Kobo, Hive and Anobii pitch e-book options to indies

Independent bookshops are to have access to Kobo e-book devices, a Hive-sourced e-book tablet and an Anobii-run affiliates scheme as part of a range of methods aimed at helping booksellers sell e-books to their customers, as print book sales hit a nine-year low and the number of high street bookshops continues to fall.

The measures were outlined at a meeting organised by the BA as part of its a.g.m. yesterday (14th June) held at the Foyles’ Gallery on Charing Cross Road, London.

Before the meeting, Falmouth bookseller owner and publisher Ron Johns told The Bookseller indies were "desperate" for the ability to sell e-books. "Frankly, we look like idiots when we are a bookshop and can't offer customers one format of book, being digital," he said.

Kobo’s vice-president of content, sales and marketing Michael Tamblyn flew in from Canada to speak at the a.g.m., hoping to persuade around 100 booksellers—a record turn-out of BA members—that they should choose the Kobo model to retail e-books to members.

Speaking about tailoring their model in order to be a strong competitor to Amazon, he said: “When we are fighting against a competitor that wants you dead, you have to give everything you have. We have come up with a model that works, a way for bricks and mortar retailers to gain.”

He went on to explain that Kobo’s package is based on the "origination model", whereby a bookseller can sell an e-book to a customer through a "light integration" device on the bookseller's website. As long as customers give an original email address to booksellers, then bookshops will receive a percentage of every Kobo book sold from then on, whether they come into the shop to buy the e-book or not.

One bookseller asked what would happen if a customer came in with a Kobo e-reader they had bought from W H Smith, Kobo’s chain partner bookseller in the UK. Tamblyn answered: “It is quite difficult to change the e-attribution once it is already done. It is the same problem in the case of e-attribution between multiple independents, it is quite difficult to solve that.”

The margin share was not disclosed, but indications were the margin was higher than Hive's 5%. Booksellers will also have access to a range of Kobo accessories and devices to retail for a percentage cut.

Anobii c.e.o. Matteo Berlucchi was next to take the a.g.m. stage to tell indies how the social networking site’s e-book model would work, fresh off the back of the news his company is now 64% owned by Sainsbury's after HMV sold its stake on Tuesday (12th June).

Explaining the advantages of his social networking site for book lovers, Berlucchi said: “The best way to find a book is through recommendation. Amazon might recommend books but what it doesn’t do is manage the relationship between recommenders . . . We fill the space between Amazon’s ‘discovery’ and ‘social’ elements.”

Anobii’s "classic affiliate" model is based on booksellers taking an email address from customers who want to buy an e-book, for which booksellers will receive an instant commission on each sale. For every sale which takes place after customers leave the shop, booksellers can choose between earning a higher commission for a shorter affiliate period or a lower commission earned over a longer period of time. Berlucchi added that he believed most books would be DRM-free “between 12-18 months” which would allow people to buy books from the bookseller affiliated to Anobii and read on whatever device they own.

He said: “Anobii is the only British cloud-based e-book platform and we are ‘genetically engineered' to be helpful to booksellers because of our publisher shareholders."

Gardners e-commerce development manager Julie Howkins said its independent network the Hive would refresh its offer to independents, launching a new, free Hive app in the next two weeks which will function as an e-reading device in which customers can access their library from the Hive website and read on their mobile phones, Android and IOS-enabled devices. For the first time the company will also endorse a new range of e-readers and tablets from a company called GoTab, which it says was a "big hit" at the Gadget Show 2012. A GoBook eReader will be marketed at £74.99, with Hive users benefiting from a 20%–24% discount.

Booksellers will still only receive a 5% cut of the e-books they sell through Hive, but Howkins told The Bookseller yesterday the model would change and was currently under review. Hive's marketing push will include a link share on different websites such as Play.com and a six-month trial on advertising screens in four regional airports. Howkins said: "The fact is, bookshops have to follow book buyers' trends and they need to be able to offer a range of products, services and e-books."

The BA invited the three companies to pitch ideas at Thursday's a.g.m. after months of "facilitating talks" with the aim of helping to provide indies with an effective way of retailing e-books. The BA's c.e.o. Tim Godfray said: "The BA believes it is important that booksellers consider now the e-book opportunities opening up to their businesses."

Summing up. Tim Walker of Walker Books, who chaired the e-platform sessions at the a.g.m., said: “Kobo are established, they are owned by Japanese firm Rakuten, which is not short of cash. They have 2.5m titles and are offering an e-reader. But I’m not sure if they have tied down how the bookseller hand-sells e-books to the customer. Anobii has come up with what I think is the most simple way of hand-selling an e-book to a customer, by taking an email address, and it is supported by publishers. Gardners as we all know has always been supportive to independent booksellers and the idea they might have good terms made my ears prick up.”

He added that booksellers had to go away and make decisions on which model is best, with all the models being ready for autumn. He added that this was the "first stage" offer for indies and the BA had not stopped talks with other providers.

At the a.g.m. it was announced that Patrick Neale, owner of Jaffé & Neale's bookshop in Chipping Norton, would become the BA's new president, replacing Jane Streeter, owner of The Bookcase in Lowdham, who has served for two years. David Prescott, Blackwell UK, and Sam Husain, Foyles, have been appointed by the a.g.m. vice-presidents.