacy when it decided to neither sign the UN Convention on Human Rights, nor join nor any other comparable agreement.

Nevertheless, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2015, the International Publishers Association (IPA ) has voted to welcome the publishers’ associations of Saudi Arabia, and of China, as new members. By that move, IPA’s prestigious “Freedom to Publish Award” will accordingly be co-sponsored from now on, in addition to all the other members, by the publishers associations of those two countries.

The Saudi publishers’ association sent word that it was independent of its government’s decisions. The organization, however, refrained from announcing the newly won international membership on their Arabic website – that is to say, at least as long as the site was online, until early November 2015.

The IPA argues: “Commitment gives us a chance to support our colleagues whereas non-engagement brings nothing“.

Admittedly, it is an ambivalent case. I learn that the IPA is in fact actively lobbying with Saudi authorities in support of both Raif Badawi and Ashraf Fayad, which must not be underestimated, given the very few such channels of interaction that are still open. And IPA’s president, Richard Charkin, of UK Bloomesbury publishers, has recently protested loudly against the disappearance of Hong Kong based disappeared publishing professionals, as Chinese authorities are suspected of being involved.

Once again, the weird oddities could not be illustrated more lively than by the far echoes on the controversy around Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” in recent months. In early fall 2015, it was Saudi Arabia who had its ambassador to the Czech Republic issue a formal protest to the Czech government against a new Czech translation of the book – which was turned down by the government, and also ignored by the Czech publisher.

The invitation of Salman Rushdie, as a speaker, to the opening press conference of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2015 however resulted in Iran’s cancellation of its official participation at the exhibition. The gesture though did not meet any protest from the Saudis, who for some time incidentally lobby all major book fairs for some time now to be invited as a country of honor, and who before Frankfurt, already hoped for being embraced by the IPA.

So, most weirdly, the arch enemy governments of Shiite Iran, and Sunni-Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, who are ferociously engaged in their proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, and in Yemen, find themselves united in that one and same camp of opposing a novel written by Salman Rushdie, and published, and read, time and again, by readers from around the world.

3.

There are many good reasons why governments and international organizations should maintain the conversation between each other, in cases of conflict, or even warfare.

In return, there are also sound arguments, too, emphasizing why, and how, non-governmental organizations should be more selective in their attitude. And thirdly, there is always good ground for scrutiny in the case that governments intervene directly, as self-appointed judges, in cultural, or artistic, creation and expression.

Freedom of expression is not a liberal fancy at all. For those who get challenged in the event, the liberty of doing, and saying, what they choose is equal to the right guaranteeing their physical integrity. Either one cannot be relativized without the clear risk of a total loss. This is not an abstraction, but a very practical assessment.

In May 2015, just four months after the murders at Charlie Hebdo and at a Jewish grocery shop in Paris, the International PEN, the most important organization in defense of persecuted writers, had decided to award the editors of Charlie a “Freedom of Speech” price. Incidentally, six prominent writers and members of the PEN protested in advance against the decision, and announced to stay away from the ceremony, because Charlie Hebdo represented, in their view, a case of “cultural intolerance“.

Wolinski in Charlie Hebdo, no580, 23 Dec 1981

Wolinski in Charlie Hebdo, no580, 23 Dec 1981

From Salman Rushdie’s perspective, which I share, the direct consequence of such an assessment is equivalent to “The Satanic Verses” not having hardly a chance to be published today.

The PEN has fortunately not backed down, but awarded Charlie the price, similar to the Czech publisher who, unimpressed, released the new translation of Rushdie’s book.

The International Publishers Association, IPA, thus far, has no written guidelines in its statutes, defining who can be a member, and thereby acting as a co-sponsor to their prestigious “Freedom to Publish” award. The controversy surrounding the decision on accepting both Saudi Arabia and China as new members in 2015 has very much highlighted the importance of having such a statute.

4.

Fortunately, decisions on those matters are not necessarily about life or death.

In German – and more broadly in European – newspapers, magazines and online forums, over the past year, the expected philosophical arguments have flourished, debating which fundamental concepts, principles, or morals must reign for European ‘values’ (this was the most common term for defining the battle ground) to prevail.

Frankly, I got deeply frustrated with the debate, and so for two reasons. First, and foremost, most of these discussions got quickly caught up in battles along pretty much sectarian, and abstract, ideological fault lines, so that by default, ‘values’ were taken as hostages to defend relative causes. For example, the murder of the Charlie editors (or the threat against Danish Mohamed caricaturists earlier on, or before that, Salman Rushdie, etc.), were reverse engineered, with the victims, and not the aggressors, being challenged to defend themselves why he or she had been aggressed in the first place. I clearly doubt it that this is a reasonable approach to organize the world of 8 billion humans on the planet.

The other, admittedly less pressing, concern was the attitude of the debaters who would brush off anyone not settling on either camp in their ideological turf wars. In my case, it did not do great harm, but simply resulted in my essay being refused, cannily, with the argument that everything had been said about the matter anyway already. Granted.

I want to return to my point: Freedom of expression is practical, and it is important as such. It is very much about stating: How do I stand by it?

In Poland – and that is, purposefully, a long shot from Saudi Arabia, or China – a new government has recently chosen a theater performance as a battle ground over values, the State, and Freedom of Expression, just a month after gaining power.

The theater of Wroclaw was rehearsing the play “The Death and the Maiden” by Nobel Laureate author Elfriede Jelinek, when the new Minister of Culture, and the Deputy Prime Minister intervened, days before the opening, calling for the suspension of the production, because of suspected “porn”, and “porn actors”, being involved in a stage show that had received public subsidies. For clarity, it must be said that hardly any municipal, provincial or state theaters in continental Europe, featuring a broad and diverse selection of plays and genres, can do their job without such public money.

The crucial point in our context, though, is not the critical intervention by the politicians per se, but their main argument. In a letter, explaining the cause, Adam A. Kwiatkowski, Director at the Financial Department Ministry of Culture, expressly stated that the call for an interdiction was not based on any breach of a Polish law, but for “breaking commonly accepted rules of social coexistence”. (“
Ƃamiącej powszechnie przyjęte zasady wspĂłĆ‚ĆŒycia spoƂecznego.“, quoted in wPolityce )

This is the point: When any informal “commonly accepted rules” are gaining the upper hand over law and independent justice, we have lost the rule of the constitutional state.

The often vague, and opaque, debates of 2015 about Freedom of Expression, and whatever fluid and relative alternative norms, directly undermine the rule of law, and do so with a purpose. The legal norms that come here under attack have not been imposed, once and for all, by some outer worldly instance, but have evolved, over time, materializing in a broad consensus among the people concerned. Replacing that process by referring to some diffuse “commonly accepted rules of social coexistence”, is certainly no fit formula for the many diverse citizens to co-exist in today’s complex societies.

© by ruediger  (at) wischenbart.com 2016

Leave a comment

Instead of making predictions about publishing in 2016, Joe Wikert, the wise man, opts for formulating what he wishes to happen. And so in a very hands on way. I (almost) fully share his hopes!

Aside from the obvious (“less DRM“), the well intended (making it easier for publishers to directly interact with their readers, and consumers (which gets so much easier, once DRM is skipped), and the fancy (“new sustainable unlimited ebook subscriptions” – here I am more doubtful, yet acknowledge Joe’s background with O’Reilly’s pioneering “Safari” service), I am all enthusiastic for his last wish: “Better notes and annotations, outside the book“.

If you read for work, for education or simply for fun, chances are high that you have our little scheme of annotating (and sharing) what you read. Some use those bright marker pens, which others despise, and instead use a tiny pencil to underline, or comment. Personally, I discreetly underline, with a pencil, then annotate, or simply make a reference at the blank pages that can be found at the end of almost any book. So even many years later, I can find what had preoccupied my mind when reading a work.

Not so with ebooks. With digital reading being still in its very early days (yes!), chances are high that, since my initial reading of a book, I have moved on to a new reading gadget and software – so that my notes are all gone.

Is anyone surprised why college or university students rather opt for paper? Disregarding that they consume any other content digitally, and in usages that are integrated with their social networks and friends?

Given that oddity, is anyone still wondering why ebooks currently have  such a hard time to reach audiences beyond those early adopters, and the strongest readers of (fast) fiction?

How many of us have, in the meantime, opted for, and integrated into their information and exchange routines something like Evernote (or any other platform to organize thoughts, todo lists, shopping lists, references to music and movies one would want to consume. Yet this is not available for digital books.

Saving and sharing has become so seamless for almost anything – including reading, done on the web (with Instapaper, or GetPocket). Though not for reading a book.

Hence my simple question, together with Joe Wikert: Why must ebooks be so complicated? I just don’t know.

Leave a comment

Sonia Draga is not simply an independent publisher in Poland. She stands out in today s business of books as someone who gave an old industry an exemplary fresh look. Starting with just one book (a cook book), typesetting it herself, 15 years ago, and broadening the venture into one of Polands leading houses for international fiction since then.

An yet, she is not the only one of her kind. A good week ago, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, we welcomed in the Frankfurt CEO Talks two of her peers, Marcos Pereira of Editorial Sextante in Brazil, and Andrew Wilkins of Profile Books in the UK (more on that soon in this blog – and by the way, these glorious indie publishers even do not know each other in person, so far).

All three share an appetite for good international reading, aka great authors, and the boldness to say: There is plenty of room for new publishers in this industry. Which is an attitude that, frankly, I admire a lot.

In Krakow, I just had spent a full day of multiple conversations, because Poland will be the honorary guest country at the BookExpo America Global Market Forum 2016. BEA, as we call it, will be in Chicago next year which, co-incidentally, is the second largest Polish city, right after Warsaw – and by head count of Polish immigrants from a century and a half, topping Krakow!

(Sidestep: Europeans, watch out for such developments, which provide a strong argument to emphasize the long term perspective when it comes to migration! For Austrians, for instance, Chicagoe is arguably the biggest city of Burgenland, our country s most Eastern province).

20151023_223157

And Jonathan Franzen in all this? He is published in Poland by Sonia, of course, and he was most upbeat, as we shook hands at Sonias party, about BEA this year, where he had held the big opening address.

International book publishing is certainly big in its good spirits, but also a small world.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

In emerging economies, and despite manyfold challenges, many 100 millions of people have become ‘middle class’ in the past one or two decades, looking for both entertainement (including reading!) and education (for themselves and their children).

In the international publishing business, huge international publishing corporations have emerged in that same time span. Think Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins. And yet, they could only marginally reach out to those new possible audiences.

Much bigger competitors – from Amazon to Facebook, from Apple to Asian groups like Rakuten or Tencent – are in a so much stronger position to take over those opportunities.

And what are the chances for local players, even big ones, in countries like Brazil or Russia, the Arab World, or Indonesia?

I wrote an essay on those questions, timed for today’s opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair, published (in german) in Die Welt.

To learn more about those international dimensions of the book business, join us at the Frankfur Book Fair for the CEO Talks tomorrow, Wednesday 14, 14.00 to 15.00 with Arnaud Nourry, Chairman and VCEO of Hachette, and with two leading independent publishers, Andrew Franklin of Profile Books (UK) and Marcos Pereira of Editora Sextante (Brazoil), Thursday, Oct 15, same time, in hall 4.2

Leave a comment

To get the best out of your conversations at the book fair, check out the latest industry statistics and analysis from our research.

 

Ebook-looking_web

Find our 2 free Frankfurt white papers, on international market developments, and how multiple content media impact publishing:

  • The Business of Books 2015:
    Key data on markets and developments in Europe, UK and US, Brazil, China, Russia, Indonesia, and what this teaches us on the new complexities in publishing. Frankfurt white paper 01, free download here.
  • Beyond Books:
    Mobile, smartphones, competition from other content media, collaborative creation, and what you must know about these trends for your business. Frankfurt white paper 02, free download here.
  • Why most ebook predictions got it so wrong:
    A podcast with the Copyright Clearance Center here.
  • The big picture:
    The Global eBook report 2015 (in case you haven’t your copy already).

See you in Frankfurt!

Leave a comment

A debate on strategic developments in publishing – including notably consolidation, digital integration, and globalization as well as the specific challenges and opportunities for independent publishing houses in that challenging context -, will be presented by Livres Hebdo (France), with Bookdao (China), The Bookseller (United Kingdom), buchreport (Germany), PublishNews Brazil (Brazil), Publishers Weekly (USA), and the Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club, featuring the Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry 2015. The talk will be moderated by RĂŒdiger Wischenbart.

Thursday October 15, 2015, from 14:00 to 15:00

Frankfurt Book Fair, Hall 4.2, Room Dimension, Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club.

Register here.

While the largest international media and publishing giants often grab the industry’s headlines, many of the successful new voices are discovered and brought to readers by independents. Across all the diversity of markets and cultures, independent publishers have shown a knack for identifying new talent, developing rich and unique catalogues, and enriching the book industry by their original endeavors.

At the Thursday Frankfurt CEO Talks 2015, two outstanding independent publishers from two hugely different markets and backgrounds – Andrew Franklin, founder and Managing Director of Profile Books (UK), and Marcos Pereira, founder and CEO of Editora Sextante (Brazil) – will discuss their experiences.

Andrew Franklin launched Profile Books “on April Fool’s Day in 1996” to “publish stimulating non-fiction in a wide range of fields, including history, business and economics, science and biography, with a sprinkling of humour.” The house’s long list of bestsellers includes Alan Bennett, Simon Garfield’s Just My Type and, of course, Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves. In 2015, a Tuskar Rock book, Seiobo There Below by LĂĄszlĂł Krasznahorkai, won the Man Booker International Prize. Profile Books is based in London, and publishes around 120 books a year, and has 40 employees. (More at https://profilebooks.com/about-profile-books)

Marcos Pereira is the founder and CEO of Editora Sextante, a Rio de Janeiro-based publishing house, situated at one of Brazil’s most sought-after addresses. The company initially specialized in self-help, and more commercial titles at low prices, while always keeping the production standards at a high level. But with the Brazilian translation of The Da Vinci Code, Sextante moved into fiction. Sextante also holds a 50% stake in Editora Intrínseca, a notorious publisher for global as well as domestic bestsellers. Pereira’s personal credo is to operate a publishing house “that believes in the access to reading.”

Leave a comment

Join us for a debate on global publishing trends with the CEO of Hachette, Arnaud Nourry.

Get your copy of the full Global Ranking 2015 now.

Since 2007, the Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry is the standard reference for the international development of the book business. Find the full report, with key data, analysis and detailed company profiles of all 56 listed publishing groups here.
On the backdrop of the Ranking’s findings, the CEO Talks at the Frankfurt Book Fair provide first hands insights from major industry leaders.

Wednesday, 14 Oct 2015, 2.00 to 3.00 pm, Hall 4.2 Room Dimension. Register here.
An initiative by Livres Hebdo (France), co-published by BookDao (China), buchreport (Germany), The Bookseller (UK), Publishers’ Weekly (US) and PublishNews (Brazil), in partnership with the Frankfurt Book Fair, researched and presented by Ruediger Wischenbart Content and Consulting.

Leave a comment

Let’s face the simple truth: Not one prediction about ebooks (as far as I know) has been correct so far:

No, ebooks will NOT go away any time soon. But no, again, they will not replace printed books, not even mass paperbacks, within a decade or so.

Thus far, ebooks have strongly impacted only on some markets: English language (US, UK), and genre fiction (big fiction bestsellers, fantasy, romance, young adult) – and ebooks helped propel self-publishing.

Interestingly, in the various – and very diverse – Non-English markets of Europe, ebooks have stalled early on, in a very different pattern from US or UK. But strangely, they behaved remarkably similar for those niches of genre fiction and blockbuster novels (and found plenty of people downloading those in English, and not, say, in Slovenian or Dutch translations).

Publishers, particularly in Europe, have had their hand in all this, by keeping prices high, and by believing in the gospel of iron cast copyright protection technology (DRM).

Now several of the big companies start learning lesson 01: They abandon hard DRM, and replace it by water marking – to get “rid of a road block” (phrases buchreport, reporting on Holtzbrinck giving up hard DRM for Germany, following suit after Bonnier had decided likewise in June, and a growing number of others before that). In Italy or Scandinavia, hard DRM has had no strong showing from the beginning almost.

My personal list of ebook headaches

Every time I purchase a (non Kindle/Amazon) ebook (because I dislike those walled gardens), I firmly struggle, and hate, the lack of usability on ANY of the major ebook platforms I tend to use. Here are some real life examples:

  • Kobo has (for me) a terrible search engine, as it makes some kind of a difference for me with an Austrian account (as opposed, it seems, to what they have for a German user – argh!!!). Behind that riddle seems to sit a mix of territorial rights and bad meta data - which doesn’t help me a lot, I must say;
  • Ebook.de has a search engine and shop environment which together seem to visualize every step of development and changing partnerships that the platform has had to serve in the past several years – and even getting a title into a bookmark list, instead of the buy basket takes a little adventure in figuring out how, and why, a function changes names along the process;
  • Direct purchases at notably British publishers’ websites often confront the mysterious red lines of territorial rights;
  • Buying a French book teaches you a thorough lesson about how France wants to be different – it works in the end, but you better bring some time, and all your wits and persistence.

I assume you do NOT want me to go on and on and on.

Perhaps I am not the only one who got frustrated. Many a reader may have had enough – and a number has moved over to more easy-to-use piracy offerings. Not necessarily because they want “to steal the book“. But because … well, I do not want to entering guessing either.

Here is my main concern: We simply do not know.

We learn about a drop in ebook sales of 2.5% in the US (AAP StatShot, quoted in Publishers Weekly). But what does this mean? Again a few exemplary thoughts:

We know how unevenly ebook sales are across genres, but also publishers. From Europe, I know that ebooks seem to privilege massively the biggest houses, plus a few more publishers who really drive digital.

In Germany, a few independent houses (Luebbe, Aufbau) report that their ebook revenue share is over 15%. Even in ebook agnostic France, a few romance and erotica specialists claim strong digital sales, and we know that a few blockbuster memoirs found their way well onto readers’ screens, albeit through illegal downloads.

For Germany, or France, we still do not have any meaningful break out numbers, by genre, or monthly developments, but only broad overall figures for, supposedly, all of “trade” or consumer publishing, which are basically meaningless. We do not even know, for the industry, the part that year end holiday sales play, for digital sales. And the same applies to any other EU market aside from the UK.

Which also means that we have no idea whatsoever of the real impact of piracy on (p&e) book sales. We simply don’t know. (Just as a thought experiment: Are illegal sales curbing down mostly niche titles, available on highly proficient illegal platforms, and are particularly harmful to diversity of titles published by those specialist copyright holders? Or  are the mostly a nuisance to blockbuster fiction and their ‘Big Houses‘ publishers? Or is the leakage paramount? We don’t know.)

What I could see in fact, through our research, is a pretty staggering increase in page visits at major piracy sites across European markets, and both their usability as well as the mounting emphasis from these sites (they pretend, seriously, to foster ‘reading culture’) which are obviously well echoed by readers. Not by nerds or hackers, but by the most serious, ambitious page devouring folks!)

We have documented some of this in the Global eBook report 2015, and plan for some updates, notably on pricing and on piracy, for autumn 2015.

But here are already a few anticipating thoughts:

Ebooks are NOT a marginal bug in the book publishing system, as a market share (in Europe) of overall 2, 3 or 4% of all consumer sales might indicate. Ebooks interfere with the entire system, as they impact on a number of very sensitive points, by exercising significant leverage.

Most prominently, they work most directly with all kinds of particularly dedicated consumers who specialize heavily on one niche, who read much more than average, etc.

Second, ebooks set a precedent for many more readers, by bringing the ‘book‘ (that previously ‘special‘ thing) on par with all other media content, which literally trains readers at comparing their pricing as well as the convenience of access, and – very important for the cultural classes – their ‘symbolic status‘, with other formats, other content and media, on which they spend time and money.

Third, when the new ‘user experience‘ with books compares poorly with other stuff, the next exit might be a piracy site.

I made an effort of not mentioning the Amazon factor so far in that lengthy story. But here it enters the stage, unavoidably. The ‘A-impact‘ is perhaps not primarily what Amazon is blamed for, its tax-optimizing habits, or its tough negotiations with publishers over margins. Amazon’s main threat comes probably from their offer of being “the other – who claims to re-invent the future of books and reading, and of all other digital media content anyway. Which is also arguably Amazon’s softest spot: Imagine from how many sides and angles new challengers can – and will! – come in. Amazon’s future is all but secured.

For the old world publishers, who today struggle with the first wave of change, this comes with little relief. But it sure carries a simple lesson:

Ebooks are complicated. They look small, even marginal in many places. But we see how a huge, old dyke at once gets many little leaks, and readers’ attention held back for long by that dyke, is curiously exploring all the other leads around.

Publishers, if they want to survive, and fix their dyke, will better learn the tricks of ebooks quickly. Not for today’s minimal revenue share, or flattening growth curve. But to remain their readers’ best choice tomorrow, again.

Leave a comment