Ecosystems and the discoverability gap have been the main themes running through the two pre-Frankfurt digital conferences, Publishers Launch and TOC, with how publishers add value, pricing, piracy, and inevitably DRM not too far behind. Concerns over the big tech players and their customer lock-in strategies were aired at Publishers Launch, where we learned that Amazon's market share of a customer's book purchases trebles once that customer acquires a Kindle (a worrying stat for Waterstones).
Peter Hildick-Smith also attempted to quantify the "discoverability gap" we all now know is out there, coming up with 11%, which was roughly the recommendation black hole that opens up once a book reader switches to digital (and visits book shops less often). By contrast, at TOC we were told that mobile offered new big opportunities for publishers, with books only read on those devices by 17% of users (for more on that see txtr announcement below). We were told that this market was actually more fractured, but important given that the mobile was becoming the first screen for many. There was also much talk of emerging digital markets (such as India), and also Japan: already one of Kobo's largest international markets.
Lively panel sessions at TOC focused on pricing and piracy. Nielsen's Ann Betts told us that e-book buyers do get accustomed to higher prices for digital content as the market matures, with $9.99 a popular price in the US now, compared to the UK where e-book buying was coalescing around 99p. On piracy and DRM the debate was more familiar, with the PA's Richard Mollet confident that the association was beginning to get its message across to the government about not introducing exemptions to copyright. However, O'Reilly's Joe Wikert doubted that we could "legislate our way to a solution", preferring the O'Reilly solution of "trusting its customers".
» Engaging with the end-user (or reader as they used to known)
At a TOC session entitled 'How do publishers stay competitive", publishing technology provider Schilling introduced a white-paper on author/publisher relations, which emphasized how authors wanted their publishers to know the "end user" at least as much as the author does. German writer Lotte Garbers said she expected her publisher to know the readers, but admitted, "I feel frightened when I find out they do not".
It was a shame Garbers was not at Publishers Launch where she would have heard from Faber chief executive Stephen Page and Pan Macmillan chief Anthony Forbes Watson, who spoke about the many challenges faced by publishers, but were also able to articulate how they planned to get to where they need to be. Forbes Watson said his company was in the middle of a reader engagement project, while Page said the biggest thing for publishers to learn was to have a relationship with the consumer. The biggest thing they had to forget were basing their economic model on having a "relationship with the book trade". In the TOC session, speaking from the floor Pottermore's Charlie Redmayne urged publishers to invest in customer market research, and use it to add value to what they could offer to authors, while Random House's Hannah Telfer spoke about what that business had done with Lee Child based on the market research it had undertaken.
Understanding the problem is always easier than enacting a solution, but the sense I got from attending both sessions was that publishers are not sitting back waiting for someone to do this for (or even to) them, they are out there working on it, though perhaps not yet surefooted enough to begin publicly talking about it.
» A €10 reading device
German e-reader company txtr launched its device ahead of Frankfurt as widely expected. Likely to be priced at a startling €10, the txtr beagle 5” e-reader is small and light, and runs on two AAA batteries. Its weakness might be its biggest strength. E-books are delivered to the device via a mobile phone using Bluetooth, which from launch will be facilitated by the txtr Android reading application. The company now wants to partner with network operators in helping to grow the number of consumers reading digital books, and says it is "in conversations with potential partners in Asia, Europe and the USA". Txtr is attempting to solve a growing problem: how to turn mobile phone users into book readers, a potential market, which as we heard at TOC could be huge. At €10, the beagle may not feel like having to buy another device, and therefore might appeal to readers who want to read digitally, but don't want to do so on their mobile phones. Some commentators have already suggested that txtr is answering a question that no-one was asking, but it may actually be servicing a need we were only just beginning to worry about.
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