Electronic publications “eBooks are conquering the bedroom”


In 2012, the share of total sales of German publishers accounted for by eBooks reached 9.5 percent. In an interview with Goethe.de, Steffen Meier, spokesperson of the Working Group for Electronic Publishing at the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, explains the current developments on the growing eBook market.

Mr Meier, gone are the days when eBooks had something of an exotic feel to them. Is Germany also experiencing an eBook boom?

In Germany the market is growing in more of a dynamic, organic fashion. The eBook market is a hardware market: to receive an eBook, you need a reader. As the number of readers increases, the demand for eBooks also grows. In turn, the growing demand prompts publishers to offer more services.

According to the latest eBook study conducted by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, 53 percent of German publishers include eBooks in their range. 54 percent of new publications these days are also available as eBooks. That’s not all that high a figure, is it?

The whole eBook subject requires publishers to make considerable investments, which is why many have chosen first to simply monitor the developments. It is important to realize that eBooks are not some sort of by-product of the publishing process. Their production requires entire workflows to be restructured. It is not always easy from a technical point of view to ensure compatibility with as many readers as possible. In addition, aspects such as rights management and customer support also entail significant costs.

It is quite understandable, in other words, that publishers are a bit cautious. At the same time, however, our study also shows that 84 percent of publishers have set themselves the goal of entering the eBook market in the future.

From travel companion to reading chair

Do people in Germany have a more reserved attitude towards eBooks than in other countries?

Not necessarily. Germany is often compared to the USA, where the eBook market is really very dynamic. This comparison is somewhat misleading, however. In Germany, our extensive network of bookshops means we are very well supplied with books, so virtually no demand for eBooks arises simply because a particular book is not readily available in print form.

What is more, eBooks in the USA are in some cases 50 percent cheaper than their print equivalents. In Germany, there is no such financial incentive: eBook prices here are roughly 20 percent below those of the retail print version prices. They are also subject to book price fixing, so they cost exactly the same wherever they are bought.

How are eBooks then used by German consumers these days?

Initially, they would typically be used in mobile situations: when travelling, or when people had to wait somewhere while out and about. Gradually, however, eBooks are moving into the conventional reading domains and are no longer simply a technical gadget used by people on the move. eBooks are conquering the bedroom, the sofa, the balcony. And that means that eBooks and conventional books are increasingly viewed as equal.

Material product versus susceptible usage right

What reservations do customers have when it comes to eBooks?

On a very basic level, their reservations are all about the traditional way of reading, and the way a book feels in one’s hands. It makes quite a difference whether I pay 29.90 euros and am handed a printed book, or whether I pay a minimally lower price to acquire an electronic file, indeed nothing more than a usage right. I believe it will also take quite some time for attitudes like this to change. After all, children and young people at school still work with printed books.

Furthermore, reading an eBook for many people means having to get to grips with technology. Even the simplest reader is more complex to operate than a book. There are other limitations too: it’s not so easy to lend eBooks to others, or to give them as presents. There is also some degree of uncertainty about what will happen to eBooks that one has already purchased if one switches from one provider’s platform to another.

Nonetheless, I believe we will develop standards to deal with these issues in future. And perhaps no real difference in usage will be perceptible any more by the generation of readers after the next.

Will eBooks gradually replace printed books in the future?

For the foreseeable future at least, printed books with their craftsmanship qualities will continue to play their part in situations where their physical feel, attractive design, appealing typography and so on are important. In other areas – paperbacks, for example, and works of fiction – the pros offered by the digital medium will outweigh the cons.

We are already seeing clear signs that the printed book is losing market shares to the digital version. The key question which publishers now have to answer is how they wish to handle this situation, and how they can also serve the digital market.