SCANDINAVIA: e-Book market uncertainty

In Norway, Sweden and Denmark, e-books are causing friction between publishers, libraries and bookstores. Publishers are in a dilemma about pricing and copyright protection. But libraries, students and academics want access to more e-books. If Scandinavian publishers do not deliver in time, customers will increasingly source their e-books abroad.

Libraries complain they are forced to pay up to 40 times more to publishers when they lend an e-book, compared to the printed version, while many publishers and bookstore owners fear libraries are 'cannibalising' the commercial e-book market rather than prompting overall growth.

Libraries are the drivers of e-book delivery in Nordic countries.

In Sweden, Lund University library says e-media including e-books and journals are borrowed five times more often than printed media.

Lars Björnshauge, director of university libraries at Lund, told University World News: "With the internationalisation of education, mobile work habits and so on, today's students expect their course literature to be digital and remotely accessible."

Without academic course literature and text-books in e-book form in Swedish and Nordic, academics would have to turn to digital formats in other languages - probably English.

Lund's university libraries are investing heavily in the acquisition of e-book packages from international publishers and recently bought 30 e-book readers. Björnshauge said it was time for Nordic academic publishers to wake up, overcome their fears and develop sound business models.

Sweden's largest e-book distributor is Elib, founded in 2000 and owned by the Swedish publishing companies Bonnier, Natur & Kultur, Norstedts and Piratförlaget. e-Book lending has increased by 30% each year, and today 250 libraries lend 11,000 digital books a year, at SEK20 (US$3) for each loan. Half of this goes to Elib and half to the publisher and author.

But as of August 2010, e-book editions made up less than 1% of the book market, leading publishing companies to say that with such low numbers, a pricing policy was difficult to decide on.

Despite the small numbers, growth has been significant - from 1,458 e-book titles in August 2008, to 2,849 by August this year, a growth of 94%. Average monthly sales grew from 372 e-books to 3,455 over the same period while library loans rose from 6,390 a month to 11,796.

Lotte Gerbers of the Union of Danish Authors has urged publishers to step up publication of e-book titles available in Danish, suggesting that until at least 4,000 marketable titles become available, the market will remain small. The publishers say more e-books are on the way.

Danish-based publisher Gyldendal alone is planning 2,000 new e-book titles in 2011, both new and previously published books.

Jannicke Røgler, a research fellow at Oslo University College, told University World News: "Both price and copyright are major issues for Norwegian publishers. In Norway publishers are very conservative and they also have an additional challenge no other country has because they own the total value chain, including the bookshops and the commercial book clubs."

This has turned out to be a problem for Norwegian publishers in a digital market in which the suggested e-book price is 20% to 30% below the paper book.

"This is too expensive and will not be accepted in a market where English titles can be bought for much less," she said. Norwegian publishers have apparently failed to prevent 25% VAT on e-books while printed books are nil-rated. The issue led to a significant delay in launching e-books in Norway.

Publishers also distrust libraries, fearing a high incidence of pirated copies. Additionally, students prefer reading e-books on different kind of devices and oppose very strict digital rights management.

Røgler predicted the demand for e-books would grow, if slowly. "The publishers are very reluctant and without any books to buy there will be a very limited marked. My fear is that Scandinavians will focus even more on the English language.

"My advice for academic libraries is to be proactive and start testing new devices for dissemination of academic literature," Røgler added.

Jan Degner, director of the Swedish publishing company People's Press, said price would decide how big an impact e-books would have on the general market. But Poul Henrik Mikkelsen of publishing company Systime, commented: "Personally, I do not think we will sell many books on paper in five years time."

Schools are already on track to make greater use of e-books. At a secondary school in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city, teaching materials will be piloted only as e-books, smart boards and personal computers from the next school year.

Chair of the Danish Union of Secondary School Teachers, Bjarke Dahl Mogensen, said: "You have to be a reactionary if you do not think that the e-book is a good thing. It gives greater opportunity to include those who today have difficulties in following traditional teaching."

Lund's Bjørnshauge said: "There is money out there, the libraries are ready to pay - they can see more cost-effective services providing e-books - and the students expects their course literature to be digital. For the student of tomorrow, if is not on the web, it doesn't exist."