It is a very exciting time to be an independent bookseller. The new digital world of books is more than just eBooks and there are many new and exciting things happening in our industry. Social media like Twitter and Facebook give independent booksellers more scope to demonstrate their strengths and to have conversations about books. We can all begin to explore ways to do all the great things we do in our shops in a digital way. But the dominant issue at the moment is eBooks.
The first thing I want to say about eBooks is that they are not a threat to traditional booksellers. By no means are eBooks going to replace the printed book. The majority of people in this room are devoted to the printed book and I doubt very many of us are going to become eBook devotees. There are various predictions over how much of the market eBooks will take up. The general consensus for Australia is 5% while in the US they are saying 10%. A portion of the eBook market will be existing readers and they will not be exclusively reading eBooks but a combination of both. The other portion of the eBook market will be new readers who are more comfortable reading in a digital format . This means that eBooks presents traditional booksellers with an opportunity to grow our market.
The eBook market is still in its infancy and things are changing every week as new reading devices come onto the market and new business models are put forward by publishers and suppliers. The perception is that Amazon with their Kindle device is leading the way but a recent study showed that the majority of eBook readers are downloading eBooks to their PC. Kindle was second and it’s important to note that the Kindle is a ‘locked’ or ‘closed source’ device. This means that only Kindle format eBooks can be read on the device and you can only purchase Kindle format eBooks from Amazon. Other eReading devices like the Sony eReader are ‘open source’ devices and you can purchase eBooks from your choice of retailers. All of these eReaders are black and white which means they do not cater for illustrated books or children’s books. Nonfiction and children’s book sales are practically non-existent in eBooks at the moment.
The Kindle, the Sony eReader, the Nook and other eReaders are built all for one purpose, reading books. Which is great but you are not always going to have these devices on you. The future of eBooks is not a standalone device but a multi-purpose device which is why the iPhone and iPad have created such a buzz in the book world. These devices plus the next generation of smart phones and tablet computers are virtually going to become bookstores in peoples’ pockets.
So how can independent booksellers capture their share of this market? Setting up an eCommerce site to sell eBooks is not a simple process. In fact it makes setting up an online store for physical books look like a walk in the park. The handling of Digital Rights Management or DRM is the biggest hurdle as there are digital rules about which country certain eBooks can be sold in as well as how many devices an eBook can be transferred to. This differs between every publisher and every title. The other issue is aggregation. This is one of the big disadvantages in the Australian market. In the UK and US wholesalers like Gardners, Ingrams and now B&T have been able to centralize the “distribution” of eBooks to eBook commerce sites. We don’t have this in Australia. And this is where Blio and Baker & Taylor comes in.