March 27, 2013

The French ebook revolution

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While the French have been slower than Americans to take to the digital books revolution, Fabrice Neuman argues that publishers and other businesses in France are not only catching on, but positioned to take advantage of the new medium.

Neuman is the chief technology officer and co-founder of Le French Book, a New York-based publisher of French crime novels and thrillers in English; the company’s website describes him as “one of France’s foremost proponents of e-books” and “one of the first French journalists to write about them in the mid-1990s.” In his piece for MediaShift, he points out a study by the Paris-Dauphine Foundation that states that one in five French people have read an ebook, but more than 50% have declared that they would never read one, whereas 25% of Americans describe themselves as regular ebook readers. Still, he contends, “the French are known to be slow starters, but very good race finishers,” pointing out an expected rise in digital readership in France in 2014.

Neuman identifies three factors that have prevented ebooks from gaining a foothold in France: fixed book prices, tax law, and publishers’ skittish attitude toward the technology (he describes a meeting just over a year ago with a major French publishing house, who acknowledged that they had no ebook strategy) have kept them costly and less readily available to consumers. But with laws that made ebooks more expensive than hard copies loosening, and publishers acknowledging the importance of digital books, he predicts an “upcoming revolution” in France (hopefully without too many decapitations).

Perhaps the best example of this transition is YouBoox, an online service that Neuman describes as applying the Netflix model to books. It’s even better than Netflix in one respect, actually, because it offers a free service that allows you to read any book from its catalog without charge while you’re online, with a banner ad across the top of the page. The cost of banishing the banners is €9.99 ($12.97), and that premium subscription also lets you access books offline, provided that you sign in just once a month.

Neuman is quick to point out that the YouBoox catalog is still small, so it’s by no means one-stop shopping for your e-reading needs, but it’s set to expand. “Beware of the French,” Neuman says, because by his estimations, they’re set to take the world of digital publishing by storm.

 

Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.

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