Hamburg News: Trade and Finance. High-class shopping area in the city centre shown.
Buchbranche: In der digitalen Experimentierphase © Christiane Hoffmeister

Hamburg's book trade 4.0 experimenting in digital era

SERIES: How is Hamburg's economy adjusting to digitalization? Part 5: Book trade opting for multiple channels

The book trade is undergoing digital change and shoppers are turning to Amazon for new reads and not simply stopping in their local bookshop to leaf through the latest novels and buy books and magazines. Our series on digitalization highlights the extent of change in both sectors.

24/7 online shop

In 2002, Christiane Hoffmeister, owner of Büchereck Niendorf Nord bookshop decided not to leave the market entirely over to Amazon. “I believe in a mix of over-the-counter trade and digital selling. Our online shop is open 24/7 to our customers. We also keep in contact with them on Facebook, WhatsApp, Google+, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.” But she has yet to determine whether the digital business is economically viable. Hoffmeister noted: “The online business accounts for 8 per cent of our turnover. But as a small bookshop in a suburb of Hamburg with close ties to our customers, naturally our over-the-counter business is strong.”

Reading together via the internet

Hoffmeister definitely gets plenty of good feedback about her online activities, which include collaborations with diverse bloggers or a link to “Social Reading Stream” by Lovely Books, which claims to be the biggest book community in the German-speaking region. She explained: “Readers can interact with each other immediately on various interactive communication channels. This lets them read together via the internet.” Also readers can borrow a “Tolino” e-reader or tablet.

Moderate growth in e-book usage

While e-books have become established, growth is moderate, according to a Bitkom study on the use of e-books conducted last October. The e-reader is not the preferred medium, the study found: 41 per cent read on notebooks/laptops, followed by smartphones with 38 per cent. E-readers came third with 34 per cent while 21 per cent preferred a desktop computer and 20 per cent a tablet computer.

Sales of e-books account for 15 per cent at Rowohlt at present. Dr. Uwe Naumann, Manager of the Digital Programme at Rowohlt Publishing in Hamburg Reinbek, said: “That is a good figure for Germany. The figure often comes to 30 per cent in the Anglo-American market.”

Rowohlt to launch “print to order“ this year

Commenting on Rowohlt’s digital offensive begun in March to churn up e-book sales, Naumann pointed out: “We have developed a series of special projects geared especially towards e-book readers. They include ‘Rowohlt Rotation’ which is a selection of e-texts from fiction and guidebooks and are up to 80 pages in length. We are thereby catering to the increasing demand for texts which can be read easily during a train journey or on a smartphone.”

Rowohlt’s printed books are available digitally as well. However, not all e-books are available in print so far. To alleviate this situation, Rowohlt will be offering readers “print to order” opportunities this year, Naumann said. Then readers will be able to read a printed version of any e-book and add it to their bookshelf collection.

More and more enriched e-books

Naumann believes the future holds a swell in digitally enriched e-books. That means videos; audio recordings or interactive reader involvement opportunities have been added to the book. Rowohlt’s “Deathbook” project in 2013 is a case in point. During the project, readers could intervene interactively and contact the author who was also the main character in the thriller. Naumann explained: “Videos were one of the main components in the action and some readers even got a phone call from the murderer. That was very effective.”

Still experimenting

Although the project had many fun elements and proved a great experience on every level, the commercial success was not huge. Naumann said: “The effort that we had to go towards producing high-quality videos was out of proportion and did not yield a strong economic gain.”

Digital change is definitely stirring up the book trade and causing lots of uncertainty in publishing houses. “So far, nobody has come up with a concrete action plan and especially on how to earn money. We are still experimenting and trying out new ideas”, Naumann commented.

Sources and further information:

Buchhandlungspreis 2016

Bookshop Prize 2016: This year, the Hamburg Culture Authority will be presenting the prize for committed, forward-looking and owner-managed bookshops for the second time. The prize is in honour of the book trade’s important role in the upkeep of the city’s literary culture. The prize comes with a bourse of EUR 10,000 and will be presented during the “Long Night of Literature” on September 3, 2016 in the Hamburger Kunsthalle. A promotional award of EUR 2,000 will be presented for bookshops specialising in certain subjects. More information can be found on:

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