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Kobo: Tablets are only for casual eBook reading

by Doug Drinkwater

March 8 2012

Tablets like Kobo's Vox are only good for casual reading, according to the Kobo CEO
Tablets like Kobo's Vox are only good for casual reading, according to the Kobo CEO

The Financial Times’ Digital Media Conference took place in London today, and one of the panel discussions focused on ‘the eBook (r)evolution’, a talk which shifted from tablet and eReader usage to eBook prices.

The panel was hosted by Richard Waters, the west coast managing editor of the Financial Editor, and featured Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis, Google's Santiago de la Mora and two publishing executives from Hachette and aNobii.

After a short introduction by Waters, Kobo CEO Michel Serbinis revealed that eReading is growing ‘faster than expected’ on a month-on-month basis and said that a market which first boomed in the US and Canada, is ‘beginning to play out’ in western Europe. Despite this boom, Serbinis stressed that there is a profound difference in usage between dedicated eReaders and tablets.

“The people buying these devices (eReaders) are reading more frequently than those with tablets.  They read for longer sessions and are more committed”, said Serbinis. “We definitely see tablets as for casual readers. These readers are reading a book every other month, which is a lot less than the average for those using eReaders. Some romance readers are reading up to 30 books a month.”

The growth of eReaders, and specifically eBook revenues, was then pushed by Tim Hely Hutchinson, group chief executive of publisher Hachette in the UK. “eBook revenues made up 1% of our revenue in 2009, but 10% of our total sales 2010. We believe that some publishers are now reporting eBook sales as to contributing 30% to their annual revenue.”

Hely Hutchinson said that most of these sales are a substitute for the printed book, but added that ‘only time will tell’ if this trend changes over time. Interestingly, he said that the most vibrant eBook growth is among children and young adults, but stressed that most of this movement is coming through the black-and-white e-ink eReader, and not through interactive tablets.

The subject then moved to eBook prices, and there was some panel condemnation of agency fees and inconsistent value-added-tax (VAT) fees across the European continent. Matteo Berlucchi, CEO of aNobii, revealed that his firm is paying 20% VAT for eBooks in the UK but expects this fee to fall to a stable level in time, while Google’s Santiago de la Mora pledged that the search giant is behind a number of initiatives to make VAT fees even across Europe by 2015.

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