[PRESS-RELEASE] StreetLib CEO Giacomo D’Angelo participates in Abu Dhabi panel discussion on the future ebooks in the Covid-19 era
While Italy-based, StreetLib’s reputation as one of the foremost global players in the digital books arena was enhanced this week when the company’s CEO, Giacomo D’Angelo, joined a panel of publishing industry experts in an online discussion about the impact of digital publishing amid the coronavirus crisis.
Organised by the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) as part of a series of online seminars for the Arab and global publishing industry, the discussion was moderated by Salah Chebaro, General Director of Thaqafa and Founder and CEO of Neelwafurat, one of the largest online sales platforms for Arabic books.
Online alongside the StreetLib CEO were Seham Abdulla Al Hosani, e-Publishing Manager at DCT Abu Dhabi; Julia Balogh, Head of Foreign Rights at Austrian publishing house Ueberreuter Verlag GmbH; Steven Rosato, Manager, OverDrive Professional; and Octavio Kulesz, Argentinian publisher and UNESCO expert in digital creativity and artificial intelligence.
Below is the link for the video on YouTube:
Explaining the reason for the discussion, DCT Abu Dhabi Publishing Director Saeed Hamdan Al Tunaiji said:
“Ebooks have witnessed tremendous growth even before the spread of Coronavirus, especially among young people, because it is the easiest way to reach the public around the world. The Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi is especially focused on digitisation and artificial intelligence because of the great role they play in the process of exploring the future of knowledge. They also enable us to develop the frameworks for creativity and innovation, by focusing on traditional print publishing and also e-publishing, including audio books.”
Seham Abdulla Al Hosani looked at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Noting that globally ebooks sales were up over ten percent, but it quickly became clear that in some parts of the world the numbers were much higher.
For OverDrive Steven Rosato noted that downloads had increased 30% in the first week of US lockdown, with children’s and YA titles seeing increases of 65%-75%, while publisher interest in OverDrive’s K12 (primary-school to college) digital library facility rose from an average 50–100 enquiries a week to 1,500.
For StreetLib, Giacomo D’Angelo shared that the company has seen a 30% increase in publisher interest in getting their catalogue digitized, while revenue for partners was up more than 50%, and across the StreetLib catalogue of 400,000 or more ebooks, print books (POD), comics, audiobook and podcasts downloads were up 90%.
“Not only are publishers rushing to digitise their catalogue more and more, but they are also starting to evolve their internal workflow in order to become leaner and faster, which will benefit not only their bottom line but also benefit consumers,” he said.
Talking about the Arab markets, Steven Rosato said OverDrive, which supplies Sharjah and Abu Dhabi digital libraries, was seeing increased demand.
On the negative side, Julia Balogh raised the issue of publisher pricing for ebooks acting as a deterrent to sales, with many publishers charging the same, or close to, for an ebook as for a print book.
For StreetLib, Giacomo D’Angelo made the point that many of the international retailers like Amazon, Apple and Google Play, where they offer ebooks internationally, do so at US prices (as set by the publisher), which artificially depresses demand and discourages interest in ebooks in the emerging markets.
While all participants shared the perspective that the digital boom during the pandemic will not fade away as the crisis recedes, some expressed concern that a handful of big players so dominate the market that development might be limited by their actions or lack thereof.
Giacomo D’Angelo for instance made the point that Amazon had not opened a new Kindle store in more than five years, leaving much of the world without access to the Kindle store.
But he stressed that numerous smaller players were rising to fill the void and that digital reading — not just regular ebooks but “online reading” as we are seeing in China and across Asia — showed the enormous demand for digital content that many western publishers were missing out on.
The issue of piracy could not be ignored in a discussion like this, but the suggestion that ebooks were particularly prone to piracy was quickly dismissed, with OverDrive’s Steven Rosato making the point that most piracy in the emerging markets involved print books having their spines ripped off, pages scanned, and PDFs being sold online. Other respondents agreed that quality ebooks, sensibly priced, would help solve the piracy problem, not make it worse.
StreetLib CEO Giacomo D’Angelo ended the discussion on a note of high optimism, saying that the pandemic crisis had brought about a renewed focus on the advantages digital offers publishers and the opportunities digital brings to the table, saying there has never been a better time to be a digital publisher than right now.
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