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Booming e-books

May 10, 2011

Although e-readers have been available to Europeans for several years, customers have been slow to embrace the technology. But now Germans are gradually beginning to explore their options.

Amazon's e-book reader Kindle
German consumers have been slow to adapt to digital reading opportunitiesImage: picture alliance/dpa

A recent study by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, which advocates for the country's book trade, predicts that some 16 percent of publishing revenue will come from e-book sales by the year 2015.

That is a marked difference on last year, when sales from electronic literature accounted for just half a percent of publisher's total income.

Following the launch and booming sales of Oyo, a German-made e-reader, and the opening last month of Amazon's German e-book store, experts say there is every reason to believe that the upwards trend will continue.

"We see increasing interest from consumers to read digitally," said Ronald Schild, the CEO of Libreka, an online bookstore and a subsidiary of the German Booksellers Association, in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

"We expect massive change in the publishing industry over the next couple of years," he added.

A previous obstacle to German e-book sales was the low number of volumes available for purchase, but starting late last month, Amazon began its new German e-bookstore, complete with 650,000 German titles for its own Kindle e-reader and compatible apps. That is almost half the number of regular books available in Germany at any one time.

Changing mentalities and methodologies

A customer reading a book in a book shop
Browsing books takes on a whole new meaning in the digital ageImage: AP

Schild attributes German booksellers' ambivalence towards e-books to their efficient shipping and ordering methods, which have long made it easy for customers to get hold of most titles in a very short space of time.

Gabriele Koeplin is the owner of Buchhandlung Koeplin, a book store in Bonn, and she has her reservations about going digital.

"Everything will change," she told Deutsche Welle. "If I sell e-books, I will not have normal books in my shop."

She says she needs to experiment with an e-reader before she can decide whether or not to get with the technological times. And although she is not alone in her skepticism, recent industry data indicates e-books are on the rise in other European countries as well.

Balancing the old with the new

A selection of e-readers and people looking at them
There are a growing number of e-readers to choose fromImage: DW / Manfred Böhm

Last year, almost two million e-readers were shipped to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and sales were notably high in Britain, Germany, and France. Schild says that is indicative of changing attitudes towards e-books in those countries.

According recent figures published by the Publishers Association in the UK, e-book sales increased by 20 percent last year, and brought in a total of 200 million euros. Across the Channel, major French publisher Lagardère says its first-quarter sales figures from this year put e-book sales up 88 percent over the same time in 2010.

In the face of these trends, efforts are underway to keep e-books from wiping out Germany's beloved independent bookshop. However, Libreka, has invited small brick-and-mortar book retailers to become partners.

The integration of e-books into Germany's reading culture is far from complete, but if the book market develops as experts are predicting, the land of Gutenberg might just go digital.

Reporter: Shant Shahrigian / tkw
Editor: Cyrus Farivar