First, a quick word for those wondering where we’ve been lately. The blog has fallen behind partly because our main Features Writer has been lazing about pretending to be sick, but what really hurt us in April – and also disrupted the daily promo newsletters – was something quite beyond our control. Blackmail attempts by criminal gangs attacking the newsletter providers, demanding money in return for leaving them alone.
In mid-April we lost all access to Mailchimp’s design features for the daily newsletters. In desperation we switched to an alternative newsletter service, Get Response. Just as we were about to go live again, Get Response disappeared completely.
Criminals blackmailing cyber-companies is sadly a reality. Many prefer the public not to know about it. Get Response were more open. You can read their statement here, including the blackmailer’s demands.
Okay, excuses over. Time to put April behind us. But it was a busy month on the global ebook scene, so we can’t just ignore it. So, at risk of a rather long post this time we’ve strung together some of the many smaller items that would have gone out last month, updated with the very latest news.
We were saying last year that the ebook world of 2014-16 will be as different from 2013 as 2013 was from 2009. So with the first quarter of 2014 behind us, just how is 2024-16 shaping up?
Bookbaby now delivers to Oyster.
Mark Coker’s Smashwords came under pressure yet again in April as rival aggregator Bookbaby added Oyster to its already impressive distribution range.
Oyster is the second largest ebook subscription service in the US, after Scribd. Some observers count Amazon Prime’s one free ebook a month as a subscription service, but of course no-one is signing up to Prime for the free ebook, so no real comparison). At the moment Oyster only supports Apple devices, but word is Oyster will be expanding to Android soon.
As we’ve reported elsewhere, Scribd is doing rather well, with over 300,000 titles, and at the time of this post there is a free three-month subscription on offer. Try it out!
Scribd have also just issued an infographic showing where their readers are, what they are reading, how much they read and even how fast! The infographic doesn’t have much detail, but even from this brief glimpse we see signs of international reach the big retailers can only dream of, ranging across the continents from Uruguay to Nigeria to Indonesia. Scribd still needs to address its payments options (see below) but is potentially the biggest global player out there. Already more than fifty per cent of Scribd subscribers are outside the US.
Smashwords led the way giving indie authors access to Scribd’s subscribers, but Bookbaby soon followed suit. Bookbaby also now has a free-to-upload option, where they take a percentage of sales like Smashwords, so no up-front costs. For indie authors who eschew Smashwords for whatever reason (many do, for many reasons – we’ll be taking a close look at the good, the bad and the ugly of Smashwords soon) Bookbaby can now get you into both Scribd and Oyster. Indies now have an excellent opportunity to grow their readership as the ebook subscription services grow, not just in the US but internationally.
Inkbok’s subscription service went live at the end of March, and Entitle have just brought down their price and upped the number of books you can read each month. There are a good few other options readers can choose from, including specialist children’s subscription ebook services like Epic! and iStoryTime. Sadly most are not indie-friendly right now. But watch this space…
Just as we were about to post this the following headline went live over at The Digital Reader: Publishers Are Signing Up With Subscription Services In Droves. Nate thinks 2014 will be the year of the ebook subscription service. Us? Well, we were saying ebook subscription services are the new black back in January.
As we’ve reported elsewhere, ebook subscription services have been popular in Europe and Latin America for some years now, and just as US-based operators like Scribd, Amazon, Google Play et al are sending ebooks out across the globe, so international retailers and ebook subscription services are eyeing the American market.
Israel’s subscription service Total Boox, for example, is providing ebooks to American libraries. Both the Latin American ebook retailer BajalLibros and the German operator ‘txtr have dedicated US ebook stores. Brazil’s Movile, which is now getting into children’s ebooks, has operations in 26 countries including the US and Australia.
It’s important to understand ebook distribution is not a one-way street, and while it may seem like America is the centre of the digital universe, don’t be too sure.
As market fragmentation accelerates so more and more overseas players will target the key western markets like the US, UK and Germany. Expect Chinese, Indonesian and other operators to be offering ebooks where you live in the not too distant future.
Not convinced? Smartphones and tablets are proliferating globally at an incredible rate. To take but one example, China’s Xiaomi (which beat Amazon to having a stream-to-TV set-top box by a year) are delivering affordable smartphones across the globe. This year Xiaomi will be shipping smartphones to Brazil. Turkey, Russia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and India.
In November 2013 Xiaomi launched its own ebook store in China. Once the infrastructure is in place – and there’s no reason why the Xiamoi ebook app can’t come pre-installed on all these devices – it’s a small step to start looking around for local content. As said above, expect Chinese operators to be offering ebooks in your homeland in the not too distant future.
Plenty of Far East players are already getting devices into the US markets. Go to any smartphone and tablet price comparison site – or even look on Amazon – and you’ll find unpronounceable cheap devices ($100 and lower) alongside the big names we all know and love.
The tech geeks will tell you nobody would touch these with a barge pole. But here’s the thing. Most people aren’t tech geeks. They just want affordable devices that do the job. Fact: In America Amazon’s KindleFire market share fell last year – thanks to cheap Chinese tablets flooding the US market.
To put things further into context, check out this chart over at The Digital Reader. Apple accounted for 40% of tablets shipped in the last quarter. That’s 19 million units. Samsung 17% – 8 million units. Asus and Lenova are at third and fourth place, but what’s really significant is that “Others” – sixth place and below – comprising small players most of us will never have heard of, accounted for 31% of US shipments, or 15 million units.
The KindleFire, since you ask, only comes in at fifth, having seen shipments fall off a cliff in the first quarter, down from 5.5 million to just 1 million units.
When it comes to eastern penetration into western markets we expected the South Korean colossus Samsung would be leading the way, but the Samsung ebook store seems to be permanently in beta, and given Amazon has recently teamed up with Samsung to have the Kindle app pre-installed on Samsung devices it’s unclear where Samsung is going with ebooks.
Japan’s Sony has of course been there, got the t-shirt and found it didn’t fit. Sony have just pulled out of North America, but remember it still has ebook stores in Europe and Australia, and Sony Reader Store UK has been running some great promotions this year.
As we’ve reported before, apps for ebook stores like Blio come pre-installed on many smartphones and tablets. We understand Blio is a feature on many devices sold in India. No data handy on how Blio are doing, but in April the Aldiko ebook reader app (complete with Aldiko ebook store) surpassed twenty million downloads.
That might be small beer compared to Kindle app downloads, but multiply these numbers across the countless less well known apps out there on those even more countless tablets and smartphones nobody’s ever heard of but that are still selling, – many of which are available in places where the apps of Amazon, Apple et al are redundant – and these “obscure” apps matter.
Many of these apps will originate in the east, not the west. Indonesian app-based stores like Scoop are already heading west and targeting the lucrative India market, which brings us neatly to Flipkart.
Bookbaby now delivers to Flipkart.
It seemed Smashwords had an exclusive on their hands last year when they began delivering indie titles to India’s Flipkart, but not satisfied with joining Smashwords in Scribd and Oyster, Bookbaby now delivers to Flipkart too.
This is great news for all indies, not just those who were excluded from Flipkart because they chose not to use Smashwords. Bookbaby’s entry into the Indian ebook market will bring a further flush of low-priced titles to India’s biggest ebook-store, helping breed interest in digital reading among the subcontinent’s vast population.
For indie authors Flipkart is their second entry-point into the Indian ebook market. Amazon of course is the first, and far too often only point of access, but there are others to clamber on board with. We’re seeing increasing numbers of indie titles in Flipkart’s rival online store Infibeam, and with the revamped Landmark website now live (Landmark has actually been selling ebooks since 2012) many indies are now in the Landmark ebook store.
Flipkart is by far the biggest on-line retailer in India and by far the biggest ebook store. Bookbaby puts Flipkart’s ebook market share at a staggering 80%. We’re not totally convinced by that (our understanding is Flipkart has 80% of the overall online market, not specifically the ebook market).
At the London Book Fair in April Nielsen’s Andre Breedt was explaining how things are shaping up, using a “Wheel of Global Consumer Confidence” to show just how the international book and ebook markets are being transformed. India came in at third place. Regulars here at the EBUK blog perhaps won’t be too surprised to learn that the top two countries were Indonesia and the Philippines.
In Breedt’s words: “India has shown huge growth. You can divide the Indian market into two areas, the “organized” and what you might call the “disorganized.” And in fact, the disorganized is growing even faster. Among retailers, Flipkart is an interesting online player. They’re very successful, with an unusual model in which you order the book and pay the delivery man in cash. Amazon are by no means dominant in India.”
Read that last sentence twice. If you want to make an impact in India, the world’s second largest English-language country, you need to be available where the readers are buying.
Where might that be? Well, there’s no Apple India store, leaving Amazon to fight for runners-up with Google Play, Kobo and the local retailers, of which there are several. As well as the aforementioned Infibeam and Landmark, other Indian ebook stores include Aircel’s Bookmate, W H Smith India, and Crossword (the latter two are Kobo partners stores). Then there’s the smaller stores like iMusti, which added ebooks to its digital collection in December, and Swftboox, although they concentrate on local talent.
And not forgetting two relative newcomers to the ebook scene that we predict will dwarf the others in the not too distant future: Newshunt and Rockstand. Newshunt and Rockstand already have seriously formidable customer bases from their news and magazine subscribers, so are off to a great start.
Back in January we mentioned the possibility that Magzter might get into ebooks. It’s happened. Magzter’s president Vijay Radhakrishnan told EBUK in April that Magzter now has the first slew of ebooks on its app, with several thousand more being added. We love Magzter’s global vision and are hoping Vijay will find time shortly to give us an in-depth interview about Magzter’s e-magazine and ebooks aspirations.
Meanwhile, here’s an indicator. Magzter recently entered the India market with its digital magazines, already has a six-million strong user base there and is seeing 35,000 downloads a day. More interestingly Magzter earlier this month signed a deal with Groupon India to sell even more e-magazines.
One quick thought on Groupon. Groupon can be used to sell ebooks. And not just in India. We’re not aware of any indie authors who have done this, but if anyone has, do let us know.
If you still need evidence that India is the place to be right now, consider Encyclopedia Britannica, in the news in April for calling time on the print edition of the famous 32-volume set. With time and resources on their hands they turn to… ebooks in India. They’ve teamed up with Indian children’s publisher Kathca to turn some 300 print titles, translated from over twenty local languages, into ebooks.
Card payments – how western retailers are stifling international growth.
Indie authors should also bear in mind that readers in India can buy from US stores like Smashwords, All-Romance/Omni-Lit and Scribd, and from European stores like ‘txtr international, which do not have territorial restrictions on downloads or payments.
That said, payments remain a big issue for western operators like Amazon and Kobo wanting to gain traction in places like India and the Far East. We’ve covered before the many hoops buyers in Indian need to jump through to buy from Kindle India because Amazon only accept internationally enabled cards and do not accept local currency on many items they sell in the Amazon India store, meaning extra charges for dollar payments.
Compare Landmark and Flipkart which sell print books and ebooks among many other products, and offers free delivery and a range of local payment options including COD. Flipkart is also prepping its own payments wallet, Payzippy.
Across Asia carrier-billing (whereby your purchases are added to your monthly ISP charge) is common, and a key reason Google Play is so popular in Japan. A fine example of the “glocalization” we often talk about here.
In countries like Indonesia and Vietnam credit cards account for just 1% of transactions. Across the region Singapore peaks at just 37% and Thailand at 12%. The Philippines just 5%. For companies like Amazon with a twentieth century fixation with card payments the region holds little hope for the future.
As m-commerce (online purchases via smartphones and tablets) accelerates in SE Asia options like carrier billing, Smart, GCash and Alipay (see below) are essential for any operators wanting to get a decent share of the developing world’s digital markets. And not forgetting over the counter cash payments. MolPay, a big Malaysian payments operator, has just rolled out MolPay Cash allowing Malaysians to pay for their online purchases at the local 7-11.
But enough of payments. Let’s get back to India, and selling.
For those of you who believe FB and twitter can boost ebook sales, targeting the international markets like India is eminently sensible. If you’re wondering if India has enough Facebook users to make it worth the effort, try 100 million for size. Yes, as of April India has over one hundred million active Facebook users.
What’s more, 84% access Facebook on mobile devices which could potentially have your ebooks on!
Incidentally there’s a ton of other social media platforms in India. One is called WhatsApp. It hit 48 million active users in April. And over half of those – 25 million – have signed up in just the past six months! WhatsApp is actually owned by Facebook.
Okay, one final India statistic to savour. Some time this year India is expected to reach the milestone of a quarter billion internet users. And most of those will be on ebook-friendly mobile devices.
We’ll be taking a closer look at social media platforms in India and across Asia in another post. Here just to say while our familiar favourites like Facebook and twitter are big across Asia there are “local” social media platforms like WeChat and Ten Cent which are even bigger.
China’s twitter rival Sina Weibo claimed 148 million active users in March. WeChat in China has 350 million active users each month. That’s more than the entire population of the USA!
Sounds impressive until you consider that Tencent has 800 million active monthly users. At one point in April Tencent had an incredible 200 million users online at the same time!
Imagine. If you could tempt just half of one per cent of those 200 million simultaneous Tencent users to buy your ebook you’d have made 100,000 sales!
Okay, that’s not gonna happen, obviously. But our point is, the online world beyond the US-UK axis we all know and love is way, way, way bigger than anything we’ve seen so far. And it’s just beginning.
Would you believe Vietnam is Apple’s fastest growing market? And that the number of Facebook users in Vietnam is increasing at the rate of one million a month?
It probably won’t surprise you by now to learn China Mobile is the world’s biggest telco. It may surprise you just how big. China Mobile alone has over one billion subscribers!
These numbers may seem astronomical now, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the world isn’t online yet!
Mobile commerce is still in its infancy, but its reach is already global in a way no form of commerce has ever been before. And as delivery, consumption and payment-processing technology advances there is no corner of the earth that won’t have access to digital content. Will yours be part of it?
Don’t get hung up on what you know and feel at home with. If you want to be a globally acknowledged ebook author you need to step outside your comfort zone and go to where your prospective readers are. The potential rewards are staggering.
Promoting ebooks in India? Do it in the afternoon. Their afternoon.
Stepping outside your comfort zone might be something as simple as tweeting links to more than one retailer. Or it might be something as simple as tweeting at the right time of day.
We Brits have problem enough making sense of America’s time zones, but for global SMP you need to keep a close eye on the world clock. To find out what time it is in India (or any other country) try this great little site.
Obviously if you’re tweeting to the Indian market there’s no point in sending out your tweets in the middle of their night. But you can further improve your twitter efficiency by tweeting on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons (their time), which is when most Indians shop online. It seems noon ‘til 3pm-4pm is best for Amazon India and Flipkart. Curious eBay India gets the heavy traffic between 3pm and 6pm. Bear that in mind when eBay finally gets on board with ebooks, as it surely will.
Weekends, it transpires, are the quiet times for online shopping, when buyers prefer to go to the big stores in person. The weekdays of course reflect India’s current online dominance by office desktop computers.
This is an important point for all international markets, and one we indie authors need to grasp, because it directly impacts on our future sales.
The New Renaissance.
For most of the world getting online is not easy. Most people in most countries do not have home computers. What we in the west take for granted are still unimaginable luxuries elsewhere. Not only is a desktop hugely expensive, but it needs a reliable mains power supply. Laptops perhaps a little less so, but still off limits to most people.
Feature phones (which can read very basic ebook files) are hugely popular in many parts of the world. Nokia is the biggest brand in the Philippines and in many other countries thanks to its feature phones, but it’s noteworthy that as smartphones begin to impact most Filippinos intend to buy cheaper domestic smartphones rather than the big-name brands. We’ll be watching with interest to see which, if any, ereader apps come pre-installed.
The point is, smartphones, tablets and phablets are taking over from feature phones everywhere. And that change everything. For us in the West mobiles are just one more addition to our already luxurious lifestyles. To people in the developing world they are life-changing devices often making available for the first time the delights of cyberspace we westerners can’t imagine life without. Portable, quickly and easily recharged, and able to do pretty much everything a clunky old desktop could do, and much, much more.
As we’ve reported before, India has basic tablets like the Aakash selling for silly money, and cheap smartphones are everywhere too. They may not have all the fancy extras of your latest i-Device, but they can manage all the basic functions, including reading ebooks and listening to audio books.
Having said that, the next tier up is a raft of cheap but very powerful smartphones and tablets that are being bought up by Indians as fast as the Chinese manufacturers can deliver them. Here’s food for thought. The Indian smartphone market is expected to exceed the size of the US smartphone market this year.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of these developments for authors and publishers, and why indie authors especially should be excited by this. We’ll be looking at the phenomenon we call the New Renaissance in depth soon, but here just to summarise:
In the West ebooks, while not quite replacing print, could not be said to be bringing many new readers to the table. New titles, no question, but not so much new readers.
In the developing world it’s very different. In developing and “Third World” countries where print books are largely unavailable or unaffordable, mobile technology is expanding existing markets and opening up vast new markets hitherto un-mined by booksellers and publishers because of the logistics of print production and distribution.
Already in Asia 67% of all books are purchased online. As more and more people get internet access to buy online so book purchases will soar. But that’s only an option if you can afford the deliver fees on top of the list price. And if you have a delivery address. Many parts of the world don’t even have street names and house numbers, let alone a postal system.
But they don’t need one with digital.
Not just in India, but across eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Africa publishing markets are being revitalized, reinvigorated and in many instances created where no market previously existed.
As this UNESCO report shows, ebooks are helping boost literacy in many developing countries. UNESCO surveyed seven countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe – and found more and more people are reading ebooks on feature phones.
Most significantly, the UNESCO survey shows the biggest hindrance to people in the developing world reading on phones is not the cost of mobile devices, the cost of mobile use or even connectivity.
The single biggest obstacle to ebook reading in the developing world is the limited content available.
So as smartphones, tablets and phablets take hold in these countries don’t expect too many extra sales in the near future. With the exception of India all these countries are ignored by the western retailers right now.
No speaka da forrin lingo? Nada problem.
But let’s return to India. We mentioned e-magazines above. This link will give you some idea of what’s on offer. Go on, have a poke around on the Groupon India site and check out just how many books and magazines are in English.
For those of us who won’t be having our titles translated into India’s myriad languages (Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marathi, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Sanskrit, Telegu, Urdu, Manipuri and Punjabi to name but a handful), it’s worth keeping in mind India is the world’s second largest anglophone market after the US, with an estimated 150 million people speaking English.
But if you’re guessing the UK is next, think again. Nigeria and the Philippines both have more English speakers than the UK has people, coming in at fourth and fifth place, with Britain only sixth in the anglophone rankings.
Sadly Nigeria is not on the radar of any of the big western ebook retailers right now. Our guess is Google Play will be the one that does go there, eventually. This year? We’d love to see it happen, but don’t hold your breath.
Bizarrely Amazon and Apple aren’t in the Philippines either. Both these ebook giants limit their Asian interest to India and Japan (and China, but not with any significant ebook presence there), leaving vast tracts of Asia off-limits. Kobo is the biggest ebook player in the Philippines, thanks to a flagship partnership with the National Book Store, which is also the Philippines’ biggest bricks and mortar book chain.
For indie authors wanting a token presence in SE Asia try Bookbaby, as they distribute to the Malaysian ebook store eSentral. The eSentral team in turn gets ebooks into the hands of readers not just in Malaysia but also in the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
But eSentral is a small player. Potentially much bigger, but still new to the region, is Google Play, commanding a growing share of the ebook market not just in Japan and the Philippines but also in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam.
Local competition is fierce. The Thai ebook giant Ookbee (85% of the Thailand market) opened a Philippines store in December. Ookbee also has stores in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, and just this month reported substantial new investment from Japan to expand further. Ookbee is also an example of an ebook store expanding beyond ebooks. They’ve just launched their own social gaming platform.
Other key operators include Indonesia’s Scoop, which we’ve reported on before. Then there are smaller domestic retailers across the region, like Dtac ReadEver and Flipreads.
Moving up towards Japan, now and at the tail end of 2014 the Japanese ebook store Fantasista joined with Japanese ebook operator mixPaper to launch what is believed to be the first ebook store on Facebook. Nate at The Digital Reader reports mixPaper for Facebook is currently only in Japanese but will be adding English this year.
In December 2013 Japan added another ebook innovation to its credit with the launch of the Nintendo 3DS ebook store and reading app.
And don’t forget Kobo, which began Canadian but is now opened by the Japanese retail giant Rakuten.
Okay, we’ve said some harsh words about Kobo recently. But Kobo has the potential to surprise us all. Westerners may not realize it but Rakuten is a significant player in Asia (and elsewhere, but let’s stick with Asia here). Take but one example – Rakuten Tarad. You may never have heard of it but if you live in Thailand it will be familiar. Rakuten’s Thai operation has seen growth of eighty per cent this year already, and almost all m-commerce (mobile device) driven.
It’s just a matter of time before Rakuten starts integrating Kobo’s ebook stores into its online retail infrastructure. Our guess is the new guy in charge at Kobo is looking at exactly that.
But to wind up today let’s go back to that list of top English-speaking nations. Those of you keeping count will remember that the USA and India held the top two places, with the Philippines, Nigeria and the UK at four, five and six.
Number three? India’s neighbor Pakistan, no less, with upwards of 90 million English speakers.
Now Pakistan may not be your first, second or even forty-ninth thought as a place to sell ebooks, and you’d be right. Ebooks are still very much unknown in this colourful country. The few that are being read will be on feature phones. But that will soon be changing. Very soon.
In April Pakistan auctioned three 3G and two 4G licenses enabling Pakistan telecom operators to roll out serious internet connectivity at last.
Pakistanis are no strangers to mobiles – there are a 133 million subscribers to the current 2G network – but broadband reaches only about 3 million people. By 2020 that figure is expected to be around 45 million, and it goes without saying most of that expansion will be smartphone and tablet driven. That’s 45 million people in Pakistan who will have an ebook-friendly device in their hands for the first time.
In fact smartphone sales are expected to exceed half a million per month over the coming year as Pakistanis embrace the new digital opportunities. And needless to say tech firms are already busily preparing for this exciting new market.
But there’s absolutely no indication that any of the big western ebook retailers are looking at Pakistan right now. We can safely rule out Amazon and Apple for the foreseeable future, leaving Kobo and Google Play as the only plausible contenders from our part of the world.
But you can bet your last dollar/pound/euro/bitcoin that S.E. Asian operators are already making arrangements to enter the Pakistan ebook market.
Go East, Young Man.
As we approach the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century be warned. The centre of gravity in the digital markets is shifting away from America and towards the east.
As a cautionary tale, keep an eye out for Alibaba. You may think Alibaba is just an oriental folk story, but in China and much of the Far East when people think Alibaba they think a giant Chinese company selling online, with big designs on the wider world. We’ll be looking at the exciting Chinese market more closely in the near future.
For now, just ponder this: Alibaba is already bigger than Amazon and eBay combined. It has its own online payments system Alipay (technically separate due to Chinese regulations), which recent reports suggest is three times bigger than Paypal and Square together, and Alipay has just tied up with Kobo’s owners Rakuten. Alipay also provides payments options to merchants in the USA.
A final thought on the titan that is Alibaba. Alibaba is about to launch in the US financial markets. “Bankers and analysts say Alibaba’s IPO could raise more than $15 billion, possibly surpassing Facebook’s 2012 market debut as the largest technology IPO in U.S. history.”
Savvy indies will be keeping a close eye on developments in the orient and laying the foundations now to reap rewards later.
That means not just making sure you’ve a presence in the east through the easy-access western players like Kobo and Google Play, but also climbing onboard with the new generation of cyber-retailers emerging in India, SE Asia and the Far East.
Go Global In 2014.
Ebook Bargains UK
Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.
Far more than just the UK.