An Overview of the Ebooks Business in Croatia

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The situation in Croatia is probably typical for a small country with a rather limited language scope or “pool,” but also reflects the situation in large part of Europe.

In general, the book trade in Europe is regulated in terms of territorial distribution by the legislation of each respective country, and each edition is limited by a number of speakers of the particular language the work is published in. The key issue is to form a price, set by the publisher, not the bookseller. In most countries it is rather similar, but VAT (value-added tax) on books varies from country to country, regardless of the form, printed book or e-book. Unlike the U.S., where the market is both huge and at the same time mostly one-language based and rather uniform (which was crucial for development of e-books), for the European context it has to be taken into account that the territorial market fragmentation is contrary to the concept of an internet without frontiers. Europe somehow still considers digitization of cultural heritage as preservation of cultural diversity, protected by a series of national laws on intellectual property, and seems to have less developed channels of e-book distribution than the U.S.

Unfortunately, not as much can be said about the current Croatian context regarding e-books.

There are only around 600 titles in e-format existing in the market, while the estimate is that some 4,000 titles would be needed in order to call it a market, taking into account that Croatia’s population is 4.4 million. This information is only for titles in the Croatian language. No data is available for how much Croats read (buy, download) in English and other languages.

However, this does not mean that Croats are not aware of the trends and developments and their significance for the publishing, and thus education, culture and science. Since the market is limited, it has not yet attracted the investment needed to jump at the next level. The government itself is not doing much, coping with the recession and crisis; similar situations can be seen in other countries of the central, eastern and south-eastern Europe. The private sector has no potential to invest, which is further worsened by the fact that the return expected is none — or is to be so slow — that only few dared started with conversion and selling of e-books. Those who should be most interested, the academic and professional sector, are silent and not heard at all, most probably waiting for someone else to take a lead.

There are several distinct features characterize the situation in the country. First of all, e-readers are not widespread, i.e. their use is still very limited, and the number of users is still negligible. It is expected that e-readers will become more popular in the years to come, in particular in the academic community and throughout the education system. There is a significant difference in relation to the American situation, since university presses practically do not function — 80% of titles in academic/scientific and professional publishing are by the private sector, i.e. some 50 private publishing houses! Academic and professional book publishers are particularly aware of the future at the threshold, but are not investing resources into building the infrastructure due to many specificities of the Croatian environment.

First, a technical barrier that should be overcome for the e-book is the display of the Croatian characters – its alphabet is a roman one, but with the addition of specific letters such as č, ć, ž, š and đ. Kindle does not support the display of these and most of the others as well.

Several formats are being used in Croatia, as well as several platforms (Planet 9, Vip e-Knjizara powered by TookBook, their e-books available on computers, smartphones and tablets) but the choice is naturally narrower than in the U.S. The preferred format is e-pub, though for scientific journals pdf format is still dominant. There is no existing recommendation, no strategy, and no policy regarding the standardization of the conversion, quality and styles for the academic and professional publishing. Publishers that started with e-books have established their own strategies, but there is still opening for development and improvement in this area.

Therefore, the Association of Academic and Professional Publishers is preparing a plan to support private publishers in this sector (mostly small and medium size companies), as the tertiary education system, that includes academic publishing institutions in the country but which are minority in the production and do not have and will not have in the near future the capacity to absorb changes and productively set standards for this purpose. Major topics to be included are also rights regulation, discount on sales and acquisition by the libraries – as the manner has not yet been determined (National and University Library in Zagreb has collected e-publications since 2004; a publisher can deliver the publication through a form, and determine whether a user can access it exclusively from the Library’s computer or make it available from anywhere).

Although electronic journal collections paved the way for the e-book, and scientists are accustomed to getting almost everything electronically, the e-book has not yet been universally accepted and used, and usage of e-readers and tablets is still not a part of work routine. It will probably be in few years time that we would consider the e-book a norm for all in the academic community.

There are several free e-book collections available in Croatia in the Croatian language. First of all, reading list books for elementary and secondary school are available with an access with password (each pupil or student can has access). Then, classics of the Croatian literature, but also classics of the world literature (e.g. Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky in Croatian) can be downloaded for free. Commercial editions mostly consist of contemporary novels and to the less extent non-fiction titles, but altogether make no more than 300 titles. Academic and professional titles are insignificant in number. Children e-books are just emerging.

What next?

Academic and professional publishers are trying to find the way to create the market for e-books, reach their users, learn from best practices of others, and adopt and modify possible solutions.

The biggest challenge in the development of the market is not only the will and investment but also removing all kinds of barriers. One of the major barriers is the VAT of 25% on e-books, which hinders the development of the e-book market and the interest of publishers. A newly introduced VAT on (printed) book of 5%, as of the beginning of 2013, has convinced the publishers that investing in e-books, for which the VAT is 25% is not only difficult, but almost impossible.

Time will show how they cope with challenges and how the e-book will evolve and survive in the “small” language environment. It could be interesting to follow various approaches of different countries and see how models developed could be used and replicated elsewhere.

Authors: Simona Goldstein (Director, Editions Antibarbarus    ) and Anita Šikić (Director, Croatian University Press, members of Association of Academic and Professional Publishers of the Croatian Chamber of Economy and the Book Block-Initiative for the Book, Zagreb, Croatia

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