Eoin O’Reilly, Digital Manager at Foyles, which recently increased its range of eBook readers, talks exclusively to eBook magazine about the opportunities offered by the format, the importance of choice and the prospects for eBook titles to get cheaper:
Although the Foyles name is well known to book lovers, you’re a strictly London-based retailer. How important are eBooks – by their nature an online purchase – in bringing the Foyles experience and brand to a wider audience?
We have had a presence online since 2001 and last year this accounted for 7% of our turnover. Many visitors to our site are from overseas. eBooks can only be good for us expanding our worldwide base.
Foyles has always been known for service and choice however with eBooks in their infancy we cannot currently offer the selection of books we would like to offer (we have 60,000 eBooks online but have over 180,000 physical books in our Flagship store). We can offer our unique service and as the range of eBooks encreases the quality of that service will increase exponentially as we guide customers to the correct choice for them.
In the US much of the eBook chatter centres around Amazon’s Kindle which uses a closed book format. In the UK the sector is being driven by numerous competing readers, each supporting the common ePub format. What role do you see for retailers in educating consumers on the benefits of being able to shop around for content?
At Foyles we know that customers like choice and as such we recommend that our customers do not tie themselves down to one format and retailer. However we can only offer the amount of eBooks that are available and it is therefore extremely important that publishers increase the quantity and quality of eBooks they make.
A common complaint is that eBooks cost much more than their heavily discounted paper counterparts. How much of a barrier do you see this being to growing the sector?
It is likely that eBooks will become somewhat cheaper than physical books eventually but market forces will dictate the prices as the market expands. Currently there are issues over pricing when the physical book is in Hardback and is subsequently published in Paperback. I feel that consumers understand that a new product tends to be more expensive and the price gradually comes down over time. I expect this is how eBooks will operate – starting at the Hardback price and coming down in price incrementally.
It is true that publishers make savings on printing and paper with eBooks however the costs to publishers for the intellectual property rights of the book in digital form are high and are in addition to the rights for the physical book.
On a related point, to what extent do publishers determine the price paid by the consumer?
Publishers set the RRP to the consumer and the price to the retailer. We are free to charge whatever we like however with the current model there is very little flexibility. With physical products you can negotiate a better cost price through buying a large amount of the product. This model however is not possible with eBooks. The model will most likely change to a sliding scale of better margins based on sales. This makes the correct pricing of eBooks by retailers difficult but potentially rewarding.
The number of eBooks titles available is increasing but there are still some major titles and authors not available. Do you sense reluctance on the part of some industry players to embrace the format?
It’s more a fear of the unknown rather then reluctance at the moment. There are also many legal rights issues that need to be worked through between publisher and their authors. As more and more authors and publishers produce their work digitally we’ll reach a tipping point and the rest will follow. Anyone who has not yet begun developing their digital catalogue will then have a lot of catching up to do.
There’s recently been talk of delaying eBook releases until after both the hardback and paperback editions. Is this something you’d expect retailers to back?
No. It’s unrealistic in the long term. Customers want choice; a choice of books and a choice of ways to read their books. Books can and are pirated so quickly that not producing the digital edition alongside the physical edition will only lead to a proliferation in piracy.
Do you see a time when eBooks will constitute the same major percentage of book sales as MP3s do for music? If so, how far away are we from that day?
In 2008 UK digital album sales made up just under 15% of total album sales and it has taken a number of years to get to that point. eBooks will follow a similar pattern however you would expect the sales of academic books to be a much higher percentage.
It’s very difficult to predict the future though until there are many more eBooks available and we can get a better read on what consumers really want. Also eBooks will lead to new consumers. People who never previously read physical books will access digital content on their phones and laptops so the while eBooks will increase their market share of the market, the market itself should grow.
What are your predictions for the eBook sector in 2010?
More consumers will read digitally so price will become more of an issue. I would expect a lot more eBooks to come on to the market. The introduction of eBook aggregators on mobile phones (like iTunes on the iPhone) will also shake the market up. eBooks are opening books up to a much wider audience which can only be a good thing for the whole of the books industry.
At Foyles we certainly hope to see more content and more book lovers so we can continue to offer the same great service and choice over that next 100 years as we have over the last 100 years to as wide an audience as possible.