The rise of easy-to-use e-book publishing platforms that distribute globally, the inherent speed of digital publishing, and the low cost and ever-rising demand for e-books in both the developing world, as well as from developed but remote economies like Australia, offer the potential of vibrant new markets as well as new revenue streams to publishers of all kinds.
American publishers need to “rethink what our market is,” says Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, during a phone interview with PW, “a market that is not based on print. What will happen when publishers can deliver affordable books anywhere in the world?” Smashwords, which offers about 120,000 titles for distribution through its retail partners and about 160,000 titles through Smashwords.com, not only offers an e-book publishing and global distribution platform to more than 55,000 self-publishers, but also, Coker points out, “to hundreds, if not thousands of small publishers” around the world.
Coker says the publishing world is evolving from one focused on territorial rights—“a print world restricted by geography, where you couldn’t send books into every corner of the globe, where book rights turned some territories into black holes, places where it wasn’t worth it to send books at all”—into something quite different.
David Steinberger, president of Comixology, a fast-growing U.S. digital comics distributor and marketplace, told PW his company now sells digital comics in 225 countries, that 50% of its account holders sign on from outside the U.S., and it sells the #1 iPad book app in France—even though it has no French language comics. English-language content, comics or prose, is experiencing intense demand around the world at a time when it’s never been easier to deliver content worldwide. At the Frankfurt Fair, where Steinberger spoke recently, publishing services and software developer CodeMantra announced a deal with ePubDirect, a digital distribution platform, to provide e-book distribution for CodeMantra clients. (Its cloud-based digital asset management and production workflow systems are used by such publishers as Oxford University Press, McGraw-Hill, and Penguin.) The deal will deliver the titles of CodeMantra clients to “a myriad of global e-book retailers and wholesalers,” according to Walter Walker, CodeMantra’s executive director of publishing services, including more than 1,000 online retailers and over 25,000 libraries worldwide.
Smashwords’ e-books are distributed through all the major e-tailers, indie e-tailers like Diesel e-books, libraries, and via its e-bookstore at Smashwords.com—and Coker says that 46% of the revenue the company received from the distribution of Smashwords titles through Apple devices came from outside the U.S. (Apple recently increased its international distribution accounts from 38 countries to 50.) “It’s now cost-effective to have a presence in these markets through a single retail partner at a low cost of entry,” Coker says. “We also have Kobo, which has always been global, and now B&N is coming into the international market.”
PW spoke with several digital publishing professionals who offered a vision of an international book market fed by a burgeoning number of conventional Western publishers, new digital-first ventures, and self-publishers, as well as native publishing ventures in the developing world and across the globe. They credit new demand for digital content to low barriers to entry for digital publishing, its accessibility, and its global reach. In addition, the use of mobile devices—from smartphones and feature phones to tablets—in the U.S. and abroad means publishers need to rethink not only how this market will use content, but also what it’s likely to want.
“Publishers need to understand that these new markets may have a reading experience that is very different from what is acceptable in the West,” said Chris Rechtsteiner, founder of BlueLoop Concepts, a research and consulting ﬁrm specializing in mobile media markets, in an earlier interview with PW. “You’re going to see massive growth in content via mobile technology because that’s how most of the world accesses the Internet.” Rechtsteiner points to the global frenzy over the Fifty Shades trilogy to highlight a new phenomenon, “the massive expectation that a book that reaches some mass level of popularity will be available everywhere, immediately,” says Rechsteiner. “No matter where it comes from, if it gets big, it’s not acceptable to be available in only one place.”
“There’s a billion smartphones being used around the world and likely billions more to come,” Coker says. “There’s a market to be exploited in developing countries. A 99-cent book in India is how you reach that market.” Coker is seeing a steady rise in Smashwords’ international revenue despite 92% of its content being in English. “We’re selling English-language books globally every day,” he says, pointing out that in markets like Brazil and India, “bookstores always have large English-language sections,” and emphasizing that the market is transitioning to worldwide language rights rather than geographical rights. Print, he says, “will not go away, but it will become less relevant.” And what about the threat or perceived threat of digital piracy in overseas markets? Coker says that piracy is actually “a symptom of international demand that publishers are creating, but not satisfying.”
And if you think Coker—an outspoken publishing maverick, new media entrepreneur, and digital disruptor—is just thumbing his nose at the publishing establishment, PW heard similar talk from Angela James, editorial director of Carina Press, the digital-first imprint of romance publishing house Harlequin, an established global publisher that has managed to transition to as well as lead the way in digital publishing. Carina Press, James told PW, is no different from its parent company and looks to exploit the demand for English-language content around the world. “We take world rights of the books we acquire and we sell in every country in the world in English with no restrictions,” she says.
James says digital global distribution is “part of the story of Carina Press. It’s a global market, and we have a lot of readers in Australia and England, as well as in Germany, South America, and the Netherlands.”
Digital piracy, she says, is often driven by readers in countries “who want to read Western content but can’t get it.” Indeed, she says, one reason why all Carina Press titles are DRM-free—although that isn’t always the case for the rest of the Harlequin list—is so the books can be easily converted into other formats and read on any device. “We don’t have to deal with piracy because we don’t put restrictions on our e-books” she says. Carina Press titles are offered for all platforms including DRM-free ePub files, which can be read on any kind of device, from laptop to smartphone to feature phone.
Despite Coker’s suggestion about offering titles at different prices in the developing world, James says that Harlequin/Carina Press can’t necessarily offer different prices for the same books abroad. “Our readers are all on the Internet. They will notice and will want to know why,” she says. But she also says that a byproduct of finding new readers around the world has been finding fresh writers outside North America. She pointed to her company’s recent signing of a writer from the Netherlands and Harlequin’s “first ever Malaysian writer,” which she attributes in part to “authors submitting material digitally from anywhere.”
All of this global publishing activity is being driven by advances in technology (see PW’s list of new tablets, p. 22) that are augmenting the content choices available to consumers around the world. But James says it’s not just technology behind the rise of the global e-book marketplace; it’s also the enduring power of storytelling around the world. “Publishing always looks different everywhere, whether it’s North America or Europe. Content is different depending on where it’s coming from. People want to read about something different and they want to have new experiences.”