An interview on digital publishing business

The following section is an excerpt of questions and my answers taken from an interview conducted by an English medium.

Since I am still busy after the business trip, I didn’t take time to refine the sentences; but you get the idea. With permission from the interviewer, I post the interview here but I’ve deliberately rephrase the questions and some expressions.

What kind of books do you publish? What’s your target reader base?

In today’s environment, we are still not allowed to freely choose the topics we’d like to publish as a predominant hurdle still exists: most current paper publishers and authors in Taiwan are reluctant to release their works into the electronic market due to their perception that it’s “profitless” and there are serious piracy problems. Although we publish almost everything we can get, however we still have some criteria such as overall quality, fit for digital market, clearance of copyright issues, etc.

For the above reason, we are yet to precisely target our readership by category like paper publishers do; what we can do now is to discover and make the most of readers who are comfortable reading on mobile devices as well as those having practical needs for books that are easier to store, carry and take advantage of the digital-only functions such has searching, bookmarking and sharing.

Since most of these readers are active, savvy Internet and Social Network Service (SNS) users, one of the ways to reach them is to deliver the message on SNS like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest and Weibo in China.

Do you print books as well? Which costs more to produce?

As a former paper book/magazine editor, I and my staff have no problem publishing paper books; but as we concentrate on digital publishing, we have only published one paper book (which I wrote) as an experiment on interaction of paper/digital, free/paid business models.

We offer the paper edition of this book for NT$240, but we also printed the Web address and its QR code on the back cover. Yes, you can download the digital edition (ePub/PDF, Traditional/Simplified Chinese) for free from the first day; and if you see this book in a bookstore, you can scan and code to download the digital edition without buying the paper book.

The model is very simple: since everyone is worrying about piracy while everyone does it, I pirate my own book instead. To say it in an extremely optimistic way: if my book has been pirated for a million times, I think it won’t be difficult to sell a few thousand paper copies, which many books have a hard time achieving today.

Unfortunately I don’t have a million download for now, only about 1% of it, but the paper edition does quite well. I can’t tell you the exact sales figure, but it went through two reprints.

What’s your business model? What are your major expenses?

We sell books through Google Play, Apple’s iBookstore and our own Web site, and we are currently the largest Taiwanese publisher on iBookstore and the largest Taiwanese ePub (in contrast to most publishers who only offer scanned PDF) provider on Google Play. Google Play does much better than iBookstore since the latter hasn’t open its Taiwan/China store yet.

But since the market, the mobile infrastructure and people’s digital reading habit are yet to mature, the “pay-per-download” model only contributes to a small fraction of our overall profit.

We invest mostly, and still need more, on training our staff familiarize themselves with the latest digital publishing formats, tools, techniques and market trends to help our corporate and academic customers to digitize their publications for reasons such as overseas readership, save on printing cost, save on storage space, quick update, interactivity and EC sales generation, etc. By the way, these publications are mostly offered free to their target readers.

Different from almost all other digital publishers, we painstakingly edit, proofread and troubleshoot every book we publish.

It’s said that only about 2% of book sales in Taiwan is digital. What do you think about this? What’s the obstacle to the growth of e-books?

It’s small indeed, and it’s still small in most markets where e-books do better than Taiwan. However if you look at ten years later from now, you definitely see an upward curve; the only thing is that what would the curve look like in this ten years. We are struggling to survive the steep slope and all adversities to reach to plateau.

As said, it’s a two-sided story: we need to get copyright permission of quality, marketable books from authors and publishers who don’t do digital, and we need an infrastructure that supports smooth discovery, transaction and reading of digital publication on (mostly) mobile devices.

To be more specific, it takes a fast, prevalent wireless Internet access, standard-supporting e-book readers on every popular digital platform, an easy, trustworthy payment gateway and more marketing channels for the new-generation media.