Where can you buy ebooks in Australia? A round-up of ebookselling developments in 2013

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A number of new ebookstores opened in Australia during 2013, while others closed. Andrea Hanke rounds-up some of the recent developments in the local ebook market.

While the news was announced partway through 2012, the withdrawal of Google as a local book retailing partner in January 2013 was one of the first major upsets of the year, affecting local partners Dymocks, Booktopia, the Co-op and QBD, although QBD was not yet selling ebooks at the time of Google’s withdrawal.

This followed in March with the news that ebook distributor OverDrive would discontinue ebook sales from its Booki.sh platform in June. Booki.sh, a home-grown ebook platform provider that was purchased by OverDrive in 2012, helped a number of indie booksellers launch their ebookstores, including Avid Reader, Gleebooks, Fullers, Imprints, Mary Ryan’s and Books for Cooks. These ebookstores subsequently closed. ‘Ebooks, in my opinion, have been a major headache for any but the biggest Australian retailers, all along,’ said Gleebooks co-owner David Gaunt at the time.

In March, Australian ebookstore Booku, along with online print bookstore Boomerang Books, was put up for sale. Booku eventually closed in August, while Boomerang continues to trade through its partnership with Pages & Pages Booksellers.

In April, a new ebook retailer emerged on the scene. JB HiFi launched its own ebookstore offering ebooks in PDF and EPUB formats for all devices that support Adobe digital rights management, as well as dedicated ereading apps for Apple and Android devices. The retailer was already selling a range of ereaders, including Sony and Kobo devices.

Slipping under the radar somewhat, German ereading company txtr also launched Australian and New Zealand ebookstores in the first half of the year, offering local ebook titles alongside international ones.

Pages & Pages Booksellers made headlines in April when it announced that it would introduce a ‘Kindle amnesty’, asking customers to trade in their Amazon Kindles for BeBook ereaders and raising awareness about the limitations of the Kindle. While only a few customers took the bookseller up on its offer, Pages & Pages general manager Jon Page said that the promotion led to ‘countless conversations with customers who have been considering buying a Kindle and have changed their mind’.

In May, Sony opened its Reader Store in Australia, offering a range of local and international ebooks. While the store is aimed at users of Sony Reader devices, the ebooks can be used on any devices that support the EPUB format.

Also in May, QBD become the first Australian retailer to launch an ebookstore powered by ebook provider Copia, and was soon followed by a number of other booksellers around the country, including: Farrell’s, Mary Martin, Dillons Norwood, UNSW Bookshop, The Turning Page, Better Books and Paperbark Merchants. Several other booksellers opened Copia-powered online stores in the second half of 2013.

Also announced in June was the long-awaited launch of TitlePage Plus by the Australian Publishers Association and Thorpe-Bowker, which gave Australian retailers local availability and other information on print and digital books.

Big W became the first discount department store in Australia to enter the ebook market, launching its ebookstore, powered by OverDrive, in September. The store offers ebooks in EPUB and PDF formats, which can be read on all devices that support Adobe digital rights management. Big W was already selling a range of ereaders and tablets, including Kobo, Kindle and Samsung products.

In October, Kobo announced a partnership with the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA), similar to partnerships signed with independent booksellers in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland, and the US. ABA member booksellers who sign up will be able to sell Kobo devices in their stores, and will also get a percentage of the sales of ebooks purchased by their customers from the Kobo store. ‘It has been a mystery to me why it has taken this long to find a straightforward, cost-effective solution to allow bookshops the opportunity to provide ebooks and ereaders in their suite of services. Kobo has provided a simple, elegant, comprehensive and inexpensive entry point,’ said ABA CEO Joel Becker at the time.

The only ABA member store to start selling Kobo ebooks and ereaders before Christmas was Pages & Pages, which previously sold ebooks through the ebook supplier ReadCloud, although the ABA has confirmed that another seven booksellers have signed-up. In Australia, Kobo also supplies ebooks and ereaders to Collins Booksellers and online retailer Bookworld.

The year ended with a flurry of new ebookstore announcements. In November, the rumours that Amazon was launching a Kindle store in Australia were finally confirmed. The Kindle store went live on 13 November at www.amazon.com.au, a domain name that the retailer has owned since 2004 and which previously directed Australian consumers to the amazon.co.uk site. The local site does not, however, sell print books.

Around the same time, Optus also launched its own ebookstore, powered by OverDrive, with ebooks available in EPUB and PDF formats and able to be read on devices that support Adobe digital rights management. Existing Optus customers can pay for their purchases from their pre-paid mobile account or monthly mobile bill, while new customers can purchase ebooks and audiobooks using Paypal.

Finally, US bookseller Barnes & Noble launched an Australian Nook ebookstore in November, which is accessible via an app for PCs and devices with Windows 8.1.

Kobo launch: forget about the device, look at the titles

[a version of this article first appeared in Crikey on Friday 21 May as a subscriber-only story. Many thanks to Crikey and its editor Sophie Black for permission to reproduce it here on Fancy Goods—TC]

As the REDgroup rolls out its Kobo ebooks platform, let’s forget about the device for a moment and look instead at the title offer. Mainstream media stories seemed to be all about the Kobo ereader, but this launch represents a notable step in the development of a local ebook market not because of the gizmo but because it’s the first time an ebook retailer has been able to offer a significant range of Australian ebooks to sell, across a range of reading devices. (Dymocks, of course, was a pioneer in launching its ebook offer in 2007, but Dymocks arguably went too early and have been held back thus far by a lack of local content …)

The Kobo reader itself is cheap—at $199 it’s pretty much the cheapest dedicated ereader on the market, and it is pretty basic. But that’s not really the point: ereading is quickly moving away from proprietary devices and multiple formats toward files in a standard format (ePub) that can be read on a range of devices. One of Kobo’s stated advantages is that it is cross-platform: Kobo promises that its ePub titles—while still being restricted/protected by Digital Rights Management to prevent copying/sharing—will be able to be read on a range of devices from smartphones to tablets to laptops to desktop PCs. And if you have ePub or PDF files from other sources, they should be readable on the Kobo reader or in the Kobo apps.  (Frustratingly, if you have already bought yourself a Kindle from Amazon &/or you have Kindle ebook files downloaded on your computer or iPhone, you probably won’t be able to easily read those on the Kobo reader … Amazon supplies its ebooks in a proprietary format that ties them to either the Kindle reader device or Kindle app.)

But what about the list of titles on offer? Kobo seems to have energised and engaged with Australian publishers in a way that the overseas players (Kindle, Apple, etc) haven’t so far. Australian readers will now be able to go to one place to buy ebook versions of books published by up to 100 local publishers, ranging from the local offerings of the multinationals: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan and Hachette, for example; to books from Allen & Unwin (which has offered many of its titles as ebooks for a number of years), MUP, UQP, Scribe, Text and many others from Australia’s diverse independent publishers. ‘The offer is about us trying to offer as many Australian titles on this open platform as we can,’ REDgroup’s communications manager Malcolm Neil said. Here are some authors whose titles you can buy now on Kobo you can’t (yet) get on Kindle: Kate Grenville, Shane Maloney, Peter Temple, Malcolm Knox, Thomas Kenneally … Continue reading

Excuse us while we take a moment…

We’re pretty snowed under here at Bookseller+Publisher headquarters, putting the finishing touches on the July issue after getting out this week’s bumper issue of the Weekly Book Newsletter.

Last week, Matthia was sweating it out at Darwin’s Wordstorm writers festival (you can read her post on Wordstorm here) and this week Andrea is soaking up Sydney Writers Festival (and heading to tonight’s Book Design Awards to see what titles are declared Australia’s best-looking: see the contenders here). This is what Andrea’s desk looks like now:

Also, as we reported in the Weekly Book Newsletter, REDgroup Retail, which owns Borders Asia-Pacific (and Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls in New Zealand), launched its Kobo ebook platform yesterday, as well as its Kobo ereader: Continue reading

Why can’t Australians buy the ebooks they want?

In the past few months, the world seems to have gone ebook mad. First the Amazon Kindle was made available locally, now we await the Apple iPad, due at the end of May. Plenty of people are already reading on iPhones and other mobile screens, and there are quite a number of other readers available and an ever-expanding choice of online stores from which to buy ebooks. The reader devices vary in price and features, but for Australian users one complaint is common: I’ve paid for the gizmo, now why is it so hard to buy the ebooks I want to read on the damned thing?

The short, but far from simple, answer is that it’s due to territorial copyright, contractual arrangements between authors and publishers and the long-established ways of book publishing—and it’s nothing to do with Parallel Importation regulations (PIRs) in Australia’s Copyright Act (the restrictions that were such a hot topic of debate last year). That’s because PIRs only cover print books. Electronic files are only considered in the Copyright Act if they’re in physical form—i.e: burned onto CDs/DVDs. There is currently no provision in Australia’s Copyright Act that covers ebook files.

A common misconception is that it is Australian publishers that are restricting access to ebooks that are available to readers in other countries; but this isn’t really the case. On the whole it is US (and in some cases UK) publishers who are setting geographical restrictions on ebooks based on (a cautious reading of) their existing book contracts.

In the simplest (and for this example the best) case an author would sign a global contract with one publisher to sell their book in all markets and in any and all formats. In reality, for the vast majority of books, authors grant only certain rights to their publisher, and usually they choose a different publisher in each major territory. So a US publisher may well acquire print and electronic rights for a particular book for the US market only; meanwhile the author (via their literary agent) is shopping around for the best offer and will try their hardest to sell separate rights to publishers in the UK, to Canada, to Australia and translation rights to other countries, and they may or may not sell electronic rights along with print ones. At the moment, the US is leading the way when it comes to ebooks, so any geographic restrictions imposed on the US publisher in a book contract are coded into their ebook files at the time of their conversion and are a layer of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) that virtually all publishers insist on—and with which retailers have no choice but to comply.

Few ‘global’ books

Publishing is increasingly international, with about half a dozen dominant global players (Penguin, Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster), but there are very few global books. Even the most recognisable of international bestsellers will often be published by a different company in each territory (for example, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is published by Quercus in UK, and that edition is distributed via Murdoch Books in Australia, but Random House is Larsson’s publisher in the US). In a borderless online world, you can begin to see the problem: if an Australian customer downloads an ebook from Amazon.com in the US, which publisher receives the revenue? Continue reading

The week that was: Friday round-up

The longlist of that iconic award, the Miles Franklin was announced this week, with the ratio of male to female authors—that’d be nine men versus three women—troubling some (especially following the recent Australia Post author stamps controversy). The fact that a woman won this year’s regional Commonwealth Writers Prize, the announcement of this year’s Orange Prize longlist and the presentation of the Barbara Jefferis award for ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’ made up some ground. (Though this might have tipped things back again.)

There was controversy in the form of a book-related defamation case and a footballer’s memoir, a new batch of Popular Penguins were unveiled and the poms admitted we are better at cricket than they are (on the book front anyway).

The 7.30 Report took a look at ebooks (the mainstream media also having just got wind of the fact that Borders and Angus & Robertson will soon be selling them).

Oh, and an author is in the running for this year’s Cleo Bachelor of the Year ….