Penguin’s Global View of the E-Book Market: DRM, International, Publishing Process

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

“We’re in the first inning with e-books,” said Penguin global digital director Molly Barton at the Publishers Launch conference this morning in New York.

The leader of digital publishing at one of the world’s largest book publishers shared the company’s view on what’s currently happening in the e-book publishing space.



According to Barton, one of the most important functions of a publishing company is to protect its authors’ content from piracy. At the same time, Penguin wants to provide e-books that allow “for greater interoperability between platforms.”

Current DRM technology that is most commonly in use does not generally allow readers to easily transfer content between devices and between platforms. As more publishing companies start offering their e-books DRM-free and new technologies arise, this could be changing.

“Pottermore’s experience with watermarking was inspirational for us,” said Barton. “We’re looking at all kinds of alternatives.”

Watermarking is a technology that allows the free transfer of files but tracks the file to the original purchase to discourage piracy.

In the past few months, several publishers, including several imprints at Macmillan, one of the world’s largest publishers, have begun to offer some e-books DRM-free.

Related: Can Other Publishers Do What Pottermore Did? Pottermore CEO Says Yes | Why We Should Stop Calling It DRM (And Maybe Abandon It Altogether)

International Growth

As the e-book markets in the U.S., UK and other large book markets mature, publishers have been looking to other markets to continue e-book sales growth.

In addition to selling English-language e-books in countries like Germany and Sweden, Penguin has made significant investments in ramping up e-books sales in countries like Brazil and China, according to Barton.

Penguin has also been translating its e-books into foreign languages like Korean and selling directly into those markets

The program is a “pilot” for the future, said Barton.


Publishing Process

As consumers evolve the way they consume content, Penguin is experimenting with new content products and new methods of creating them.

The company is dabbling in facilitating author engagement with readers during the writing process, much like what Sourcebooks and other publishers are doing with agile content development, where reader feedback is measured and used in the content creation process.

Recently, Penguin resurrected its short-form publishing brand, which Barton said could be “an incredibly strategic and helpful for marketing longer works.”

Penguin may also experiment with “spreading out the experience of reading over weeks and months, like television,” said Barton.

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