Where to from here for the eBook New Zealand market?

As e-books become more prominent in New Zealand, there is a question on booksellers, publishers and consumers lips: Where to from here for the ebook New Zealand market? Jenna Tinkle, Whiteirea Publishing Student, reports.

This was a panel discussion with Jonathan Nowell (pictured right), Paula Browning, Tom Rennie, Martin Taylor and Lincoln Gould.

Jonathan Nowell opens the discussion with by analogising the digital book market with King Lear’s kingdom – just as Lear divides his kingdom between his three daughters, we divide our market between three major players: Google, Apple and Amazon.

The speed at which US book sales are declining is increasing. As an example, he displayed photos of the inside of a Barnes & Noble New York store where there is now less space for actually selling books.

According to Jonathan, the advantages of ebooks are immediacy and accessibility, but you can’t give ebooks away or lend them to your friends. The average US book buyer will not pay more than $9.99 to download an ebook.

Jonathan gave us insightful reasons to be cheerful. For instance, New Zealand consumer confidence will recover as people come to terms with the new reality. Consumers are looking for value.

There will also be more heavy book buyers. The book market used to focus on young people but instead we are going to be catering to the old. The baby boomer generation are heavy readers and will come through and buy books.

Tom Rennie is creating the digital publishing programme for Bridget Williams Books. They feel very ambitious about what ebooks can achieve for booksellers in New Zealand. Tablet sales are supposed to double in this coming year. Kiwis are actively using ebooks. As an industry, publishers and booksellers need to catch up with libraries’ use of Overdrive.

We need to establish our own frame of reference for ebooks in this industry. Public perception of ebooks is driven by the US market. We need to be aware of this and we need to be aware of what is going on in our own market. According to Tom, we need a sophisticated approach to ebooks because it’s not going to be a straight shift for all the genres across the industry. Currently, the genre sales of ebooks are dominated by romantic fiction and sci fi. We need a sophisticated approach to cater for each genre. Ebooks disrupt the supply chain but there is a huge amount of content that is entering the market – loads of titles on backlists and out of print or out of copyright that are now entering the market place in ebooks.

How do people find books? Through social discovery, social recommendations and local discovery. Thus, local bookstores need to service this discovery and they are the ideal retailers to do this. They can use their already established social networks in their community. This is how they will distinguish themselves from Amazon. Once local booksellers are equipped to sell ebooks they will be able to promote these in their local communities and use their networks in the community to drive sales and to play off current events.

Martin Taylor believes there are some fantastic opportunities in the digital world. He is adamant that the main issues that publishers and booksellers face in the digital space are to do with rights, negotiating and extracting them. He throws out his own ideas about what will be achievable. For example, we should utilise the already established system of gift vouchers and introduce e-book gift tokens.

These could even possibly be substituted for a p-book (printed book). A longer term plan would be to make connections between people browsing in bookstores but buying online, so that booksellers can get a share of profit of online shopping.

By and large, Martin believes there are several digital opportunities that can be created here, especially with NZ books because we have more control over the rights.

Lincoln Gould from Booksellers NZ closed the discussion asserting that bookshops are going to have a very strong part to play in the digitisation of the industry and this new e-book world.

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