US retailer Barnes & Noble's e-reading device range, the Nook, will be available in the UK in the "not too distant future", though the company has not yet determined whether that will be through a partnership or through creating a B&N presence in the UK.
Speaking at the Publishers Associations' International Conference today (15th December), Theresa Horner, vice-president for digital content for B&N, said: "Our focus originally was very much on providing a successful platform in the US to work from, before taking our product overseas . . . We are working a lot more closely [on that], and I imagine that in the not too distant future you'll be able to find one of these devices here."
B&N chief executive William Lynch told The Bookseller in November that it was planning an international roll-out but at that time declined to give further details. He said an announcement would be made within four months.
Speculation has grown that B&N could do a deal with Waterstone's, with the British chain committing itself to launching an e-reader in the UK in early 2012. Considering Waterstone's entering the e-reader market potentially next spring, Horner said: "I think B&N would say that having a chain of book stores is a great asset for selling book products, and if you think creatively about selling content, there is an endless well of possibilities for doing that."
She also emphasised the importance of taking a physical bookstore and integrating the digital experience within it, with Nook customers citing customer support as the number two reason why they chose the device over Amazon's Kindle. She declined to comment on W H Smith and Kobo's partnership, saying she had not had a chance to get to a WHS store during her time in London to see the device on sale.
Horner added that product development was now much more part of ongoing conversations between Barnes & Noble and its publisher suppliers in the US, with B&N becoming part of the publishing process, working out how content can be developed for the e-reading device, and publishers also taking on part of the role of retailers.
She said: "There are a lot of conversations with publishers, a lot of partnerships going forward. 'What are you capable of doing digitally?' That's not a conversation that would have happened two years ago." She added that the current challenge in terms of content was in finding the right non-fiction content to sell digitally, and that self-published content was a "monster conversation going on in the digital space" in the US at the moment. Ten per cent of titles on B&N's digital bestselling lists are produced by its self-publishing programme, Pub-it.
Using figures from the BookStats 2011 survey, produced by the AAP, Horner said e-book revenue in the US represents 6% of overall trade revenue, equating to $864m. She added that she projected e-books to make up 50% of the US market by 2015. She said: "If you prepare for a market like that, then you'll be ready."
She also confirmed that digital readers read more; quoting Harris International Poll figures, she said that 20% of people in the US read 21 or more books per year, but 27% of e-reader users read 21 books or more per year. 16% of total US readers read 11-20 books a year, rising to 32% for e-reader owners. Horner also stressed that digital customers do not purchase entirely digitally, with "three channel" buyers buying 16 books over print and e-books in the last 3 months, compared to 5 books bought by one-channel buyers. She said: "There is a vibrant opportunity to be in all three channels."