Irish Publishing

Making Frenemies: Kobo, Easons & Ebooks In Ireland

20131030_192630Easons, which once had ambitions to launch its own ereader, has joined forces with Kobo. The deal will see Easons selling Kobo devices in its 60 stores and has attracted little negative comment unlike Waterstones deal with Amazon last year. In fact it seems, so far, to have been pretty universally welcomed in the Irish trade.

Easons has, despite the aforementioned ambitions, chosen the path of least expense with regard to making its ebook offering credible and coherent. That meant, although its e-store concept was attractive, it was selling several different brands of device and its ebook platform was off the shelf and was not always as smooth as possible. What’s more its options were somewhat limited. Tesco has been selling Kindle ereaders since before last Christmas at prices well under €100 and Amazon has spent hundreds f millions making those devices and the ecosystem surrounding them, very user-friendly. The Waterstones Kindle match-up has sat oddly with the trade, the deal has also put Kindle ereaders and tablets in front of readers in many places. So Easons has been faced by deep pocketed rivals and the most likely platform partner already pretty much wrapped up with rivals.

We don’t yet know how successful this move to partner with Kobo will be. Easons is still offering Sony ereaders from its website (on 2nd November) and Kobo’s ebook offering not yet live through the retailer’s website either. Even so, Kobo has launched a new consumer facing ebook site for Ireland which will surely power Easons ebook store when the partnerships rolls out properly. The site’s not perfect yet, for instance, I can’t yet find out where to but one of the company’s tablets in Ireland yet, but that’s an easily resolved issue.

Irish facing stores are a rarity in the ebook space, on Kindle, users must choose between buying their ebooks from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. While the process is fine and workable, it still presents pricing challenges and means picking out Irish bestsellers can be hard. Apple offers an Irish facing ebook store but there’s every indicator that sales through the store have been relatively low.

The bigger question for me is what will all this mean for ebooks in Ireland. The last year or so has seen most Irish publishers begin to take ebooks very seriously with some publishers quietly indicating that digital sales are no accounting for double-digit percentages of units sold (though often a lower percentage of revenue given the disparity in price). The best indications I’ve seen suggest that while fiction is the leader, there are some fine performances  in non-fiction too and that backlist is proving its worth yet again.

“One in five books sold on Easons.com are ebooks”

Interestingly, Conor Whelan, Easons MD, said at the launch of the Kobo/Easons partnership (which took place at the launch of Kobo’s new Irish offices, itself during the Dublin Web Summit) that: “One in five books sold on Easons.com are ebooks” a fact that sailed over many people’s heads, but struck me as a very nice nugget of information. It indicates that Easons is doing much better at selling ebooks on its own than we might previously have imagined, thus suggesting the Kobo partnership might really drive ebook take up and sales in Ireland if it can connect with readers.

I’m intrigued that the offering will include more that just the ereaders. Kobo’s tablet offering is really quiet good (in the non-iPad league that is) and at €149.99, the Kobo Arc 7 will provide Easons with a reason to get non-readers in the door that the ereaders on their own simply will not. In fact at that kind of price point, the tablet may well be the most attractive part of the device line up.

Kobo has found a strong partner to grow mind-share and market share in Easons. It does have a very large presence on the high streets of Ireland as well as an impressive brand and awareness in Irish readers mindsets. The company also runs highly successful media campaigns in the run-up to Christmas and ereaders and tablets will be a leading gift category yet again in 2013 and ebooks still have lots of room for growth in Ireland.

The problem is that Kindle is dominant and massively so, and will not be pushed aside  easily. It will require a by a determined new brand and dogged execution both on the device side of things (which means hoping Easons can deliver) and on the ebook sales and promotion side of things (which means work for Kobo and its staff).  It does seem to me though that even if Kobo only manages to build a secure second player position, it could be to both its and Easons advantage. It the companies can make it work, we might begin to see the kinds of percentages that the US & UK have been seeing over the last year or 25-30% units being sold in digital form.

Here’s hoping!

Advertisements

The Gill Family Takes Full Control Of Gill & Macmillan

Gill   Macmillan   HomeSome of the most interesting news in Irish publishing for some time tripped across my phone line and email inbox last night. The Gill Family has bought out Macmillan’s 50% share of one of Ireland’s largest trade and educational publishers, Gill & Macmillan.

It’s a fascinating move on many fronts. Firstly it’s nice to see such a large element of the Irish trade firmly in local hands, that’s healthy for the Irish industry given how heavily exposed to outside publishers it already is. Secondly it indicates that Macmillan’s strategic interests no longer include holding such a complex position in a joint venture like G&M. Lastly it lays the ground for interesting years ahead as the newly focused Gill (no longer & Macmillan?) faces the challenge of Penguin Random House which controls a large chunk of Irish publishing.


See the full press release below:

RELEASE DATE [ Wednesday 14 August at 10am ]
PRESS RELEASE
Gill family takes full ownership of Gill & Macmillan
The Gill family and Macmillan Science and Education, joint owners of Dublin-based publishing company, Gill & Macmillan, have announced that the Gill family has taken full ownership of the company.

The new ownership structure will have no trading consequences for the business and the Gill family, alongside the company’s Management Team, looks forward to building on its current success. A change in name and branding will take place at a later stage.

Gill & Macmillan was founded forty-five years ago in 1968 when Macmillan acquired an interest in the long-established Irish company, M. H. Gill & Son Ltd. Since then the company has become one of the most prominent book publishing and publishing services companies in Ireland. Publishing educational content for Irish schools and colleges has been a major part of Gill & Macmillan’s activities since its foundation. The company is also Ireland’s largest trade publisher as well as providing distribution services to the majority of the country’s independent publishers.

This development marks the next chapter for the Gill family, whose name has been synonymous with books in Ireland for 180 years, since Michael Henry Gill was appointed printer to Dublin University in 1833. Six generations of the family have now been actively involved in management of the business.

Michael Gill, Chairman of Gill & Macmillan said: “This is a very positive development for the company. Now wholly Irish-owned again and continuing to employ more than 70 talented and energetic people here in Dublin, we are excited by the transformative power and many opportunities and challenges provided by the digital age, both in Ireland and worldwide”.

Annette Thomas, CEO of Macmillan Science and Education, said: “The relationship between Macmillan and Gill has, over many years, been a model partnership of collegiate cooperation and shared business interests in this successful company. Whilst the sale of our 50% holding fits within our greater strategic objectives, we are delighted to maintain the many close friendships which have been forged with our colleagues in Dublin.”

The financial details of the sale have not been disclosed.

-ends-
Contacts:
For Gill:
Teresa Daly, Communications Manager, Dublin, Ireland
+353 (01) 500 9521 / +353 (0) 86 838 3559; tdaly@gillmacmillan.ie
For Macmillan Science and Education:
Sarah MacDonald, Group External Communications, London, UK
+44 (0)20 7833 5672 / +44 (0)7714 916798; sarah.macdonald@macmillan.com
Notes for Editors:

About Macmillan Science and Education
Macmillan Science and Education, part of the Holzbrinck Publishing Group, is home to the Macmillan businesses which empower those with curious minds to achieve great things. Through the provision of high-quality content and services to scientists, educationalists, students and academics around the world, Macmillan is changing the way students learn, teachers teach and scientists discover. Operating in over 50 countries with some 5000 employees, the division consists of Nature Publishing Group (NPG), Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education, Macmillan Higher Education, Digital Science, Digital Education and Macmillan New Ventures. For more information, please see http://www.learndiscover.com.

About Gill
Gill & Macmillan is the most prominent book publishing company in Ireland. Drawing on more than one hundred previous years of tradition and experience, Gill & Macmillan publishes educational content for primary and secondary schools as well text books for university, college and further-education courses. Its trade division publishes widely in history, politics, current affairs, sport, entertainment and lifestyle. The company has met the emergence of digital communication by providing e-book versions its bestselling titles alongside a rapidly evolving range of digital resources and tools for teachers and students. The company also provides a comprehensive distribution service for the majority of independent Irish trade publishers. For more information, please see http://www.gillmacmillan.ie.

Easons Will NOT Be Building A Platform For Ebooks Anytime Soon

Waterstones decided to team up with Amazon and one of most compelling reasons for that was the sheer cost of developing an ereader and a fully fledged ebook platform (just look at B&N’s capital expenditure and increased costs and their need for cash to support their successful Nook business, hence their deal with Microsoft). Which is why reading the paragraphs below make so little sense:

Ireland’s largest book retailer, Easons, revealed plans yesterday to enter the market as well. “We are not getting into bed with Amazon, that is for certain,” a spokesman said.

“But as part of a €20m plan to modernise our entire chain, we will be providing live wi-fi in our stores from this summer and dedicated e-book areas which will permit customers to download e-books from our website. The next phase of this process is to launch our own Easons branded e-reader.”

Rival

This means that the Irish market leader will follow in the steps of the US market leader, Barnes and Noble, which has already developed its own digital reading device to rival the Amazon one.

via Hodges Figgis and Easons to sell rival e-books – Irish, Business – Independent.ie.

If B&N struggled to build a platform and needed $300 million and a Microsoft partnership, and Waterstones joined forces with Amazon, some portion of a €20 million modernisation fund simply wont be enough to do it for Easons, even given a smaller market.

Unless
That is unless the spokesperson simply meant that Easons would use a white label ebook reader with an Eason logo on the outside. That wouldn’t be the worst idea ever, but it certainly does not mean Easons will be following in B&N’s steps!

As Philip Jones, deputy editor of The Bookseller, commented on Twitter:

A nice, nice day here in Dublin,
Eoin 

LitNet NI Literature Forum, Belfast

On Wednesday I spoke at an inspiring event, the LitNet NI Literature Forum in Belfast. It was hosted by the Arts Council Of Northern Ireland and organised by Catherine McInerney of LitNet NI.

It brings together an amazing range of voices and opinions from the literary and publishing sectors in Northern Ireland, from agents to writers, arts officers to librarians, with a good sprinkling of organisers, poets, publishers and academics.

There was a great energy in the room and while the forum is ony a few months old, it seems to have a real head of steam. My read on the future was that it was secure. It seems ready to grow beyond its original founding and beyond indeed the LitNet NI beginnings into a truly inclusive voice for the literary & commercial publishing and reading sector in Norther Ireland.

So you can see why I found it inspiring, but there’s more.

The same day and the same event was the venue for the sectoral launch of PublishingNI a new company dedicated to promoting and growing Northern Irish publishing and writing.

There’s a real energy and passion at work in Northern Irish publishing sector right now and I was excited and pleased to be part of it.

As for what I spoke about, well I started off with a dispassionate overview of how digital publishing and distribution were fundamentally reshaping the world of books and literature, changing models we have come to see as ‘the right way’ of doing things. I got a little carried away towards the end of the talk and discussed the need for a concerted response from the entire reading and writing sector to the encroachment of technology firms intent and leading the sector in a direction of their choosing. Maybe it was in the air.

But then again, maybe it was a bit intemperate, but it’s not untrue.
Eoin

Quick Link | Ebooks and opensource textbooks for Irish education – EirePreneur

Occasionally Google Alerts throws up some odd links, often old material that for some reason has been refreshed in the cache. This is one of them, and I’m very glad because I find it a fascinating attempt to pull together a very fractured discussion about digital publishing, curriculum development and ebooks in Irish Education. Hopefully, I’ll follow some of the links in the post to some more interesting discussion.

On November 6th last we asked on Twitter – “Can Irish educators explain what obstacles prevent the development of an opensource curriculum distributed on back-friendly ebooks?”

Darren Geraghty, a researcher at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute in Galway was first to answer – “I’m not an educator but I’m told book publishers want it to remain the current archaic way for obvious self-serving monetary reasons”

To which I reponded, “I’ve heard that too but wonder why, in the age of wikipedia, an opensource alternative can’t be developed? Lack of will?”

via Ebooks and opensource textbooks for Irish education – EirePreneur.

A Quick Note On Media 2020

qrcode Others have written decent summaries on what happened at Media 2020, a conference on the future of media in Ireland that was run by Media Contact in Croke Park Conference Centre yesterday. Blathnaid Healy has a blog summary using Twitter hastags [clever methinks] and Fin O’Reilly has an interesting round-up too. I wanted to add some thoughts on three things, one that struck me while I was listening to speakers and the others that became obvious as I digested the event.

we are behind our competitors
The first thought is that we are quite a ways behind our competitors. This became obvious when BBC Backstage producer Ian Forrester (@cubicgarden) spoke. He had tried just about everything Irish media companies were thinking of or had just launched.

This came to a comical head when one of the mythic future techs mentioned, QR Codes, came up for discussion on a panel. He mentioned an experiment that the BBC had done in a zoo using, QR Codes, and almost casually mentioned that it was three years ago. I had a good laugh at that. Matt Locke (@mattlock) from Channel Four hit some similar notes too as did Jonathon Moore (@moorej) from Guardian Media.

The import of this was obvious to me. Ireland is behind other countries in digital change. As the world becomes more digital, our competitors become more global. Irish media companies need to start experimenting quickly and following the lessons learned elsewhere. They have an opportunity to jump ahead but I’d caution them to wait just a moment before they do.

no-one seems to have a coherent strategy
It was something of a relief coming from a seemingly rudderless publishing industry, to see that pretty much all content and media firms are as clueless about the future as publishers are. They are all distracted by the shiny toys, all entranced by the lure of easy profits in apps and downloads and all besotted with copyright protection and forcing the reader or the advertiser to adapt to their advantage.

The BBC, if I read their thinking correctly, at least seemed content to let innovation find a way forward but were not pushing for that to happen any time soon, The Guardian’s vaunted digital plan is at least clear, but I’m not certain it offers much more than a hope that their gamble on openness will be rewarded. They at least have not flip-flopped from tactic to tactics in the hope of stumbling upon a strategy by accident as others have.

It seems to me that following the trend is not the way forward. So experimentation is definitely a good idea, but with clear purpose and forceful reasoning.

where was book publishing?
There was not one speaker from book publishing and looking down the list of attendees, the closest one gets to a book publisher was me, Eason who had a representative and one or two PR Agencies that have been known to handle book publicity.

On the one hand it is a shame that the book publishers did not see the need to attend and on the other it says a lot about the perception of book publishing in Ireland that the organisers felt no need to include someone to speak to that market.

While much of the day did not specifically mention or reference books, there was so much potential on display for creators of quality content and new ways of thinking about content that not attending seems to me to have been a poor choice for book publishers.

final thoughts
I enjoyed the conference enormously and came away feeling refreshed and happy that there were people thinking deeply about digital change in Ireland, surprised that so many people hadn’t read The Cluetrain Manifesto and impressed by the openness to social media at the Abbey Theatre (@abbeytheatre) as traditional an icon of Ireland as they come.


Disclosure: I was given a free ticket for the conference by Media Contact after I retweeted a promotional tweet.