shatzkin1[1] Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin has posted an entry about some of his experiences at the Frankfurt Book Fair, reflecting on the “e-book gap” between America and the rest of the world. For a number of reasons, most notably that the US represents “300 million people in a single developed economy with a single currency and a single language,” e-books have been much more widely adopted here than in the rest of the world.

All of this has resulted in getting the US to the point as of Frankfurt 2010 where a US publisher launching a book of straight text can expect ebook sales to be a mid-teens percentage of the book’s total sale, with occasional reports that are even more dramatic (such as the anecdote that the first wave of Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” was one-third ebooks!)

Shatzkin notes that this inequality will have to change sooner or later, and the book industry in the rest of the world is going to be in for some shocks as it catches up.

Some of the issues holding e-books down in the rest of the world include regulations and regional rights restrictions, but another complication is the lack of availability of very many non-English titles in the EPUB format. From the point of view of e-book region restrictions, I found this bit especially noteworthy:

The epub gap spawns another serious issue for the European book trade as it catches up with the US. Most educated people in most European countries are comfortable reading English. A publisher in tiny Slovenia (formerly part of Yugoslavia) told me that one-sixth of the books sold through the largest chain of bookstores and the largest online bookseller are already in English. Somebody else told me that 25% of the books sold in Denmark are in English. In Holland, I was told, there has been recent legislation requiring “windowing” of English ebooks on titles that have a Dutch edition, holding back the English edition until the Dutch edition has had a minimum time of availability.

The lack of availability of geographically-restricted titles to “non-English-speaking” countries may be costing publishers more than is apparent. It would be nice if they’d get that straightened out.

It looks like the publishing industry in the rest of the world is in for the same rude awakening American publishers have been getting lately. We may be in for interesting times.


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