The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of… Ebook Sales!

GoGlobalIn2014_500

It’s that time of year again. The winter holiday season, when people swap sunglasses, skimpy bikinis and Bermudas for sunglasses and colourful skiing outfits and head for the snow-covered higher ground. In Europe they’ll be heading for exotic destinations like the Austrian and Swiss Alps.

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In the olden days that meant packing a ton of books in your luggage so you had something to read while laid up in hospital with a leg in plaster after some unintended acrobatics. Nowadays it’s just a matter of remembering to pre-load your ereader or tablet app before you go. Because as we all know, once you step outside the US and UK ebooks are as hard to come by as juicy t-bone steaks at a vegetarian butcher’s convention.

English-language books abroad? When will these foreigners learn to speak English? Not only would it make our lives easier when we invade their ski slopes and beaches, but we might sell some of our books to them too.

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Austria may not be the first country that springs to mind when you think about getting sales for your English titles abroad, but with an estimated six million English speakers – more than New Zealand! – Austria should definitely be on your list.

If you are with Apple your titles will be there in the Apple Austria store. Then there’s Google Play Austria and Nook Austria (albeit only for Windows 8 at the moment), and not forgetting ‘txtr Austria. There’s even a Sony Austria Reader Store.

And then of course there’s Kindle Austria. Oh no. Strike that. Amazon thinks Germans and Austrians all look the same so Austrian readers wanting to buy your books from Amazon have to get their Kindle ebooks from neighbouring Germany.

In similar vein Belgians (also six million English speakers) have to sign up with Kindle France, and New Zealanders (four million English speakers, since you ask) have now officially been designated Australians by Amazon and get redirected to the Kindle Australia store. In ZonSpeak New Zealanders have been “assigned” to Kindle Australia.

To add insult to injury Australians and New Zealanders are now expected to pay more for your ebooks than when they shopped at Amazon US. If you have titles listed at US$ 2.99 on AmCom you’ll find that on Kindle Australia they are now selling at AU$ 3.99 (or more) for Australian, New Zealand and other Oceania buyers. Titles set at US$2.99 on AmCom before the AU site came into being have been automatically upgraded to $3.99. And no, US$ 2.99 does not equate to AU$ 3.99. New Zealanders and Australians now have to pay roughly an extra half dollar for your ebooks.

Why is that Apple, Google Play and even ‘txtr can give New Zealanders, Belgians and Austrians their own ebook store in their local currency, but Amazon can’t?

In Switzerland (five million English speakers) Amazon kindly lets Swiss readers sign up with either Kindle France or Kindle Germany. Very nice. We all like choices. But ‘txtr, Google Play, et al have their own Swiss ebook stores where readers can pay in the local Swiss currency (Swiss francs in case you were wondering). Here’s the txtr Switzerland site – a fine example of glocalization.

We can add Ireland to the list. ‘Txtr, Apple and Google Play all have dedicated Ireland ebook stores. Kobo are there with Eason. They list in the Irish currency – the euro. But Irish readers (four million) who want to buy from Amazon have to sign up with Amazon UK, and pay in a foreign currency – the British pound. Or sign up with Amazon US and pay in a foreign currency – the US dollar.

Some of you in the US and UK will be thinking, “Big deal. Amazon is the only place that matters, so readers will ignore the rabble.”

Well ask yourselves this: If Amazon decided that from tomorrow you will have to shop at Kindle Mexico or Kindle France, and pay in Mexican pesos or French euros, would Amazon still be so appealing? Or would you maybe look at another store that doesn’t treat you as a second class customer?

The problem seems to be that, far from leading the way forward with ebooks, Amazon is still hung up on the old world of print distribution, where geography actually mattered. While digital-only operators can embrace fully the opportunities offered by ebooks, Amazon thinks first and foremost about the print titles it sells, and the Kindle sites are built around those constraints.

Which is why ‘txtr, Kobo, Google Play and Apple can manage to treat New Zealand and Australia as the two totally separate and independent nations they are (don’t be misled by a glance at the world map – Australia and New Zealand are a three-hour flight apart!) while Amazon lumps them together as a single unit for its own convenience.

Still not bothered? You should be.

The problem for us as indies is that, increasingly, readers will turn to “glocalized” stores like Google Play and ‘txtr that make the effort to be local to readers where the readers are.

Yes, Amazon will still attract many new customers. But the early-adopter phase has past.

Indies need to understand that the Amazon honeymoon is over.

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As writers we naturally gravitate towards Amazon. It was our first choice as authors, and probably our first choice as e-readers. And back in the day it was pretty much the only show in town.

No more.

Indies must be clear that readers who aren’t writers have no misty-eyed attachment to the Kindle store. It’s just one of myriad places they can buy ebooks and e-reading devices. Yes, Amazon is a great site. Famously “the everything store”.

But outside the US Amazon is not the “everything store” that it to Americans. Not by a long shot.

Visit the satellite Amazon sites and take a look around. At first glance it all looks the same bar the language/currency. But take a closer look.

Things Americans take for granted like Prime, one-click and gifting, for example, are not available on every Kindle site.

Likewise most items Amazon sells that draws so much traffic to Amazon US in the first place are not available on other Amazon sites. Just look at the drop-down menu of categories. On Amazon US there are nearly forty categories. The Amazon India store has just eleven. Amazon Brazil has two. Amazon Mexico has one.

If there’s an Amazon site and a Kindle store and easy access to Kindle devices where readers live then yes, Amazon will still be the first choice for many new readers taking their first, tentative steps into digital reading.

AMAZON IS AN ESSENTIAL PLACE TO BE. Don’t misconstrue anything here as anti-Amazon.

But here’s the thing. In countries where Amazon surcharges or blocks downloads completely – which is most of the world – Amazon is not going to be the first port of call for readers going digital. They will be buying elsewhere – not just from high-profile global players like Apple and Google Play, but from retailers you’ve probably never heard of, and while some will be reading on familiar Kindles, iPads and Samsung Galaxy tablets, many others will be reading on devices you probably never knew existed, through apps you probably never knew existed, buying from stores you probably never knew existed.

Try going to Amazon’s very own India site and looking at the range of tablets available to buyers in India. Yes, you’ll see the KindleFire and the Samsung Galaxy and the Google Nexus and all the usual suspects. But you’ll also see the Lenova Ideatab, the Xolo QC800, the iBall Slide, the Ambrane D77, or…

And this is just a small selection from a very limited choice available on Amazon India. Try a dedicated India tech gadgets site to see a ton more. Or wait a week or so and we’ll be running a detailed post on just how many alternatives there are to the devices you know and love.

No, you’ve never heard of them. But there’s the thing. You don’t live in that vast expanse of the planet known as The Rest Of The World.

Most of the world’s population do.

But let’s get back to Austria.

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Amazon has neither an Amazon Austria site nor a Kindle Austria site. Amazingly this doesn’t stop Austrians shopping online.

With no Kindle Austria site, many Austrians will be looking to buy their ebooks from one of Austria’s biggest online stores, Donauland. There are plenty of others they can choose from.

The Kindle is readily available in Austria, but Donauland customers may well be reading on a Tolino Shine e-reader or a Tolino tablet, which are sold across the continent but especially popular in Austria, Germany and central Europe. If you live in the US, UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand you’ve probably never heard of the Tolino Shine or the Cybook Odyssey, ot the ‘txtr Beagle or the Archos range but Europeans have.

We are repeatedly asked how do indies get into all these “new” stores

For those wanting to get their titles into Donauland and the Tolino Alliance stores in Germany – see below – you’ll need to be in the wholesaler catalogues, either directly or through an aggregator. Sorry, but Smashwords, D2D and Bookbaby won’t get you there. We know for sure that the aggregator Ebook Partnership can get you into Donauland and the Tolino Alliance. There are n doubt other options., If anyone knows any, do let us know.

We also mentioned ‘txtr and Google Play above. Smashwords apparently has a distribution agreement pending with ‘txtr, but at the moment neither Smashwords, D2D nor Bookbaby will get you into the eighteen ‘txtr stores, nor the forty-four Google Play stores.

Depending on where you live you may be able to go direct to Google Play, but it’s not straight-forward. Not wishing to over-stress one aggregator at the expense of another, but Ebook Partnership will get you in to both ‘txtr and Google Play.

A full report on English-language aggregators and where they can (and cannot) get you will be appearing here in the near future. But for now, back to Donauland again.

Donauland is part of the Austrian arm of the German Tolino Alliance group, which devastated Amazon’s market share in Germany in 2013.

Seriously.

In Germany local ebook stores and local devices took Amazon down from almost 90% market share to a little over 50%. Yes, Amazon is still by far the biggest single player in Germany, but collectively the competition is making Amazon’s eyes water. And the competition is just beginning.

We’ll look at the Tolino Alliance in detail in a forthcoming post. Here just to say this is market fragmentation in action. And it’s happening everywhere, not just in Germany.

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Global ebook sales are increasing at a phenomenal rate. There’s a huge, untapped market out there that is growing by the day, and will dwarf the US market in the not too distant future.

China is already the second biggest ebook market in the world. It will almost certainly take the number one spot this year. Russia is racing up from behind. Other countries are in hot pursuit. Many of these countries – China and Russia among them – haven’t got Kindle stores (although there is an Amazon China store).

Let’s be clear. This phenomenal growth in China and Russia is not being driven by Amazon. And nor is the growth in most of the world.

It’s the same story across Europe, Latin America and Asia. While Amazon is busy surcharging readers and making life difficult with its cumbersome payment options, it’s slavish adherence to print-world geography, etc, other platforms are soaking up customers like there’s no tomorrow.

Not just the bigger international players like Apple, Google Play, Kobo and ‘txtr, who understand glocalization, but all importantly the wholesalers like OverDrive, Copia, Ingram, Gardners, Baker & Taylor, et al, who supply libraries and retailers across the globe (OverDrive alone has some 24,000 outets), and who are past masters at glocalization.

In far off Thailand the local ebook store Ookbee was adding 6000 customers a day even way back in early 2013, and was expanding into Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. That growth may be stifled right now because of political issues in Thailand, which will also be holding back Google Play’s and eSentral’s traction there.

Malaysia -based eSentral supplies ebooks to Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand among others. Google Play now has extensive reach in the region – everywhere from Hong Kong and Macau to Singapore. While Amazon is blocking downloads to countries like Singapore other retailers are gaining traction.

And it’s the same story across six of the seven continents.

Maybe all seven.

You’ll find Antarctica listed in the KDP dashboard as one of the places you are assigning Amazon rights to distribute to, and Simon & Schuster claim to have actually sold an ebook in Antarctica, but generally its best to take the Amazon KDP list of countries with a pinch of salt. Despite inviting you to tick the box, many of these countries are actually blocked from downloading by Amazon.

Be under no illusion. Wonderful as Amazon is, eager readers around the world are not sitting back drumming their fingers, patiently waiting for Jeff Bezos to grace them with a Kindle store. They are busy buying ebooks elsewhere, including from stores you’ve probably never heard of, and reading on devices you’ve probably never heard of.

They could be buying and reading your ebooks. But only if they are available.

When a reader in a distant land hears about your wonderful novel and finds it isn’t available from their preferred retailer where they iive then they’re not going to open up  a new account somewhere else just for you. They’ll buy some other author’s book instead.

Being there is half the battle. Go Global In 2014.

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.

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