E-readers test out the European market
Czech bookstores mull ways of incorporating the technology
Posted: October 21, 2009
Amazon's Kindle e-reader offers mainly English-language literature.
Kindle, Amazon's electronic text reader, hit the European market last week, allowing Czechs to access more than 200,000 books available for instant download. The hype surrounding Kindle in the United States has been huge, but many Czech publishers and bookstores remain less than convinced about the potential popularity of e-readers among Czech readers.
Amazon debuted Kindle at the Frankfurt Book Fair Oct. 14, entering the European market with a significant library of English books available for download, but only a handful of foreign-language books and newspapers, including El Pais. Kindles are now available to be shipped to the Czech Republic for about 6,000 Kč ($346) each. The company hopes to make a splash among European readers and publishers, but Kindle's success depends largely on how quickly Europeans embrace e-reading technology. Ben Howes, spokesman for Amazon, said the company remains largely focused on English-language literature, but has long-term goals to interest readers in all languages.
"Our focus right now is providing our customers with the best possible experience for English-language content," he said. "In the future, we do plan to offer books in other languages. Our vision for Kindle is to have every book ever printed, in every language, all available in less than 60 seconds."
By changing the way books are read, e-readers have the potential to completely change the publishing industry and to put bookstores in jeopardy. But many involved in the book-selling industry, such as Alexandr Kadavý, marketing director of Megabooks CZ, say that Czech readers are simply not interested in replacing tangible books with digital screens.
"Books are a part of culture and also very special objects. Every reader absorbs books with all of his senses, which makes reading a unique, very personal experience," he said. "That intimacy cannot be supplied by even the best technology."
Kadavý maintained the Kindle would have no economic effect - positive or negative - on Czech bookstores. Dana Kalinová, director of Book World Prague, isn't so sure. It is unlikely e-readers will replace books completely, but the technology is becoming too pervasive to ignore and offers unique opportunities to shop owners, she said.
"If professionals work with this new product by including it in their shops in a way that would complement the offer of printed books, I think there is not such a danger to the industry," she said. "You cannot ignore the existence of [e-readers]."
Many publishers are more willing to embrace e-reader technology. Howard Sidenberg, owner of Prague's Twisted Spoon Press, said his company already has several books formatted electronically, but doesn't yet offer them for sale. Rather than a breakthrough, Kindle is simply another product in a crowded market that hasn't yet standardized, he said.
"The question is whether one should invest the time now - and it does require some time and effort to reformat texts for the various devices that presently exist - given the current size of the digital market, or wait until digital reader usage grows and some clarity has emerged," he said. "The point is we don't want to waste our time with a particular type of formatting that might change or might not be the standard in the future."
Sidenberg said e-reader technology does theoretically offer publishers more opportunities to distribute their books, but said universities and textbook, rather than independent literary, publishers will be most immediately affected by Kindle's arrival.
"One would hope, digital editions will bring down book costs for students," he said.
Perhaps one unexpected impact of the arrival of e-readers in the Czech Republic is to be found at Prague City Library. Over the past six months, the library has been developing a digital library, where readers can download books in several different formats. The popularity of digital reading has been surprising, according Lenka Hanzlíková, head of communications for Prague City Library, who said more than 200,000 books have been downloaded since May.
"We are even planning to buy some e-readers, try them and then loan them to our readers like 'normal' books," she said. "But I hope the library will always be a place worth visiting."
Stephan Delbos can be reached at
Tags: digital, e-book, Kindle, Amazon, e-reader, book.
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