My Rite to Read

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Publishing in Small Markets

Mija Kovac came to class wearing two hats. One as digital strategist and publisher at the Mladinska knjiga Group, the other as the chairman of the Department of Information Science at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. He gave us a well rounded insight into book publishing in small markets like his native Slovenia, where 16% of all books sold are in the English language. Slovenia he said, is the perfect example of an average nation in the EU reflective of average patterns in everything but reading habits (higher than average). 
By Dr. Miha Kovac

Problems in the Slovenian book market include the universal ones of competitive retailers and rise of ebooks, the decay of brick and mortar, apps over illustrated books, and the uncertain future of the library. More local problems that he pointed to included the fast growth of reading in English and competition from USA and UK retailers and small markets having not enough resources for R and D and investments in digital infrastructure. 

However, people are buying 3 times more electronically, and the threat is not so much to protect copyright as it must to protect the buyer, he suggested. The MKG owns over 57 bookstores with about 454 employees, ploughing back a turnover of over 25.5 million Euros each year, closer to a third of the Slovenian market. The company (conglomerate) enjoys strong warehousing and distribution services, and publishes on a principle of low print runs with a high number of reprints, a functional successful mechanism in a small market like Slovenia where good content is sought, regardless of the price (despite the absence of a Net Book Agreement). Though there is a high penetration of English language ebooks in Slovenia, there is no data to support the increased circulation in the years. In fact, it is his dream to create metadata crawlers that effectively tag information about books and publishers, as a book's metadata influences best what we buy as it algorithmically makes some appear more often than others.

 'Ebooks are changing the landscape even in those countries which pretend they don't have an ebook market.' 

Problems faced in the Slovenian book market include competition from ebooks and etailers, breakdown of brick and mortar, apps as competitors to illustrated books, and the uncertain future of libraries. 'Ebooks are changing the landscape even in those countries which pretend they don't have an ebook market,' he opined. Will libraries exist in a climate where books are being sold for about 1-2 Euros? And if libraries and brick and mortar bookstores disappear, the entire book will disappear from the urban landscape altogether, even as book organisations increasingly latch on to technology companies. Ebooks and apps should be treated as a spin off enterprise, and when combined with more European Union and local funding, could make better headway. Whether Apps and ereading are a distraction or an accelerator to the educational experience, remains a much debated topic. For the future, as information continues to digitise, he offers that publishers should have more links with technology companies and universities, and learn from other branches in the industry.    

He talked about the importance of the appearance and semantic web of the author in times where certain authors may sell well only within a certain cultural context, and remain unnoticed in others. And, Amazon is evil not just because it is killing the book market, but because it lacks a genuine interest in dealing books, 'all it wants is more customers', he reflected, embodying the emotion of a true blue publisher. 

Dr. Kovac's ongoing two day talk is a power-prelude to the weekend's much anticipated Book History and Book Cultures Conferences at University of Stirling. 

Watch this space for more. 

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