Global markets are on the rise (for all)

Some interesting "learnings' from the first of the two pre-Frankfurt digital conferences Publishers Launch. With e-book reading firmly established in the US and UK, thoughts are now turning to the rest of the world, and in particular to non-English language markets and readers who might want to read in their native languages or potentially in English.

First was the question as to when these regions would have a "real e-book market", defined by Mike Shatzkin as having 10% of sales for narrative texts in digital form. The consensus of the panelists, from countries as far apart as China, Brazil, Italy, and Germany, was "three years", although as Sergio Machado, president and c.e.o. Record Publishing Group in Brazil, said it depended on when the big players arrived. He said: "Once the game starts, it goes pretty fast, but it can be slow to start."

Research released by rival digital conference producer O'Reilly Media, ahead of its Frankfurt Tools of Change conference being held on Tuesday (11th October), suggested that publishers across the world were now receptive to the arrival of these big beasts. Pointing to the tiny size of the e-book markets outside of the US and UK, the report says that until 2010 "the efforts of the book industry representatives were aimed primarily at containing as much as possible the American e-book and digitisation tsunami from spilling over all too rapidly into major European book markets". However, it says that as the domestic infrastructure for handling e-books has been set up the "defensive measures were ripe for abandonment and replacement by policies implemented to embrace the new digital world".

The change in attitude is timely, since the big beasts are on the prowl, with Google, Amazon, Kobo, and Apple all quickening the pace of their global ambitions recently. According to David Naggar, vice president global Kindle content, its sales of English-language e-books in countries where English is not the first language are now in the millions of units. According to my interpretation of a typically vague Amazon slide (which had no numbers), in 2011 these sales are already double what they were in 2010, and more than five-times bigger than in 2009. Kobo has said that its English-language sales to non-English countries are up 300% this year over 2010, with Sweden leading the charge in Europe, up 359%.

But it can just as easily go the other way. I heard over lunch that the German-language e-book market is bigger in North America than it is in Germany, and the same must also be true of Spanish, and perhaps even Italian. This means global is also an opportunity for non-English publishers awaiting their own markets to develop. According to the Amazon presentation, Spanish publisher Santillana is now selling two e-books in North America to one e-book in Spain and Latin America. Mondadori, meanwhile, has become the latest non-English language publisher to sign a distribution agreement with Barnes & Noble, which will see the US retailer release Italian-language versions of its books in North America.

Going global means just that and it is coming to every market.

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