Best of BTB: Europe’s E-books Challenge

Rüdiger WischenbartLet’s face it, says Rüdiger Wischenbart, not one prediction about the future direction of eBooks has been proven right, no matter where you look around the world. According to the Vienna-based publishing consultant and author of the annual Global eBook Report, the frustration over eBooks is felt not only in editorial meetings, but also by readers.

In Europe, Wischenbart sees the national laws that fix pricing for books, whether digital or print, as a strong brake on eBook growth. Fears over piracy may also have played a part in restricting eBook availability in legitimate forms. What readers confront, as a result, are challenges across the marketplace.

“I tried to do some shopping for my summer reading, and I wanted to read a few books in English, in German, in French, and so I had to shop in three different language markets at three different sites. I wanted to have those books as EPUB editions and not as Kindle, because I for some reason prefer to read on my Android device rather than any Kindle,” Wischenbart recalls.

“Suddenly, as for any normal consumer, I was hitting the wall time and again by having to confront digital rights management, different markets’ territorial rights, and very strange and contradictory pricing policies for each of those items. So I thought to myself, that is all certainly why the growth of eBook market share outside the English language markets has stalled in the recent 12-15 months at a very, very low level.”

Notably, Wischenbart says that when publishers hold back on digital releases, this may have the effect of driving readers to piracy sites where usability levels have risen dramatically.

“It was one of the key discoveries for me, in the year so far, to see the real change in convenience – and I would use that term specifically – and in the quality of curation of book content in many of the European top piracy sites,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “I’m not promoting these sites. Don’t misunderstand me. But it was fascinating to see that there is a totally new generation of piracy sites now that are not rough and dirty, but that go after exactly the middle class, the strong readers that are at the core of the traditional reading audience that publishers are working with. That, in my understanding, presents strong, mainstream-level competition to the legal offering from the publishers, and we should really pay more attention to what’s going on in that sphere.”

A frequent guest over the years on Beyond the Book, Rüdiger Wischenbart is the founder of Content & Consulting, which specializes in surveying international culture and publishing markets. He is editor and publisher of the Global eBook Report, the global ranking of the publishing industry, updated annually since 2007. At BookExpo America, he serves as director for international affairs and coordinates its Global Market Forum. Rüdiger Wischenbart is also director of the annual Publishers’ Forum in Berlin sponsored by Klopotek.

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