THE VICE PRESIDENT of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, has urged Europe to get down with authors and make its nations a damn fine place to do ebook business.
In a speech in Paris, Kroes said that there has been a digital revolution in publishing, and that while some may feel threatened by it, it was actually something to embrace.
"I know some see the advent of digital as a threat to the sector. But for me the biggest risk is that we fail to take advantage of new possibilities," she said.
"Unless we embrace the future, the sector will for sure fall behind, overtaken by more forward-looking and dynamic parts of the world; overtaken by those who can look ahead and grasp the future. Then we will let down our economy, our people, and our cultural heritage."
Currently we are not doing enough to take advantage, and that is because we are too scared to take risks. In the US, she said, where they are a brazen bunch of risk takers, ebooks account for a quarter of sales. In Europe just one country goes above two percent - she doesn't say which, probably for fear of embarrassing them.
She has a three point plan to address this, the last of these being the tax system that authors and publishers should enjoy.
"I know that tax can make a difference. In Europe we continue, for the most part, to charge the higher rate of VAT for ebooks; even when paper books enjoy a reduced rate," she said.
"The VAT system is changing. From January 2015, it has already been agreed that the rule will be the 'country of destination' principle. That is highly relevant for ebooks; and we will work with booksellers next year to develop guidance on this."
There are two other points, the first is to get as many out of print books in digital print as soon as is possible. Many of these books are already available online. Kroes said that France was pulling its weight here, and has an "ambitious programme to digitise half a million 20th-century out-of-commerce books".
Second is a look at the bigger picture. Here we need to support things like interoperability, which again is something that the US has right.
"EPub is just one example. Most readers expect to be able to access their books in whichever country they are, and on whatever device they choose," said Kroes.
"If European publishers can't meet those expectations, consumers will vote with their wallets; or go to the big American companies who can offer that kind of scale."
Cross border solutions is what its all about, and Kroes and those around her want input on the best way to go forward. "Would it make sense, for example," she ponders, "to work on a European online platform that informs readers about what books are available, in what languages and formats, and from which cross-border sellers?" µ