For the past few years, the “Global 50” CEO panel at the Frankfurt Book Fair has brought together CEOs from major publishers to discuss the state of the world publishing industry. This year, however, organizers decided to shake things up, said event moderator, international publishing consultant Rudiger Wischenbart, and instead invited executives from some of the world’s major digital and retail platforms to speak. Their message? E-books are a global game-changer for the book business.
This year’s panel included Santiago de la Mora, director of print content partnerships in Europe for Google; Jamie Iannone, president, Barnes & Noble Digital Products; Elodie Perthuisot, director of books, for Fnac; Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo; and Venkat Valliappan, from Indiaplaza. How do they see the e-book market playing out, and what impact will have on the traditional players in the publishing industry? Not surprisingly, they all see tremendous growth on the horizon, and despite the short-term challenges, benefits for everyone: publishers, booksellers, and especially readers.
“We are strong believers in the expansion of the book market,” proclaimed Santiago de la Mora. “And we believe everybody in the content ecosystem will be benefit.”
B&N’s Iannone said the dawn of the e-book market was great for publishers and booksellers, because, at its core, it was great for readers. “For under $100 you can start reading on an e-ink device,” Iannone said. “From a global nature, access to books in multiple languages becomes easier, accessing works by independent authors or small publishers becomes easier. We like to say you’re just eight seconds from finding a book to starting to read it. That’s really a game-changer.” He said B&N was excited to launch its service in the U.K. this holiday season and to pushing forward into international markets.
“We look at this as the beginning of a 25-year cycle, said Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis. “Unlike some others in the field, we have been global from the beginning. Our baord thought we were nuts, this little Canadian company that was going to try to sell in all the countries simultaneously. But we built a partner model, which I think so far is unique in the industry, where we power booksellers and work with publishers to create a win-win.” Serbinis said success requires an “ecosystem” approach, including devices, apps, content, and customer service. “And lastly I’d say, and we’ve been at this for all of 34 and a half months, that change has been pretty constant,” Serbinis stressed. But despite the tension of a competitive, and disruptive emerging market, Serbinis said he “absolutely sees a long-term viable business where consumers wins, and in the end authors see a far wider distribution of their stories around the world.”
Serbinis was followed by one of Kobo’s French partners, Fnac's Perthuisot, who offered great insight into the new world order, saying e-books were not only a matter of global expansion, but that if you want to stay competitive in your own national market, you need to be as competitive as global actors. “National book markets have become a global market,” she said, “where you compete with global actors such as Amazon, and where customers are waiting for the same kind of service. She said in order to stay competitive, you either must become global, or partner with someone who brings you this global technology.”
Venkat Valliappan, from Indian tech provider Indiaplaza, had a different take on the global impact of e-books, and it was more cultural. Expansion in India he said, “despite years of Indian independence” still comes from the West, while Indian publishers focus more on their home market, largely because Western authors are more readily accepted in India, he suggested, than Indian authors are in Western countries. Nevertheless the government has sponsored a program to subsidize millions of cheap, $40 tablets, for schoolchildren, suggesting that India was well on its way to raising generations of native digital readers.
The focus on e-books worked well for the annual CEO panel, which usually focuses on the results of the The Global 50 rankings, compiled under the aegis of French trade publication Livres Hebdo with Wischenbart. It will be even more interesting to see where the market stands at the next Frankfurt Book Fair.