UK publishers are seeing good growth from e-book sales overseas, particularly in Scandinavia, but they face a looming threat from US e-book companies, which are now setting their sights on English readers in Europe. Though there were also opportunities for publishers selling into the US via digital routes.
Opening the Publishers Launch Conference London, being held today, founder and chief executive of The Idea Logical Company Mike Shatzkin said the world of publishing was growing "increasingly borderless and global", and in some areas it no longer made sense to silo it by country. He said: "Two years from now many US and UK publishers will be achieving substantial sales outside of their traditional markets". However, he warned many of the big global players would have built their models based on the US experience. "The market here [in the UK] is beginning to look more like the US market, but it won't be the same as the US, it can't be. The e-book infrastructure arrives here from the US in a much more mature state."
Shatzkin spelled out six global companies that he thought would dominate this space—Google, Amazon, Apple, Ingram, OverDrive, and Kobo—and he also revealed US bookseller Barnes & Noble was "aggressively sourcing UK originated content", prompting some in the audience to speculate it could be looking to launch its e-reader Nook device in the UK. But Shatzkin said the opportunity was just as great for non-US publishers to sell content back into the US.
During a panel discussion on the "developing global digital infrastructure", there were warnings that despite the UK historical connections to Europe US publishers could also begin targeting English-readers in those markets.
However, Pan Macmillan's digital director Sara Lloyd rejected this. She said: "I think there is an advantage for us in being the publisher closest in territory to some of those places, and we are stil talking about a market that is less than 5% digital to physical, so all the time we have expertise getting physical books out to those places, and all that expertise in being strong exporters of the physical book will help when it comes to e-books."
HarperCollins' digital director and publisher David Roth-Ey pointed out being part of a larger group meant that the UK publisher wasn't in competition with the US sister company. He said: "We are not pitted against our sister company, we are representing the full suite of books in these markets on behalf of those companies."
George Walkley, head of digital at Hachette, said it was already experiencing good growth from overseas e-book sales outside of its traditional markets, particularly in Scandinavia, while Roth-Ey said they has been "pleasantly surprised" by the uptake, with the only restriction the availability of devices such as the Kindle.
At a follow-up panel, discussing how publishers could sell digitally into the US, Jean Harrington, of Ireland's Maverick House, said that "about 50%" of its digital sales were into the US.