A little over 59 thousand books are published in Italy every year. Down on 2008 but still an absurd number. The truth that most count for almost nothing. They are "vanity" books (paid by the author) or of very limited diffusion and use. Things that we would hardly catalog as a "book" (novel or essay). Instead, these are other publications, sometimes extremely practical, which become waste paper. Or publications for the school sector. Or maybe for the specialized one (laws, rules, instructions for use, etc.).
The fact is that, statistically speaking, a new book enters the library every 7 minutes, 80% is not printed in more than 500 copies (and does not sell them) while two out of three Italians buy less than 4 books a year. Or worse still, 14% of buyers express 41% of purchases, equal to 235 million copies (12% compared to last year) and a turnover of 3.5 billion euros down 3% . A crazy market, among the worst in Europe for the damnation of our publishers. Who, faced with the birth of ebooks, have decided to react in a closed and corporate way. Let's see why. Today IBS, the bookshop for the online sale of volumes and more, announces that it wants to enter the ebook market. Thanks to the Turin Book Fair, the "zero day" of the ebook in Italy next Thursday, 13 May at 4pm. At that moment the new digital course will be made official, with the help of "some unidentified editors".
At about the same time, a few days ago, Maurizio Costa, CEO of the first Italian publishing group, ie Mondadori, told Corriere della Sera: "There is an ebook market that in the USA is estimated to reach 20% of the total in 4-5 years. In short, 2010 the year of the turning point and of making a good move and who will do it will have a nice advantage because there will be the selection of the species. This is why we plan to do a market opening operation: in October we will land on the ebook segment with 400 new products and 800 best-sellers in recent years ".
The market is therefore there, but publishers (who alone make 50% of the market) do not practice it. Instead, 7 of the top 10 best-selling books in Italy are found in digital format on piracy circuits. Meanwhile, Zanichelli announces to bring some "philologically correct" versions of Italian classics out of copyright (Dante, Manzoni Boccaccio) to Amazon's Kindle, paying them for, while on Kindle it expects the "charge" of Sperling & Kupfer, Dante Alighieri ( school publishing), Lupetti, Guerini & Associati, Strategic Library, Armenia and others.
So, a couple of clarifications. First of all on IBS, the first entity for the sale of Italian-language books in Italy by correspondence (strange to say, but in Italy it still sells more the English branch of Amazon, but a lot). The company, whose acronym means Internet Bookshop, was founded in 1995 as a joint venture of the Internet Bookshop of Oxford and Messaggerie. Today IBS managed directly by Messaggerie, the Bolognese group led by Stefano Mauri and Luigi Spagnol, sons respectively of Luciano Mauri and Mario Spagnol, two historical names as old Rizzoli or old Mondadori for Italian publishing.
Messaggerie a holding that controls three different activities: distribution and trade of books, distribution of newspapers and periodicals, publishing activities. In the latter sector, it is interesting to note that Messaggerie currently owns the publishers responsible for 25% of Italian book production, about a third of the wider sector, the variety (the group as a whole has 800 employees and a turnover of half a billion euros the year). The Longanesi, Guanda, TEA, Corbaccio, Garzanti, Vallardi, Salani and Ponte alla Grazie are part of the Messaggerie group, a share of Superpockets, the "small" publishers Chiare Lettere, Bollati Boringhieri, Fazi Editore, North Publishing House and others such as Giuseppe Laterza and Carocci publisher.
Mondadori has events better known to the general public: the publishing house of Segrate, part of the Fininvest group, has a turnover of € 1.82 billion, has 3,925 employees, 424 bookstores, 50 subsidiaries and publishes almost three thousand titles for a total of 53 million and by means of printed copies. Its market share 28.8%. Einaudi, Piemme, Sperling & Kupfer are part of the group. But inside Mondadori's belly there is also Frassinelli, Le Monnier, Harlequin Italia, Mondolibri. Above all, it has finished buying back the BOL site (valued at less than 10 million euros) from the German group Bertelsmann, which in practice is the alter ego of IBS.
The other three major Italian publishing groups are RCS (Rizzoli Corriere della Sera), with Bompiani, Fabbri, BUR, Sonzogno, Sansoni, La Nuova Italia, Marsilio, Adelphi (half), Skira and half of Superpocket. The Dada group provides digital services; then there is the De Agostini Group, with interests mainly abroad but strong presence also thanks to Sedes, Utet and Atlas Group (plus various diversifications, such as Mikado Film, Magnolia, 55% of Lottomatica) and finally the Feltrinelli group, with an ecommerce site (LaFeltrinelli.it) and a small group of publishing houses (Apogeo, Kowalski, Eskimosa, Edizioni Gribaudo) as well as a very strong presence in the direct sales sector through its chain of bookshops and above all with the control of PDE ( Promotion Distribution Publishing), the second largest Italian distribution group with 5 thousand points of sale. In the past, Feltrinelli has tried, together with the digital arm of the L’Espresso group, that is Kataweb, to market digital books on Zivago.com.
In this scenario, the arrival of the digital book does not automatically pass through external actors, but is incorporated into existing realities or does not pass right. This explains the delay in opening the ebook: Amazon first (which is not even present in Italy, precisely due to the resistance of our local publishers, owners also of a large part of the distribution) and Apple then clash against the parishes of the usual suspects. If in the USA the tug of war that Amazon, Kindle, and now Barnes & Noble and Borders, do daily with the "book majors"; that is, the large concentrations of publishing, in Italy the underground clash, invisible but much more deadly.
From the external observation of the facts, it appears that the great Italian publishers have chosen the path of the cartel: they move together, the forward leaks are minimal and limited, nobody feels like risking in a market where there is fear there is no space for big gains against huge expenses. We must not forget that the publishing sector, without the distribution part (which absorbs up to 60% of the cost of a book, and the reason why large publishers also control many distributions and points of sale), has practically non-existent margins and the risk of switch to digital to destroy the toy that earns some money, namely printing and distribution.
We will see what will happen shortly. In Italy it has been written several times that Amazon was blocked by the silence of the publishers, who evidently waited for an alternative in order to better negotiate with the American group. Apple offered, if nothing else on paper, this side. The question now if this clash will lead to some opening situation (publishers will put their books on several different platforms, leaving readers free to choose the one they prefer) or if they will try the way of some unique or preferential platform, perhaps their own ( dedicated software to be installed on different computers, with unique DRM). In the answer to this question there is the future of local publishing.