Indies at e-book crossroads
18.06.12 | Neill Denny
For too long independent bookshops have been locked out of the growing e-book market, which has become to all intents and purposes a Kindle monopoly, but recent developments hold out the promise of a viable indie e-book offer.
Three outfits pitched their e-book platforms to an audience of booksellers at the BA a.g.m. last week. Anobii, Kobo and Gardners/Hive each presented their system to enable indies to sell e-books. The BA has overseen the process, but has proved unwilling to make a recommendation, trusting individual booksellers to choose the system that is right for them.
Each has its strengths; each its weaknesses. Kobo and Anobii both offer indies a better cut on sales revenues than Hive's 5%, but both are associated with rival retailers (W H Smith and Sainsbury’s respectively) which may concern an independent retailer. Hive is recommending the virtually unknown GoTab e-reader as its reading device. Kobo is a better known name, but the device is now offered in W H Smith shops up and down the land. Anobii, although majority owned by Sainsbury’s, has minority stakes held by major publishers, which potentially means tailored e-book deals for participating indies.
The timing of the pitch is designed so that indies can have an e-book system in place by this coming Christmas. The urgency of the need to break in to the e-book market was underlined by the figures the BA put out on indies this week, which show they are down to 1,094. In 1995 the equivalent figure was 1,894; in 2005 1,562, 1,535 in 2006, 1,446 in 2007, 1,424 in 2008, 1,408 in 2009, 1,252 in 2010, and 1,159 in 2011. Two caveats: these figures are for independents in BA membership, and not every bookshop is a member of the BA, and Foyles is now classed as a chain, so its six branches have been removed. But across 15 years the depressing trend is clear, and in another 15 years they may well all be gone.
A viable e-book offer is not necessarily going to reverse that trend, but it may slow it. All indies have to do now is to back the right horse for their shop and then market it effectively. All three systems are likely to have some takers, and one hopes consumers do not become confused by the choice on offer. Watching from a distance, and with the Kindle safely tucked in his back pocket for Christmas, James Daunt can pat himself on the back.