Last year, a few weeks before Christmas, I went to Payot in Lausanne to see what the largest French-language bookstore in Switzerland was proposing to readers looking for eBooks. A year ago, they didn’t have a story.
A few months ago, I noticed by chance that Payot had added an eBooks section to their online store. I didn’t get around to writing a post about it at the time. Judging by the search terms in WordPress stats, many people arrive here looking for information about buying eBooks in Switzerland, so I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look and write something about it here.
The eBooks tab stands out on the Payot Home Page because it’s the only tab with color: the “e” is red. Clicking on eBooks opens a page that features a short introduction, followed by a tableau of categories for browsing eBook titles. The left-hand side bar provides links to 4 different sections: information about the Bookeen Odyssey and Cybook Opus readers sold by Payot, a section for news about digital books, a guide to digital reading and a help page for downloading eBooks.
I downloaded the PDF “Guide to Digital Reading,” which is only available in French. It contains a somewhat long description in rather small typeface of eBook formats and eReaders supported by Payot, giving just enough detail that non-technical readers will find it daunting, but not enough to answer some common questions for more advanced users such as a complete list of supported eReaders, or advice about which formats to choose for each of them.
Payot is using Adobe DRM, so readers will need to install Adobe Digital Editions to read eBooks on their computer or eReader and create both a Payot account and register for an Adobe ID. The Guide mentions that some other readers, such as Sony, are supported, but that some are not, and it doesn’t specifically mention which ones, although they do point out that Payot’s eBooks cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle. To read on iPad, iPhone or other smartphones and tablets, readers are advised to use the BlueFire Reader app but are warned that there’s no guarantee of its availability and support in the future!
Users have two options for browsing and purchasing books: via the website or directly from their eReader via Wifi. The only payment accepted for purchases on the website is through SaferPay. Once the payment is completed, the user will receive an email with a link to download the purchased books, which can then be transferred to an eReader via USB. Purchasing directly from the eReader seems simpler, however setup also requires the user to create a Bookeen account to link to their Adobe ID. That makes at least 3 accounts per user, four if an account with SaferPay is required to process purchases! This seems far too complicated–4 accounts to keep track of!–compared with Amazon or Apple, for example.
Payot does have one interesting option that users who can’t or don’t want to pay online by credit card can choose: direct purchase in the store. Users can purchase an eBook in any of Payot’s 11 stores in French-speaking Switzerland. After checkout, Payot will send the user an email containing a link to download their purchased eBooks.
This afternoon, I had a chance to stop by the Lausanne branch of the bookstore, on my way back from the Pharmacy to get something for my cold. Since I haven’t had a chance to play with the Bookeen Odyssey, I wanted to see it for myself. Good news for Payot, the store was packed with Christmas shoppers! It was hard to move around because there were so many people there. Many of the aisles were blocked with people, and the checkout lines were long. I found the eReader in a glass case on the 2nd floor, along with a display of bookends and knickknacks from a Museum Collection. There were four readers in the case, and another one on display close by at one of the information desks. The person working at the desk told me that they started carrying the eReaders about 6 months ago.
I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on at first; it had a switch on the side (oh, how I’d forgotten about those!). I quickly browsed through a few books in the library to see the resolution, contrast and performance of the reader. I was pleasantly surprised by the responsiveness of the touch screen and the feel of the 6 inch, 200 gram device in my hand. It was wide, but not so much as to stretch my small hands. I could imagine holding it in one hand quite easily. The plastic and case had a nice feel, too. I wasn’t able to take any pictures or video, but I did note on the info page that it was running a customized version of Adobe Editions Version 9.2 licensed to Bookeen.
I clicked to check out the online store to see what the purchase experience was like. Clicking on the top sellers brought up a screen showing four books per page. Tapping on a title brought up a pop-up with a short description such as what you’d find on the back cover or inside flap, but I was surprised there didn’t seem to be any option to browse within the book or download a sample.
Just now to finish up this post, I thought I’d compare some of the eBook prices in the Payot store with those in the iBookstore. I picked a mix of popular and obscure titles, fiction and non-fiction, both French and English language versions.
For many of the books I checked, the prices were quite similar. Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson was the same price in the Payot store as in the iBookstore in both French and English. Likewise, Stephen King’s new book 11/22/63 (English) was 14.50CHF at Payot and 14CHF at Apple. Le Chuchoteur by Donato Carrisi, one of the bestseller’s listed on the Payot site, was 14CHF in paper vs 29CHF in ePub, the same price as in the iBookstore! I was surprised to see such a difference between print and digital, but I guess Payot is still catching up to the rest of the world.
For the other titles I checked, the price difference between Payot and the iBookstore was somewhat larger. Payot sells Maurice G. Dantec’s Cosmos Incorporated for 14.30CHF. It’s 11CHF in the iBookstore. Grand Junction is 17.10CHF at Payot and 13CHF at Apple. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is not available in English as an eBook at Payot, but in German it’s 11.20CHF, 0.80CHF less than in the Apple Store. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (English) is 14.30CHF at Payot and 11CHF at Apple. Finally, most of Faulkner’s titles are more expensive at Payot. For example, the Snopes trilogy is 28.40CHF at Payot, but only 15CHF in the iBookstore.
Certainly Payot doesn’t have an easy road ahead. The eBook user experience seems more complicated and more expensive at Payot than at Apple or Amazon. On the other hand, they have the advantage of offering a face to their customers and a chance to provide expert services. Just down the street from Payot is a camera store where I used to get my film developed when I first moved to Lausanne. Now they sell all sorts of digital cameras and accessories, in addition to providing special services to serious photographers still using film.
Will Payot be able to make a similar adjustment to find a new way to provide value to readers and book lovers? Only time will tell.