Open and interoperable: e-book distribution for the future

Highlights from the TISP session at the Contec Conference

In occasion of the CONTEC conference, TISP organized the conference session “Business models for e-book distribution. Interoperability and opportunities in the multilingual Europe”.

If market figures related to digital publishing are in full growth, in the European marketplace, made rich by differences of culture and language, new solutions are raising at national level that offer a new perspective for alliances between the various operators of the book value chain and IT providers. In this framework, solutions based on interoperability show many advantages and can open new paths to e-book distribution matching the readers’ needs.

Starting from latest research on status and opportunities of interoperability in the book sector, the session got close to most recent business experiences and projects conceived and launched in the Old Continent where partnerships between booksellers and Telecom operators propose and European answer to the challenges of e-distribution.

The panelists of TISP session were Christoph Bläsi (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz), Vincent Piccolo (La Martinière – Le Seuil), Hans Klaus Renkle (Tolino). The session was moderated by Cristina Mussinelli (Associazione Italiana Editori) and Patrice Chazerand (DIGITALEUROPE).

The panel was introduced by Christoph Bläsi, professor at Mainz University and author of the study ‘On the Interoperability of eBook Formats‘, commissioned by the European and International Booksellers Federation. By introducing the topic of interoperability, Bläsi highlighted how the adoption of interoperable e-book formats opens the possibility of new business opportunities and partnerships among key players in the digital book market.

Then Klaus Renkl, of Deutsche Telekom AG ePublishing business, and Vincent Piccolo, head of digital development of La Martinière-Le Seuil, presented respectively the Tolino project and the MO3T consortium. Resulting from partnerships between publishers, booksellers and Telecom operators, Tolino and MO3T propose innovative models for e-book distribution based on interoperability.

The Tolino project, which has released in Germany its e-reader on March 2013, involves four bookstore chains and Deutsche Telekom in a whole selling, distributing and reading ecosystem for digital books. Via the Tolino Shine e-reader, the user can access to four online stores, choose his own purchases and download them on his device. Deutsche Telekom provides the user with a cloud storage for his ebooks and 11.000 hotspot for connecting Tolino Shine to the net.

MO3T is a French consortium gathering three publishers, four bookstore chains, two distributors, two telecommunication operators, four ICT companies, a research institution and a professional service provider, for creating a new e-distribution system: open, interoperable and durable. The system is based on the innovative concept of ‘universal rights’, that is the possibility of extending the digital rights of a text to all the different formats of it. The rights and files are hosted by distributors and sold via online stores. The rights bought by the end-user will be stored in a cloud service. Depending on the chosen reading device, the cloud service provider will release to the end-user the suitable file format.

These business cases can be seen as the European answers to the challenges of digital publishing, and show the mutual benefits of cooperation between publishers and technology providers based on interoperable solutions.

Many were the conclusions on the panel:

  • the lack of interoperability between e-book formats, platforms and ecosystems is not technical but is the result of business strategies;
  • open ecosystems such as the open garden of Tolino need new alliances between competing booksellers and IT companies that can be difficult to design and maintain;
  • new models of e-book distribution can be based on the shift from the reseller model to the bookseller model; the neutrality of the technology and of the platform on the platform allows the competitiveness to be based on the services and offer of booksellers;
  • a whole new way of conceive the supply chain and how we deal with drm and rights is also something that should be considered to innovate distribution models.


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