Hachette Group c.e.o. Arnaud Nourry has expressed frustration with the e-book format, calling it a "stupid product" and forecasting its sales would continue to plateau because of a lack of innovation.
Nourry, who was speaking in an interview with Indian news site Scroll.in as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations for Hachette India, said he didn't think declines in e-book sales seen in the US and UK markets would reverse any time soon, because of the limitations of the format.
Despite buying independent e-book publisher Bookouture last year, Nourry explained the reason he didn't rate the e-book was "it is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience".
Nourry further criticised the efforts of publishers in transitioning to digital after counting many more failures than successes, concluding that, as an industry, "we’ve not done very well".
"I think the plateau, or rather slight decline, that we’re seeing in the US and UK is not going to reverse. It’s the limit of the e-book format. The e-book is a stupid product," he said. "... We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched e-books – didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well."
Hachette has taken steps to make its business "more digital" through its acquisitions in recent years. In June 2016 it bought mobile games development studios Neon Play for it to become a standalone business within Hachette UK and in December 2016 it also acquired a majority stake in a London-based mobile app company Brainbow Ltd.
Nourry said its acquisitions in the space were based on the realisation Hachette didn't have the in-house skills necessary to make best use of its content and its understanding publishers need to be able to offer customers "different experiences".
"I’m convinced there is something we can invent using our content and digital properties beyond e-books but I reached the conclusion that we don’t really have the skills and talents in our companies because publishers and editors are accustomed to picking a manuscript and creating a design on a flat page," he said.
"They don’t really know the full potential of 3-D and digital. So we acquired three video game companies in the last two years to attract talent from different industries and see how we can nurture one another and how we can go beyond the ebook on digital. We need to offer different experiences to our consumers."
As part of the interview Nourry attributed the company’s success to not having one overall company “ethos”, but instead “each and every imprint has its own positioning, spirit, ethos, development and freedom,” he said. “This is the only way we can be good publishers in India, in Mexico, in Japan, in Spain, or in the UK or the US.”