In a story this week by German news magazine Der Spiegel, I was surprised to learn that German book publishers are actively avoiding the eBook market, fearing it will eat into their print publishing business, instead of seeing it as an obvious new market for consumers to read their books.
eBook Market Slow to Grow in Germany
For now, the eBook market in Germany is lagging far behind the US and other countries where eBook readers are being sold. In fact, according to numbers cited in the article, 10,000 readers have been sold in Germany. Recent projections have the Kindle selling 1.2M units in the US in the 4th quarter of 2009 alone (and that's just one manufacturer). German readers bought just 65,000 eBooks in the first six months of this year compared with some estimates that have Kindle owners buying 600,000 ebooks per *week*.
This is partly due to the way that Germany regulates its publishing industry keeping book prices artificially high in an effort to protect authors, publishers and small book sellers in a highly competitive marketplace, and partly because German publishers want to keep the prices of eBooks high.
To that end, eBooks are only made available only after the paper back version of book has hit stores, and then, unlike the US where the eBook is sold for a fraction of the cost of the hard cover version, German eBooks are sold at the cost of the cheapest printed version, not exactly making it an attractive buy to the average German consumer.
Why Fear the Future
The whole approach seems rather silly to me because the eBook market represents just another way to market and sell the book. eBook Readers remain too costly for most consumers to buy their books in this fashion, and as I've written in the past, unless they come down substantially, it's likely eBooks will remain a niche market for the foreseeable future. That said, there is a market there and to ignore or to quash it, makes little sense to me. If the idea of these pricing strategies is to protect the publishing business, then it doesn't make sense to cut off a market that could contribute to the revenue stream for author and publisher alike.
Exploring the Lower Costs
Yes, eBooks cost less than their paper counterparts, but there is a corresponding lower cost of production for a digital copy. There is no printing involved, eliminating the need to run expensive presses and to roll trucks (and planes) to distribute the books to a network of book sellers around the world. This would seem to increase profit margin by eliminating a substantial part of the cost of producing the printed work, and therefore justifying the lower cost.
Regardless, eBooks aren't likely to completely eliminate the market for print any time soon. There will always be people who prefer to hold the printed work in their hands, and publishers can encourage this market by creating special print versions. For German book publishers to try and limit a market that could help publishers and writers make additional money seems to be missing a substantial opportunity, and carrying their desire to protect the industry a bit too far.