Digital Reading: “We’re on the side of the publishers”

By November 07, 2014
livre numérique

Interview which took place as part of the L’Atelier numérique (L’Atelier Digital) radio broadcast on the BFM Business channel, with Hélène Mérillon, founder of digital library YouBoox, and Edouard Morhange, co-founder of Storyplayr, a digital children’s library.

Interview which took place as part of the L’Atelier numérique (L’Atelier Digital) radio broadcast on the BFM Business channel, with Hélène Mérillon, founder of digital library YouBoox, and Edouard Morhange, co-founder of Storyplayr, a digital children’s library.

L’Atelier: It’s tempting to compare book streaming with the music streaming business model. Is that a fair comparison?

Hélène Mérillon: Well, yes, the streaming model means you can make cultural and entertainment products available to a far wider audience, to anyone and everyone. However, we should point out that there are huge differences. For a start, the music market is organised in a completely different way. The sector is made up of large US companies that can afford to make major investments, which enables them to set up complex business models. This is not at all the case with the world of book publishing. And consumption patterns are different as well. You don’t read books in the same way as you listen to music. This is where book-streaming has some advantages, and the business models are more viable. I mean, it takes a lot longer to read a book than to listen to a piece of music.

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about. What business models have you in fact gone for?

Hélène Mérillon: YouBoox is a library of digital books. There are currently 70,000 books in French of all types and for the whole family, which are available to read on your tablet and smartphone through a subscription service. Our basic business model is to charge a monthly fee, which gives you access to however many books you want. And as part of this model, given that mobile has become part of people’s daily habits, we also provide what we call a free trial system, which is financed by advertising. YouBoox works on the same basis as Deezer and Spotify, because this is the way people do things these days.

And Storyplayr?

Édouard Morhange: Storyplayr is a bit different in that it’s a library of several hundred books for children aged 2 to 10. Given that our audience are children, we made a decision not to rely on advertising or in-app purchasing options. We have an exclusively paid-for business model, and we remunerate our publisher-partners in the same way – i.e. by passing on part of the revenue to them. The principle is similar to that of your town library: young readers pay for unlimited access to children’s literature.

Among these new ways of reading, is there one format or channel that stands out? Are youngsters using e-readers?

Hélène Mérillon: At Youboox, we’ve been up and running for two years and have 500,000 readers. Our readers read on tablets, smartphones and PCs. Some no doubt do have an e-reader at home but we’re not focusing on e-readers. Basically we noticed that reading on smartphones was far more widespread than we had imagined. And there’s a good reason for this. Smartphones and tablets basically provide access to a wide range of formats – cartoons, coffee table books, travel guides etc. – unlike e-readers, which are designed for a novel printed in black and white. There’s also the matter of our readership. We have people who read at length, but we also have those who zap around. I firmly believe that digital reading can help to increase overall readership because it appeals to new types of reader to whom we can offer a service that suits the way they like to read, and which is entirely complementary to buying a hard copy.

Édouard Morhange: In a young person’s world, a tablet is a must-have device. Children nowadays learn to use them from the age of two. So we wanted to play around with the technical potential of the tablet and offer functionality specially designed for a young audience. For example, you can record stories. Parents record stories as they read them to their children, who can then listen to them again later on. One can even imagine a grandmother recording stories on our platform and sending them via the Cloud.

Well, that’s definitely sharing.  Aren’t we perhaps losing the idea of sharing, which is inherent in reading, with digital reading, largely because of Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Hélène Mérillon: Well, this is a major source of frustration for e-book buyers. It’s true that e-books are bound by DRM technology. This is one major reason why it’s important to develop services such as ours because we definitely do encourage sharing. On YouBoox, when a reader finishes a book, s/he can ‘share’ it with his/her friends on Facebook or by e-mail. The friend just has to register in order to discover the recommended book. This is what digital can bring you – wider sharing of books.

Isn’t the publishing world being rather cautious when it comes to streaming?

Édouard Morhange: That’s very true. We’re in rather a traditional world which has been forced to change with the arrival of digital, although people in this sector are perhaps not quite ready yet to change their business model. Bookshops, for example, need to re-think, to reconsider, to re-invent their business, and this raises a number of issues, not least the reluctance of some publishers to change.


Hélène Mérillon: Innovation always generates fear and trepidation. However, in the battle which publishers are fighting today with Amazon, at YouBoox we’re on the side of the publishers. Amazon is not fighting for books; the company just wants to sell more products. We actually want to encourage people to read. We don’t however believe in selling books at knock-down prices, instead we need to find smarter ways of providing an accessible service which will mean a win-win situation for everyone. Let’s get together to create a French-speaking alternative to Amazon! Otherwise, Amazon or some other large US firm will create a monopoly. Then the next step will be that they decide to sell just the most profitable books, and in the most profitable language.

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