Around the world, no set rules for ebook pricing or digital reading

Which ebook trends are global and which are country-specific? Execs from Barnes & Noble (s BKS), Kobo, Google (s GOOG), French retail chain FNAC and India’s Indiaplaza discussed similarities and differences at the CEO panel Wednesday afternoon at the Frankfurt Book Fair…

“Customers are going to pay for value. In the long term, we’re going to see ebooks worth something,” Michael Serbinis, CEO of Kobo, said. “We see a very healthy business.” As for changes in pricing models, “we just see them as fluctuations in this long-term evolution.”

Jamie Iannone, president of digital products at Barnes & Noble, agreed that “for quality works, customers are really willing to pay for ebooks”. “We [and publishers] have been sensitive to the value of the book,” he said, adding: “Even people that buy ebooks still read a lot of physical books – (which is) very different from other industries.”

Santiago de la Mora, director of print content partnerships for Google in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said ebooks are just at the beginning of adding “tremendous additional value relative to the print book.” He mentioned functions like translations, locations, definitions and highlights (all of which are available in Google’s recently updated Play app for Android). “The ebook is a boon to the industry because, in some cases, it’s an enhanced product [over] print.”

Venkat Valliappan, head of books at Indian e-commerce site, said ebook prices must remain low in India. “[International] publishers sell print books in India at [lower] prices and the same should be true for ebooks,” he said. The volume of Indian customers that international publishers will gain by keeping their ebook prices low “has to be given the utmost importance. That’s why the major publishers have accepted [lowered prices] in the past couple of years,” he said, claiming: “India has bailed out their business at an international level.”

Similarly, booksellers noted differences in the types of devices that consumers are looking for. “Our customers, when they’re frequent readers, just want e-readers. That’s very clear,” said Elodie Perthuisot, director of books at French bookstore chain FNAC. And she said they “don’t hesitate to spend thirty more euros to get the very new device. It’s not a matter of price, it’s a matter of content.”

Valliappan, meanwhile, said “the majority of the Indian public are looking for multiple functions, not just an e-reader. E-reader companies should look at multiple functions.”

Kobo doesn’t see the e-reader market plateauing. “We’re seeing triple-digit growth on dedicated e-ink e-readers,” Serbinis said, adding that users who buy Kobo devices buy five times more books annually compared to customers using a Kobo app on a third-party platform.

De la Mora cautioned that publishers and booksellers shouldn’t forget about smartphones: “There are more¬†than one billion smartphones in the world.” As for device choices, “the consumer will decide, but it has to be made easy for them to access the content”.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Thomas Bethge