News wrap: Overdrive, Book Depository, Kobo and The Canberra Times

Just in case you read my last post and thought I’d lost touch with developments in the ebook world while reading Game of Thrones, here are my thoughts on some recent happenings.

1. Opening of OverDrive’s Australian office

Earlier this month US-based ebook distributor to Booku.com OverDrive announced it is opening an Australian office (in Collingwood in Melbourne).

This follows on from earlier news that they are working with the team from recent acquisition and Australian start-up Booki.sh on a browser-based ereading platform called OverDrive Read.

It’s great for Booku.com customers that our supplier now has a base here. It’ll mean a boost to local content as the team seals more deals with Australian publishers.

2. Book Depository’s ditching of ebooks

The company second only to Amazon as that most despised by independent booksellers, and indeed owned by Amazon these days in any case, has ceased selling ebooks, Bookseller + Publisher reports.

The people at Book Depository, which is UK-based and gained a huge share of the global printed book market by selling online and delivering free of postal charges, probably figured it wasn’t worth trying to compete with Amazon in the ebook space (or were given instructions to that effect by their US masters). If they’d continued, they’d essentially be competing with themselves, and given Amazon has so much of the market sewn up, why bother?

One Australian publisher told me he believes Amazon has as much as 80 per cent of the ebook market in Australia.

All this makes you wonder how long Book Depository will continue to compete with Amazon in the printed book space.

3. Launch of Kobo’s Writing Life

Self-publishing authors have a new starting point for ebook production following the arrival of Writing Life at Kobo.

Digital publishing consultant Anna Maguire has written a comprehensive post on the news here.

The coolest thing about Writing Life as far as I can see is that it allows authors to download the ePub (ebook file) version of their work created through Kobo, store it on their own hard drives, share it with friends, or sell it via other platforms (yes, including Voldemort Amazon).

The other most interesting point in Anna’s post is that a Kobo spokesman told her they claim to have 15 per cent of the Australian ebook retail market. If that figure is tallied with the Amazon one above, that leaves 5 per cent for the indies, Google and Apple. That seems unlikely to me and is, we can hope, indicative that the 80 per cent figure for Amazon is inflated.

4. Axing of The Canberra Times Literary Editor

During my seven years at The Canberra Times I occasionally filled in when the current literary editor, Gia Metherell, was on leave. I wrote regularly for her and continued to do until very recently. I read her section every week. I’m very sad that the pages will shortly be filled with content from the SMH and The Age and that her position has been made redundant. Not because I don’t rate the Sydney or Melbourne content, but because the local perspective on national and international works and coverage of the local literary scene will disappear from the newspaper.

That said, I believe the literary community here will rise to the challenge and build a new forum for book reviews, author interviews and literary news. Perhaps it will be crowdfunded – if so, it’s sure to succeed, because the audience is strong and loyal. The readership will grow, too, because such a publication will of course be digital and thus have broader reach.

The business model for newspapers may not be sustainable as it stands, but that doesn’t mean there is not a demand for their style of content if it is published in new and innovative ways.

If you’re interested in keeping track of developments in this story and showing your support for literary coverage in newspapers, you could join the Facebook group Save the Canberra Times Literary Pages.

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Charlotte Harper

Charlotte Harper is a Canberra journalist, blogger, editor and publisher who has worked in newspapers, magazines, books and online. She runs digital-first non-fiction publisher Editia and covered book industry developments at ebookish.com.au before joining Booku.com. A former literary editor of The South China Morning Post, Charlotte has also written about books and technology for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. She once edited a mobile phone and gadget magazine, and is a published author, of a book about digital publishing – Weird Wild Web (Penguin Australia 1999).