E-books invading Europe

Just the other day Amazon.co.uk released information that they are now selling more e-books then printed books. This shows a shift from previous stats, especially in Europe. The US have generally been more e-book friendly and European customers have generally been a bit harder to charm.

Even though there have been e-books available in Europe for quite some time. Both through purchase and lending from libraries, it’s really just these past years that interest for them have come to a level where they can compete with print books.

The case of Amazon and the UK is a bit special though. Amazon has been a big contributor to the growth of the e-book market in the US with its Kindle format books and Kindle e-readers, that have been around for quite a few years now and that has now reached the affordable below $100 price point.

Amazon is also available in Europe, but only in coutries such as the UK, Germany, France and Italy, where they also have been pushing for their Kindles and e-books. Kindle e-books are also available in the native languages of the countries where Amazon have official stores. Amazon’s push for e-books obviously have made results as they are now selling mote e-books then print books, at least in the UK.

But how is the e-book situation in the countries that are not as effected by giants like Amazon? Sweden, where I mainly reside, have until recent years been rather slow and conservative in the book market. The past ten years or so, audiobooks have been on a rise, but it hasn’t really been until recently that e-books began to make headlines.

E-books have been around for quite some time in Sweden too. I remember that while I was studying in the UK in 2004, I used to borrow e-books from a swedish library’s website on the computer and then transfer the books to my Palm PDA where I would read them. I saw it as a great way to get swedish books in England, without having to drag any books with me from Sweden.

There have past a few years since 2004 but it’s not really until now that swedes started using this service much. Last year swedish football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic published his memoirs and it quickly became a best seller here in Sweden. Soon after it was also made available as an e-book to be borrowed from library websites. In difference to the Overdrive system in the US, where only one at the time can download and borrow an e-book, the system that Swedish libraries use make it possible for an e-book to be downloaded multiple times by multiple users at once, and the libraries pay the publishers per download. This made it possible for several people at once to borrow Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s e-book – and they did. There were actually so many people downloading his book that the system crashed. There had been so many downloads that first day the book was available as an e-book that the budget for e-book lending burst and many libraries had to close their e-book lending portals, because they simply could not afford to lend out more e-books.

Though of course libraries having to close their e-book lending portals was not a good outcome, it clearly showed how e-books had finally broke ground in Sweden after all these years.

Overall the e-book market in Sweden have perhaps mainly been focused on lending, but various e-book purchase models have also popped up. Without a major reseller like Amazon on the swedish market, other smaller resellers have gained more ground. The e-book formats vary and so does the DRM solutions. I noticed, however, that the up-and-coming e-book resellers in Sweden come up with their own solutions. For example, one reseller decided that instead of using limiting DRM they put a watermark on their epub format e-books. They also encouraged customers to change the format of the e-book, if one needed another format, using applications such as Calibre to turn an epub file into for instance a mobi/kindle format e-book. They even published a “how to” section on the e-book store website. The watermark could still remain and if it was noticed that the file was being used illegally, the watermark made it possible to trace the origin of the file.

I personally think that that is quite a good compromise, letting the consumer be flexible with the files they purchased, but still letting the publisher have some check on the file. What I think I like most with the option is that the reseller don’t take for granted that all people with digital files share copyrighted content illegally because the vast majority doesn’t.

I think overall the european e-book consumers are more critical to limiting DRM, compared to the american consumers. But alternative solutions will perhaps make europeans warm up a bit more to e-books.

But as Amazon have understood, e-book sales are closely connected to e-reader sales. As Amazon sell neither e-books nor Kindle readers in Sweden, they win no ground. There is a lack of e-book eco-systems in Sweden similar to that of the Amazon Kindle system. If such eco-system existed in Sweden, perhaps the swedes would be more positive towards purchasing e-books, not just lending them. Some e-book stores in Sweden have started to offer e-readers as well as books, but the e-readers in Sweden are about double the price of the low en Kindles and Nooks in the US and of course that rubs of on the general interest levels of e-books and e-readers.