[Dossier] Why the ebook is not taking off in France
While in France, tablets are gradually invading homes and are the subject of multiple studies, predicting an explosion in sales in the very short term, e-readers are still relatively discreet. And for good reason, digital books are struggling terribly to carve out a place for themselves in consumer habits. And this, especially in France.
Indeed, according to a recent study published by the Kearney firm, ebook sales would represent only 0.5% of total book sales in France, against 7% in the United Kingdom and 20% in the United States. How to explain this difference? What are the obstacles hindering the growth of the ebook market in France? How to cure it ? What prospects for the future? Elements of explanation.
Ebooks: 12.5M € turnover in France, nearly 2 billion € in the United States
All the studies come together: France is clearly lagging behind in the ebook market. The latest inventory to date, conducted by the company At Kearney, shows that in France, the digital book market would only weigh € 12.5 million in 2011, out of a worldwide turnover of € 2.4 billion. Largely behind the United States, whose turnover alone reaches nearly € 2 billion, France is also far behind Germany and the United Kingdom, which have respectively a turnover of € 49 million and € 91 million.
Average price of an ebook: 15 € in France against 10 € in the world, the consequence of the single price
The price factor appears to be the first obstacle. Indeed, while digital books are on average marketed 10 € in the world and even 9 € in the United States, France holds for, for its part, the list of the highest price with an average of 15 € per ebook. According to a study conducted by Idate, the price of digital books in France would thus be only 20% to 30% cheaper than paper books, while in the United States the difference between the two media would be 50%.
This difference has a main explanation: the book price control policy applied in our country. Indeed, in France, only the publisher is able to set a selling price that distributors and booksellers must respect. According to Sophie Lubrano, project manager at Idate: the usual pattern in France is to find a hardcover book at € 16, a digital book at € 14 and a paperback book at € 10. An equation that therefore absolutely does not encourage consumers to go to ebooks.
An offer that is still poorly developed
This pricing is therefore regrettable, all the more so since, due to the reduction in the production chain, publishers can take a much larger margin on ebooks than on paper books. (cf: diagrams below produced by the Capital team). However, despite this data, the supply of digital books is still underdeveloped in France.
The question is therefore to know why publishers are not scrambling to offer more discounts and thus capture new consumers. Among the explanatory elements put forward: the heavy dependence of publishers on distributors (big losers in the sector), but also an agreement between publishers to protect the economy of pocket books.
Penetration rate of e-readers: 0.2% in France, 20% in the United States
In addition to the high price of ebooks, French consumers would favor the use of the tablet (not very conducive to long reading) rather than that of e-readers. Indeed, the respective penetration rates would amount to 2.9% and 0.2%, while the usage rate of the two media is equivalent in the United States (20%).
In France, this low rate is due in particular to the absence for a certain time of low-cost e-readers. Indeed, launched 4 years ago in the United States, the Kindle did not enter France until last October. Marketed € 99, the Amazon e-reader has since appeared as a much more attractive offer compared to the old FnacBook sold for € 179, or the current Kobo, available from € 129.
Attachment to cultural goods
Last element of explanation for the French delay, more questionable because subjective, the attachment to the paper book. Indeed, a recent study published by the Gfk institute showed that the French were still very attached to cultural goods, foremost among which: books. Thus, only 19% of the people questioned declared having already downloaded a digital book while 82% of them said having bought a paper book during the year 2011.
Despite the accumulation of obstacles, France could quickly enter a phase of catching up. Indeed, according to the study published by At Kearney, in France, the ebook market could soon experience a “huge boom”. Forecasts are for a penetration rate of between 6 and 7% by the end of 2014.
In addition to these forecasts, French players seem little by little to shake up this inertia specific to the French market. Thus, a battery of young shoots and new initiatives are trying to overturn uses. Latest announcement to date, the imminent launch of an open source platform intended to market digital books. Called TEA, for The Ebook Alternative, the space will be open to all publishers and distributors.
We will also remember the dynamism of the start-up Feedbooks which has just completed a first round of funding in the amount of € 1 million or the launch in beta of YouBoox : community platform for free and legal digital reading. The start-up currently offers a catalog of more than 1,000 titles, which should grow richer over the days. Among the partner publishers: L’Atalante or Le Petit Futé. The company will also develop a premium offer in the short term. Thus for € 9.99 per month, readers will be able to benefit from a wider selection of books, without advertising, and offering exclusive content. Their digital library will also be accessible in offline mode. The 32nd edition of Book Fair which will take place from March 16 to 19, should also offer its share of new features …