Observations after the Buchmesse, part #1. Digital publishing and self-publishing in Italy

On October 9th I was a guest, together with Matthias Matting (German self-publisher), at an event titled “Think Local, Act Global: How to Reach a Global and Successful Audience through Self-Publishing”, which took place during the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014) at Kobo stand. Our talk was moderated by Camille Mofidi, European Manager of Kobo Writing Life.
It was a very positive experience, which allowed me exchanging ideas with an attentive and interacting audience about the chance every self-publisher has to exploit the translation rights of their own works and publish them in a foreign market.
A lot was said about this matter and I’ve now decided to write a series of articles including the most interesting observations we all made.
I’m starting by analysing the situation of digital publishing and self-publishing in Italy,  my country, which can be interesting for a self-publisher considering to have their books translated into Italian.

The omnibus of “Deserto rosso” (my science fiction series) among the books exposed in the stand of
Kobo during the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2014.

Digital publishing is quite young in Italy. Even if, to tell the truth, e-books existed since many years, they became a real business only at the end of 2011, when Amazon.it opened the Kindle Store. Kobo came some months later in 2012. Other retailers started working well in the same year (like iTunes) o in the following one (like Google Play). There were already some minor retailers earlier, but the market bloomed when less expensive e-readers were marketed in the country, like Kindle and Kobo. So we can say that all really started at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012, i.e. a little less than three years ago.
We came from having only a little choice of e-books to buy to having a big one. Traditional publishers tried to resist to the e-book invasion and are actually continuously trying to do so. In general many e-books published by big publishers still haven’t the technical quality they are supposed to have considering their price. There are even absurd situations in which the difference in price between the printed book and the e-book is less than one euro.
Eventually, they will be forced to accept the change, and something is already moving in this direction.

Digital self-publishing was officially born in the same period, that is when self-publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo Writing Life started working in Italy. Initially it was a slow process. Self-publishers weren’t so many, but they increased dramatically in the latest 2-3 years. Together with the number what increased was the quality of their products.
For what concerns readers of e-books, they were about 2% at the beginning, they are still a little percentage. I don’t know exactly, but it must be 5% or more out of the total number of book readers.
Personally I noticed that the number of e-books sold increased in these two-three years, because you need to sell more to get to the top of the charts. There’s a difference between number of readers and books bought by them. E-books cost less, so people tend to buy more of them, moreover reading on an e-reader is often a more comfortable experience than reading on a printed book. Many readers state they read more e-books than paper books. So, if the number of readers of e-book doubled, the number of e-books sold are probably three or four times than two years ago.
The result of this is that, while in Italy the number of readers in general, including paper books, are decreasing, the trend for readers of e-book and e-books sold is towards an increase.

But of course we still have a little market if compared to the English-speaking one, yet even if one year ago I had stated it was still impossible to make a living from being a self-publisher (also given that traditionally published authors actually living only from their books are really few), now I think that if you put the right effort on it, if you are a good author, a good publisher, a good marketer, if you write a genre liked by the readers, you can come to make a living from it. Actually a few authors are already getting great results. Maybe you don’t get there immediately, but you can in some years. You just have to be consistent in your efforts.

The next article of this series will be about the genres selling well in Italy both in general and especially for self-publisher authors.