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The e-book: three visions for change

17/11/2009 (dd/mm/yyyy) | Madrid


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Google Books, Grupo Planeta and Bubok.com. Three different perspectives and approaches to the electronic book. This time, the ESADE Alumni BIT Club, in collaboration with the ESADE Alumni Cultural Industries Club, went for diversity of opinion in their round table of 17th November. And the debate on the present and future of the e-book was on.

A great deal of expectation and a large audience met this event on the e-book, sponsored by T-System, amabook.com and blogsconhistoria. The change brings with it both opportunities and risks, and affects many of the links in the value chain, not least publishers and small bookshops. "The appearance of the e-book is causing a radical change in the market. Today we have three differing visions of the change and how it is affecting the industry, what challenges are facing the players and similarly, what opportunities we as book-users are facing", said event-presenter and moderator Javier Castro, President of the ESADE Alumni BIT Club.  "This promises to be a very exciting panel", he added. And he was not wrong.

Google Books: the key is content, not technology

"A book lover" is how Luis Collado Bito, director de Google Books Spain, defined himself in his speech. He warned that "when technology encroaches on the world of books, you can hear something starting to crack". However, the Google executive stated that one must distinguish between the two different visions associated with technology and the world of books. On the one hand, there is the actual reading equipment - that is to say, consumer electronics. On the other, there is the really important one; the content offered by publishers, the culture of creativity. On this subject, he said "Let us not lose sight of the fact that the important thing, the key, is creativity, content, what an author communicates to other people; the rest is just technology". This is why the key lies in getting this content to as many readers as possible, and that is where the e-book comes in: as reading equipment.

Collado Bito also warned that if, as is now the case, there is no variety in content in e-books for people to read, "then perhaps the consumer electronics, as has happened with other culture industries, may begin to see a growth in what worries all of us: piracy". So, he went on, we are in a situation of some risk, where the technology has appeared, but publishers still need time to get the content together. This, according to the speaker, is where the Internet comes in, as a means of facilitating access to culture and knowledge while at the same time enabling creators to distribute their wares and to be seen, something like the village square some years ago. It also means new businesses, such as Google Books in this case.

"Consumer electronics without content is nothing, so let’s not concentrate so much on the reading equipment - let’s see the Internet as an opportunity to spread and even sell our content (both digital and paper). Because at the end of the day, whether it’s consumer electronics, Internet-based or even paper, that initial invention that was so perfect for everybody, the main thing is to get more people reading books", was the closing call to arms from the Director of Google Books Spain.

Grupo Planeta: no legal framework

The previous presentation "could have mentioned the market-creation element.  Everybody is aware that the two cornerstones that coincide with José Manuel Lara’s definition of a publisher’s function are creating content and distributing books", began Jesús Badenes, Managing Director of Grupo Planeta’s Bookshop Division.  So the publisher has the role of making this possible, funding the creation of author content, making books, doing the logistics, investing in publicity ... risking money to make everything possible, as he put it.

"Google’s approach to the world of books was equivalent to a group of booksellers going to the logista warehouse, taking all the books they could get into their cars and putting them in their bookshops, shouting that they were bringing culture to the people... Something’s missing. And what is it? Some kind of legal framework; intellectual property". Badenes said it was all very well to bring culture to the people, but intellectual property had to be respected. As he went on to say, "Fortunately, these days Google’s approach is a lot more respectful as regards something which, along with supply and demand, is basic to the definition of any company: the regulatory framework in which it exists".

We run the risk of falling victim to a kind of polio, by which I mean one part of the body grows faster than another. Today, the technology of content distribution has made a great leap forward without any legal framework, "and in the long term, this could mean there is no quality content", the Grupo Planeta executive warned. It is the author’s right to choose the business model that suits him or her best, if he wants to publish on Internet that is totally legitimate, but so an author’s decision to go with a publisher, and that must also be respected. "I do not like that fact that intellectual property is not respected, and its contents are used for something for which the author has not given any rights", said Badenes.

"I believe that the arrival of this technology is a great opportunity for us, that it will enable us to improve the content quality and that there is room for everybody". So, "publishers, like any business, have to adapt themselves to the market. And there are two ways of doing so: from behind or from in front - we are all running to be ahead of the game, and we’re finding that the market isn’t there", said the Grupo Planeta representative, concluding with; "The publishing world has to come up with a solution for all the authors who want to get on board, all working together on a platform which the market will tell us whether or not there is a demand for".

Bubok.com: "We are not evil"

"Many publishers think we are evil, but we are not, we are daring to do things which the publishing industry is not daring to do", said Ángel María Herrera, CEO of Bubok.com, an online publishing house for self-publishing and distribution. However, "some people see us as an opportunity to try something new". He stated his position on the matter very clearly: "I have decided that I am not going to talk to any more publishers who do not understand the change; we are going to deal with people who do understand the coming changes". Some small publishers have already started to publish with Bubok.com, other groups have a sales channel for their backlist of books that do not sell, he explained.

In his speech, the CEO of Bubok.con encouraged the idea of creating a need for the e-book, through letting people know about it. "Our aim at the book fair is that people try out the e-book, and get to know it", he added. "You have to create new business models, to think about them. The debate is not about whether the paper book survives, it’s about where we are going, and how we can make money from all this. We aren’t trying to defend ourselves, we are trying to innovate", Herrera stated.

The three speakers’ contributions caused a heated discussion afterwards, in a question and answer session where the attendees looked at the opportunities and risks of the new business model the e-book was creating, as well as dealing with specific questions about the future of small bookshops and coming changes.



The ESADE Alumni BIT Club, in collaboration with the ESADE Alumni Cultural Industries Club, is organising a round table about the present and the future of the e-book. 

The e-book is at our door. The cultural industry par excellence, publishing, is facing major challenges and changes, which many are already comparing to those faced by the music or film industries over the last few years.

And it is not only about paper. There is also the influence of distribution and sales channels, marketing of contents and promotion of authors, the public’s tastes, editors’ sense and the business model itself.

New ways of consuming books, of buying and reading them, could result in the disappearance of many agents along the value chain. More traditional publishers will see their influence put in jeopardy. Small bookshops will have to change what they have on offer. There is a danger that piracy will affect revenue and damage reputations, or even endanger the business initiative. But looking at these dangers, one can also see major opportunities: Internet is the gateway to new generations of readers and authors with initiative and imagination, and to distribution and wide-ranging projects.

There is no single formula for success. Some people think in terms of taking strategies from the off-line world and applying them to the new business framework. Others believe that success will be found much closer to the idiosyncratic methods of the digital world.

The ESADE Alumni BIT Club, in collaboration with the ESADE Alumni Cultural Industries Club, is organising a round table to look at these ideas. What are the key points of the change? How true is it that paper will be replaced, and how will that affect the book? Will there be hybrid models? Will all of this actually benefit culture?


Luis Collado Bito, Director of Google Books España 

Ángel María Herrera, CEO of Bubok.com

Jesús Badenes, Managing Director of the Books Division of the Planeta Group

For further information
Nacho Ramón
91 252 68 45

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