Selling eBooks in Europe can be a challenge, according to Cristina Mussinelli, Digital Publishing Consultant at the Italian Publishers Association. In a panel at Digital Book World today, she discussed why.

First of all, consumers in Europe are not as used to buying books from e-commerce sites, so getting European consumers used to buying in a new channel and in a new format will take some effort.  Still, while Europeans are slower to shop online, they are catching up. In 2010, Europe saw 20% growth in e-commerce book sales.

Another reason is that Europeans have also been slower to adopt eReaders. However, 26% of European readers have expressed interest in buying a reading device and 22% have expressed interest in reading on a mobile phone. And the iPad was a big hit this past holiday, which could help shift adoption models.

Still, that doesn’t ensure eBook sales in the iBookstore or even in the Kindle app. As Mussinelli pointed out, European countries are suspicious of American companies and publishers and retailers in these countries tend to establish their own national eBook distribution stores, such as Edigita in Italy. And since publishers stand to gain from selling through their own, they may not release titles to these competitive American booksellers. She recommends U.S. publishers sign up with Ingraham or OverDrive to help sell eBooks in these markets.

The pricing issue seems to be a bit simpler in most European countries (exclusing the UK), as national law dictates that publishers set book prices and retailers must respect the price expect during designated sale periods. This means no need for an agency model. However, one big hurdle with eBook pricing is VAT tax. For print books, which are considered cultural items, the VAT is only about 4%. While the VAT for eBooks, which are considered more of a service item, is about 20%. Publishers need to keep this in mind when establishing price.