The first European Digital Distributors Meeting

On June 12, FGSR organized the first European Digital Distributors Meeting in Madrid, at the premises of the Foundation and of the Casa del Lector.

More than twenty speakers from Europe (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) took part in the event. After an introduction and an overview of the e-book market by a country expert, three players for each country were asked to present their point of view: Librinnovando, Edigita, Bookrepublic and MedialibraryOnLine for Italy, Nielsen UK, Gardners, ePubDirect and Faber for the United Kingdom, Asfored, Numilog, Editis and Eden-Livres for France, Frankfurt Buchmesse, Libreka, Bookwire and Tolino for Germany, FANDE, Libranda, Tagus di casa del Libro, Zona eBooks and Esdecomics for Spain.

The country overviews highlighted how different the European markets are: UK is definitely a step ahead thanks to a robust market; while Germany takes second position with its wide catalogue of mostly PDFs. Latin-speaking countries with e-book market shares still below 5%, although these are expected to grow 2014/2015. In the UK, however, the growth curve is flattening and, for the first time since 2010 e-book sales declined in January compared with last December, a sign the e-reader market (both tablet and e-ink) reached its saturation (75% of the UK population owns an e-reading device). E-readers are no longer the must-have Christmas present, while in the past they drove December e-book sales.

It’s worth noting that the German e-book market hasn’t been particularly affected by the financial crisis or has perhaps already gone beyond it. Its value in 2013, after two years of losses of 3,7% and 3%, grew by 0,9%. This is despite the 0,5% decrease of the online bookstores’ turnover in 2013, which follows a golden period of almost ten years of growth, between 10% and 20%. The German market seems to have achieved stability, while digital continues to grow and the percentage of readers for whom the format is unimportant is rising (44% for fiction in this year’s survey).

Interestingly, panelist presentations highlighted many characteristics that players operating in different European countries have in common.

First of all, there are huge wholesalers and print distributors like Gardners in UK and Libri in Germany which have ventured into digital sales. Additionally, there are many companies set-up with the specific mission to distribute e-books, working in partnership with big publishing groups, like Edigita in Italy, Eden Livres in France and Libranda in Spain while others, like BookRepublic, Bookwire, ePubDirect or Numilog arhave a specific focus on digital, yet are independent from publishing groups.

The Italian company MediaLibraryOnLine uniquely offers an aggregation and distribution platform services for digital lending in libraries, offering almost all trade e-books distributed in the Italian market; other European players, like iBiblio in Spain, or Askews and Holts in UK can’t yet offer a similar market coverage.

The German market is characterized by the strong collaboration between the major players of the national market. Libreka is a distribution platform and store promoted by the German bookseller and publishers association (MVB); Pubbles is a subsidiary company of Deutsche Telekom; and, most significantly, German bookstore chains have incorporated the Tolino platform, an e-reader and reading system. It’s clear that in Germany the market has remained strong against the leadership of the international players, like Amazon and the other big players. If we think that Tolino is the second player in Germany with a 35% market share, against the 43% of Amazon, it’s clear that the experiment launched in 2012 is a success.

Contrast the German approach to the Italian where the strategy is completely different: Mondadori and Feltrinelli operate in partnership with Kobo and Giunti is in partnership with Amazon.

More generally, the need for European players to develop common politics, or at least the need to share opinions, was a Leitmotiv of the day, particularly as a way to face the strong expansion of international groups. It was noticed that the penetration of Amazon in the publishing market wasn’t homogeneous in the different European countries and that in some of those, like Germany and Spain, it’s lower than in Italy. At the moment, there are big differences between the various countries which has allowed poor coordination of initiatives and, maybe, an inadequate knowledge of the European market and its intricacies.

The lack of figures available and comparable at national and international level has been identified as a working point for the group, along with the fundamental activity of pressing the European Union in order to level the e-book VAT to the same as that for print books and to get a standardization of the rates upon a European basis. The directive, from 2015, which applies VAT of the country in which the consumer is based, which will cause difficulties from a technical and fiscal point of view; standardization of the rates could go some way to ease this process. On this aspect all the participants agreed that a common action is necessary in order to bring the European Union to step in.

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