E-Publishing News - Is E-Business really Business?

The latest on E-Publishing from the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The following remarks were made by Dr. Hubertus Schenkel, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Ausstellungs- und Messe GmbH and e-publishing expert, speaking at the opening press conference for the 53rd Frankfurt Book Fair on Tuesday, October 9.

"Is e-business business?

At a time of drastic falls in prices on the new market and the increasing economic difficulties facing many directly or indirectly involved businesses, the answer to this question seems very simple: dot.coms are turning into dead.coms. A lot of money has been invested into a market development, but very little money has found its way back. Does that mean we really should just leave it?

This is not a view I share. We have had our experiences and learned from them. As with so many new technologies, the product life cycle develops according to the following pattern: first hype, secondly frustration, thirdly realization, fourthly marketable product.

Right now, we are in the middle of the frustration phase. Is there anything that hasn't gone wrong?

-At great expense, CD-ROMs for multimedia uses were developed and brought onto the market as from 1994. Consumers have not been willing and are still unwilling to spend the corresponding amounts of money on them.

-In 1995, we all thought that by the year 2000 electronic products would make up a share of at least 50 % for many non-fiction and reference books, and school textbooks too. A great deal of money was invested in development. But the assumption proved wrong.

-Advertising on the Internet is felt to be annoying and does not make any significant contribution to financing projects.

-There is no culture of paying on the Internet. Users expect information to be passed on free of charge.

-The introduction of e-books has failed by far to live up to the high expectations.

The business objective of many dot.coms was not to produce a marketable product, but to become personally wealthy by going public.

The bubble burst and everyone was wiser after the event.

But it is not as simple as that. Here are some of the facts:

- From 1997 to 2001, the number of online users in the Federal Republic of Germany rose from 4.11 million to 24.8 million people, that means that 38.8 % of the population (1997: 6.5%) have access to the Internet.

-User structure is increasingly aligning with the demographic and socio-demographic data.

-80 % use email, 59 % look for specific information, 51 % surf the net aimlessly, 18 % are active in chat-rooms, 14 % look at small ads, but only 5 % actually shop online.

-Approx. 50 % of Internet users say that they are willing to pay for services.

In other words: the Internet has become a mass medium, but it is barely exploited at all from a commercial point of view.

Although online book sales account for only 2 % of total book sales turnover in Germany, it is almost 8 % in the market for end-users according to GFK. This is a figure I would not have thought possible only a few years ago.

On the school textbook supplementary market, training CD-ROMs have taken over a quite considerable market share.

At 31 % user frequency, home banking occupies sixth place in use ranking.

The medium is to a large extent firmly established and now "only" needs to offer what consumers are willing to pay for.

Does this mean that there are business opportunities in e-business for us publishing companies after all? Leaving aside the STM sector that follows very specific rules of its own, we can identify three main areas:

Firstly: development of an individual customer loyalty tool. This may incur costs in the first instance, but it is only by knowing your customers precisely that you can expand your position within increasingly narrow markets. This should possibly be combined with online shopping and cross-media offers.

Secondly: development of non-media specific databases that are urgently needed for electronic usage, enabling publishing companies to react more swiftly to opportunities on the market.

Thirdly: the transmission of information at a price, from statistics to teacher recommendations, modules on the further education sector to advertising and topical information.

It is also time to get away from the opposing view of print on the one hand, versus electronic on the other. In many situations, the print version of a world almanac has advantages over an e-version, but vice versa as well.

Back-up information can be supplied as a book or as a CD-ROM.

School textbook publishers are bringing trimedial products onto the market, that is to say, a book together with a CD-ROM and an online site.

Multiple exploitation is needed if this is to be a viable business proposition. The publishing companies have learned that first of all contents must be reorganized and produced in a new way here, in order to meet the demands of the future, particularly beyond e-business alone."

"Back to the question at the beginning: is e-business business?"

"It's impossible to give an unequivocal answer. Every project is different. At the moment, most publishing companies are still at the investment and search phase. All the same, economically viable projects are possible under the following four conditions:

1. organization of contents in line with market requirements,

2. direct appeal to target groups,

3. a paradigmatic shift among consumers towards a willingness to pay,

4. the development of products for which consumers want to exercise their willingness to pay.

Publishing companies do have much more time to develop electronic products, however, than was thought five years ago. Less pressure in terms of time also means fewer mistakes and lower costs, at least in theory.

In closing, one more very personal point: in discussing the technology, let us not neglect work on the contents. A good text will always be a good text, irrespective of the medium used for its publication. It's only the viewpoint on the text that can change."

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E-Books get lots of ink at Frankfurt
50,000 multimedia professionals come as visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair every year. This makes Frankfurt the biggest forum for e-publishing worldwide. Every third exhibitor among the total of more than 6,000 at the Fair offers electronic publications of some kind. Altogether, there are 2,230 exhibitors with multimedia, software, online information, edutainment, audiobooks, videos and other e-products in their range.

. Sometimes e-books are actually made of paper - when they find their way onto the shop-counter in small tailor-made editions produced by print-on-demand. Sometimes e-books are not a finished product at all, just digital raw material in databases, ready to be accessed and put on a CD-ROM or posted on the Internet.

Sometimes innovative projects are involved, such as when several thousand libraries in developing countries join together to form a digitally-linked network as large-scale purchasers with the money at their disposal to obtain the best possible terms. Or, people are just surfing the Net in search of interesting things to read or high-quality, up-to-date information material.

Increasing specialization is one of the striking characteristics of the current developments that have been highlighted by the Frankfurt Book Fair ever since 1993.

This year it all began two days before the Book Fair actually opened, on 8 October, when the "Frankfurt Big Questions" Conference provided a forum for media and publishing professionals and the people who have to take far-reaching strategic decisions for their companies within the context of a predominantly difficult economic climate.

Such questions as these were debated:
How quickly will a wider public accept the small screen as a reading medium? What role will be played by libraries? How is the translation market likely to change? And how is it possible to make money, given the vast amount of content available free on the Internet?

In the coming weeks, we will report on the results of these debates, and deliver any other breaking news on the topic from this year's Book Fair.

2nd Annual E-Book Awards Announced
See results from the Frankfurt eBook Awards, presented during a gala event at the Fair, in our Industry Update column.