Most content services vendors are after the big game, aka the U.S. market, which usually brings in more than half of their business. This tends to be supplemented by several major accounts in continental Europe, mostly from Germany, where the STM and journal segments are established and mature. Only a few are tapping into the Scandinavian market, despite its reputation for having avid readers and prolific authors. PW talks to Jan Barsnes, co-owner of eBokNorden and Prograph in Norway, about the Scandinavian e-book industry and how he goes about outsourcing his projects.
How is the e-book industry in Scandinavia?
It has been slow starting and is currently about three years behind the U.S. Apple iBookstore, launched last October, is now a major player with more than 120,000 titles, but less than 5% of them are in Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian. At the beginning, there were companies monopolizing the e-book market in the Scandinavian countries, but this has changed. Surprisingly, we do not have any major e-retailers like Amazon, B&N, or Kobo. An e-book usually sells for about $20, which is about half that of a print book. Currently, e-books make up less than 1% of the total Scandinavian book market.
Why is there such a gap between Scandinavia and the U.S. in terms of e-books?
For one, e-books are subject to 25% VAT in Scandinavia, whereas there is no such tax on print books. On the whole, Scandinavian publishers are torn between lower pricing and higher production. But if publishers do not produce more e-books at lower prices, chances are that consumers—especially universities and libraries—will get e-books from outside sources, mostly in English since their prices are much lower. Libraries are the main driver of e-book sales in our region. Often, lending of e-titles is four or five times higher than that of print books. In Norway, where the major publishers have bookstores and book clubs, there is the fear that growth in library lending of e-titles will cannibalize their commercial e-book and print book sales. But no one doubts that e-books and digital publishing are the future, and I hope publishers will come together to produce more e-books.
Who produces e-books in your region?
Presently, one company, Type-it, produces about half the novels in Scandinavia in e-format, whereas some of the big publishers such as Cappelen Damm produce most of their e-books in-house. Other companies outsource the process, and of this, half goes to eBokNorden/Prograph.
What do your two companies do for publishers?
Prograph provides e-book and prepress production to publishers. It is a four-year-old company, and it works closely with partners outside of Scandinavia in order to keep production costs low. The other company, eBokNorden, established two years ago, handles e-book distribution and aims to be the main e-book distributor in Scandinavia. Most of eBokNorden's e-distribution work flow will also be outsourced.
When did you start working with outsourcing vendors?
I began liaising directly with Asian companies in 2005. The first company, providing graphic services, was located in Bangladesh. Then, from 2008 onward, I worked with India vendors for Flash and XML services. Swift Prosys is our only production partner for e-books. For mobile apps and other IT solutions, we work with a company in Lima, Peru.
Why do you have vendors spread across the globe?
It is mostly coincidental. We went to Bangladesh with our Danish partner because there are more subsidies from Denmark to that country than for India. Then we moved to India because of its proven expertise and bigger pool of vendors in the higher ed segment. The choice of Peru is simply because a friend moved there and started an IT company. More projects will be moved to India in the foreseeable future, and I am actively looking for partners there, especially in the areas of prepress and design.
What is the biggest problem in dealing with vendors located so far away?
For me, having too few face-to-face meetings is a big hurdle. At the start of a new project, it is always preferable and easier, even necessary, to sit down and discuss the processes and solutions in person. The inability to do that with offshore partners can sometimes delay or even stop a project indefinitely.
What kinds of files and projects do you provide your vendors?
We usually send PDFs or scanned pages, and in the case of fixed-layout e-books, we supply images from the original documents. We have started asking for HTML5 and EPub 3, and more of such standards will be required in the coming months. Projects using iBooks Author are also growing. Our e-books cover the full range, from simple to enhanced version, and Swift Prosys has been able to support us on that.
How do you test your vendors?
We benchmark against projects that were previously done by Prograph. We compare the quality with our own standards—which are based on Scandinavian market requirements—and then compare the prices between different vendors. Quality and price are always the two determinators. So far, we find India-based vendors to be reliable in their quality and commitment.
What lessons have you learned after working with so many different vendors?
One needs to be clear in communicating what one wants in order to get what is required. It is also important for the contractor to have sufficient knowledge and skills to understand the processes involved and to know what quality standards to ask for.