The interview with Françoise Benhamou - Forum d'Avignon

Françoise Benhamou is a University Professor and Vice President of the University Paris 13. Member of the Editorial Board of the review “Esprit”, the Advisory Board of the National Center of Variety, the Advisory Council of ARTE programs, the Advisory Board of the Jean Jaurès Fondation, she also works as an expert for the UNESCO, the Circle of Economists and the Scientific Council of the National Institute for Heritage. She is a chronicler for France Culture.

How does the digital book modify the relationship to the reader for the writer, the publisher, the supplier?

Françoise Benhamou: The digital book is hybrid, still not well identified. It can be read on different devices, computer, reader, telephone, games console. The way it changes the relationship to the reader is unclear, even in countries like the U.S. and Japan, where it represents a significant part of the book market (around 5 to 10% of the market). The traditional divisions between writing, editing, prescription, reading are changing; the reader is prescribing for his virtual "friends", within communities, or through its purchases and how they are re-used by retail sites. The author may choose to interact with the reader; the book can be enriched with features that turn reading into a set of disparate uses. As for the distribution function, it evolves on the one hand because of the arrival of new entrants (from the computer world and telecom), and secondly through the disappearance of certain costs (transportation) and emergence of new skills: comparable to the distributor of the paper world, the aggregator is a computer server that collects the files on the warehouse, books and secure it.

Under what conditions could the digital book create value?

Françoise Benhamou: The digital destroys value in traditional sectors and recreates it in the same sectors but also their surrounding: access providers, telephone operators, search engines will get back a portion of the value related to creation. The question then is the one of value and its ownership. The price is a key variable; it must be high enough so that the author, publisher, industries can be paid, and low enough so that the reader is encouraged to buy. The traditional model of single buying, as practiced by many retailers, will coexist with subscription models, streaming, purchase by chapters, etc.. The publisher must retain some control on prices to avoid dumping practices such as the one which characterized the market at its beginning. As for the sharing of value, several models are possible. In the case of a direct sale from the publisher to the user, there is a 50/50 split with the author; if the dealer performs the transaction with the end customer, the publisher gives him 25% to 30%, but 50% on some offers (subscription and streaming). If an intermediary is responsible for guiding the end user on the platform of the editor, it takes 15% or more depending on the service (Google Edition negotiates with publishers a 50/50 split). If the platform belongs to the editor, but works with booksellers, it lets 25% of the sales’ revenue to the bookseller. Other possibilities are tested, showing that the market is still experimental. It is to establish a sustainable model that does not put too many players of the “market of yesterday” aside, knowing that the world of paper books is far from having laid down its arms.

More information: Forum D'Avignon
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