Taking ebooks mainstream…in Germany

This one-day event promises plenty of enlightening discussion and debate

Are German ebooks really any different than those in the U.S. or the U.K.? Many strong indicators say yes, they are different. That’s why many ebook debates in the past have not ended with practical guidelines for German publishers and their pursuit of innovation.

That will be different when TOC buchreport: Getting Ebooks Mainstream takes place as a one-day conference in Berlin on April 23, 2013. Many senior-level German publishing and book distribution executives will meet with new, young innovators, to discuss where the market is heading.

The innovative format has been created as O’Reilly’s TOC team and the leading German book trade magazine joined forces. And to add even more relevance and impact to the event, the conference is partnering with Publishers’ Forum, which for the past decade has been the most highly-respected platform for innovative debate on German publishing.

Aside from Britain, Germany is clearly ahead of all other markets when it comes to ebooks in Europe. The major houses hint that in fiction, ebooks account for some 7 to 8 percent of sales by now, and that number is rising. While the general media are still a little skeptical of the scope of the change ahead, industry professionals are driving full steam towards the new market.

For many houses, this includes a significant amount of risk, and uncertainty, as lessons learned in the English language domains cannot simply be applied to a German market that is governed both by significantly different cultural traditions, and economics as well.

Books – including ebooks – are subject to fixed-pricing. Discounting is therefore, for most new titles, not a part of the game. Also taxation is hugely different for ebooks, with a value added (de facto: sales) tax of 19 percent, as compared to 7 percent for printed works.

It is true that Amazon is nevertheless far ahead of all competitors in market share for both reading devices and downloaded books. But only a few weeks ago, a consortium of several domestic heavyweights sprung up to take on the fight. The two largest German book chains, Thalia and Weltbild, plus Deutsche Telekom, and the German Bertelsmann Club launched their own device, the Tolino, and everyone is curious what more is planned by the alliance – or if, on the contrary, competition laws may restrict their actions.

The DRM debate is also alive as DRM is considered an important defense against piracy, yet challenged by many new contenders.

In fact, new players seem to flourish, as spring comes (belated this year though, for German habits), with young publishers launching their ideas and first titles, and with a soaring number of authors exploring self-publishing, an option that was never held in high regard in Germany.

This one-day event in Berlin will offer plenty of lively discussions and debates. Ticket sales have been a strong indicator that the time is ripe to drill deep into the digital content opportunities in the world’s third largest publishing market. Stay tuned for a follow-up summary of the event here on the TOC community site.

Rüdiger Wischenbart is the author of the TOC Global eBook Market report, and responsible for the programming of the TOC buchreport conference in Berlin.

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