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Italian Publisher Marco Ferrario Talks About eBooks In Italy

Italian-based digital publisher 40kbooks was founded with short form fiction in mind. The publisher specializes in publishing fiction novellas in the eBook form. Authors on the imprint include: Bruce Sterling, Mike Resnick, Jeff VanDerMeer and Derrick De Kerckhove. 40k is owned by DigiPub, who also owns Bookrepublic, one of Italy’s largest eBookstores. eBookNewser caught up with 40k CEO Marco Ferrario to discuss the eBook scene in Italy.

EBN: How is digital publishing evolving in Italy these days?

MF: The eBook market started in Italy only in September 2010, as in many other European countries. After 6-8 months we have almost 10,000 titles available in ePUB, PDF and MOBI and about 20,000 are expected by the end of the year. There is no Kindle store. Amazon.it just arrived in November 2010. But it’s coming quickly. Bookrepublic is growing at an average 20% a month since January and April is up 35% over March.

Compared to the other European markets, Italy is behind the UK (the entrance of the Kindle in the UK with 500,000 titles was disruptive), Germany (100,000+ digital titles) and France (50,000+titles), but slightly ahead of Spain and Sweden (4,000 digital titles each). Kindle doesn’t seem to have the same penetration power in non-English speaking countries. Apart from the UK, in all the other European countries eBooks count for less than 1% over the whole trade book market in 2010. This year expectations are between 1% and 2%. We’re 3-4 years behind the US and 1-2 years behind the UK.

EBN: Which eReader devices are popular in Italy?

MF: We carried out research on our clients before Christmas and it came out that the iPad is the most popular reader (50%), followed by Kindle (16%) and Sony (13%). The iPad was “the” Christmas gift and now the iPad2 arrived. Best estimates say there are 350,000 iPads in Italy, 35,000 Kindles (even if there is no Kindle store selling Italian titles) and 20,000 Sony and about 50,000 other brands.

EBN: How are Italian consumers buying eBooks?

MF: There are likely 150,000-200,000 people using eReading devices and 20 plus stores selling eBooks. Considering that less than 50% of Italians buy at least a book a year, these are pretty good numbers for a six month old market. As in many other countries, heavy readers seem to be the most attracted by eBooks, due to the lower average prices and portability. Even if they don’t buy and read many books, apparently Italians, love to share conversations and bookmarks around books, as the Anobii Italian community is the largest in the world. Two thirds of the available titles are Adobe DRMed, which means a relevant 30% is sold with social DRM protection. Indie publishers realized that the digital distribution provides visibility to their titles and decided not to use Adobe DRM. Consumers seem to appreciate this policy.

EBN: How are Italian publishers responding to digital books?

MF: The four largest publishers in Italy have about 65% of the trade book market and control both physical distribution and the three major book retail chains. They’re still very powerful, but have to face two big concerns — the impact of the digital shift on their core business and rental costs they have as physical distributors and retailers in a shrinking business. There are good reasons for them not to push the shift towards digital books.

On the other hand, medium and small publishers, who had always suffered a lot from the concentration of distribution and sales in the hands of few large publishers, look at the digital distribution as a big opportunity. All titles in our store have the same visibility –either it’s a frontlist bestseller or an unknown author of a small publisher. This policy, together with the social DRM instead of Adobe DRM, let small publishers have a higher market share than in the paper business. Furthermore, there are some digital native publishers who are doing the first steps to innovate. Our 40k imprint is part of this group.

EBN: How does digital distribution change regional rights? Will they go away?

MF: We think there will be significant changes in regard to this in the near future. 40k Books are translated in three or four languages and are on sale in different markets. Our authors were attracted by this opportunity and in more and more cases we are beginning to have growing sales in the US, the UK and Italy. Since Amazon is not yet here and the market size is insignificant, at the moment only very few Italian publishers are concerned by potential changes in regional rights. Mainly independent publishers have to look at them as an opportunity.

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