A Digital Publishing Symposium was recently held in Melbourne and Sydney. I was under no allusions where the Australian market stood on eBooks and other digital issues before the symposium but after attending in Sydney my optimism that the Australian Industry won’t lag too far behind the rest of the world has severely waned. The Symposium was presented by the Australia Council for the Arts in partnership with the Australian Publishers Association and understandably the focus was on publishers. However retailers did seem to be unusually ignored.
The symposium began ominously when the CEO of the Australia Council, Kathy Keele, boasted about using her Kindle in the welcoming address. There is a severe lack of understanding about how a Kindle actually works and what that means for the Australian Book Industry. There was even talk about how small and medium Australia publishers can make their books available for the Kindle. After spending the last 12 months discussing territorial copyright and whether or not we should open the market the flagrant spruiking of Amazon and the Kindle was staggering. Amazon does not support Australian content, writers, publishers or retailers. If Australian readers are driven towards the Kindle you can pretty much kiss Australian booksellers goodbye.
The retail side of eBooks in Australia is the key issue. The current phase of eBook retailing is all about marketshare. Our market has already sacrificed some of this share to Amazon with the Kindle going international last year. Australian retailers need to grab their piece of the market before Apple goes global with their iBooks store later this year (June is the strong rumour). Otherwise not only are booksellers in Australia going to lose 5% of the printed book market, they are not going to gain any of the eBook market.
There still remain significant impediments to any Australian retailer wanting to get into the eBook market. This issue was barely raised and in fact the retail side of the digital future was hardly discussed at all. The bold plan for TitlePage seems to have gone no further than the vague announcement last October (http://www.booksellerandpublisher.com.au/articles/2009/10/13668/ ) and no one is prepared to talk to booksellers in any detail. The TitlePage plan as it stands is completely flawed and about 3 years out of date. The eBook market is about instant purchasing not waiting at home for a confirmation email.
Overseas retailers can source all the eBooks they need for their website from one eWholesaler. As it stands in Australia a retailer has to either deal with each publisher separately or have their content provider do the deals for them. This makes a full content eBook site in Australia a distant fantasy. While Michael Tamblyn from Kobo gave a fantastic presentation at the symposium, Baker & Taylor and Ingrams as content providers seemed to be dirty words. As a bookseller I see Ingrams (Kobo) and Baker & Taylor (Blio) as my only option. Google is another choice but personally something doesn’t sit right with me and Google Editions. Let’s hope the Book Industry Strategy Group can come up with some solutions sooner rather than later, because there might not be a later.