In trying to stay ahead of the game and plan for the future it’s useful to step outside our industry boxes now and again and look at the bigger box our own box is in.
Ebooks require software and hardware, obviously, and while (as Japan shows) being an advanced digital nation doesn’t in itself guarantee ebooks will take off in a big way, it’s certainly an indicator. Which is why identifying the countries trending digitally helps savvy retailers identify where to develop ebook stores. And in turn helps the savvy author think about the future of the global ebook market.
Google have this down to a fine art. While Amazon’s international expansion has self-evidently ground to a halt (sorry Joe Konrath, but your prediction that Amazon would become the dominant global ebook player in 2014 was never a runner) Google Play recently added another dozen global ebook stores to their already impressive list.
But before taking a closer look at Google Play and glocalization let’s talk boxes.
In our ebook box it’s easy to shut out the rest of the industry and pretend it doesn’t matter. Even though we all know ebooks make up only a fraction of publishing industry revenue and overall book sales we conveniently ignore this fact to keep up the facade that trad publishing is doomed and indie authors can earn far more on their own.
For those who treat Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report as gospel, check out the comments on Chuck Wendig’s blog where Howey admits that, actually, he makes more from trad publishing than he does from Amazon.
It’s even easier to shut out the bigger box that is digital development, and to ignore one of its key drivers – games. But keeping a close eye on the gaming industry is a good predictor of the shape of things to come for ebooks, because the technology – and increasingly the retailers – go hand in hand.
There’s no breakdown of how these numbers equate to dedicated consoles as opposed to mobile devices, but safe to assume for most “Third World” countries inordinately expensive console systems are mostly not an option and it is m-devices (smartphones, tablets and phablets) that are where the action is. And the shift from console to mobile will be increasingly pronounced in the “First World” too.
The key point here is, many people embracing gaming technology around the world will be doing so on ebook-friendly devices. Not to mention many console systems can also double as ereaders and some even have their own ebook stores – more on this in another post.
Perusing the top 100 gaming nations is instructive for two reasons.
First, Google Android devices and the Google Play store tower over the non-console gaming world. It’s no coincidence that most of the 57 Google Play ebook stores all feature high on the gaming top 100 list.
Point two follows on from this. The other 43 countries on that list are safe bets for Google Play Books stores to magically appear in in the not too distant future. Google Play have already demonstrated clearly that the size of the country and its wealth is neither here nor there. Among their latest roll-out with ebook stores are such small and impoverished nations as Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.
The number of ebooks they sell there will be miniscule, but Google are playing the long game. And because they are first and foremost a digital company, not an e-commerce company like Amazon, it means they value these small markets.
By contrast Amazon’s international ebook stores are simply adjuncts to its existing and planned print-book distribution network. Which is why while Google Play can give Belgium, Austria and Switzerland their own ebook stores Amazon demands ebook buyers swallow their pride and go to a neighbouring country, which in the case of Switzerland isn’t even in the same currency. Even where Amazon goes digital-first, as in Brazil, it’s simply as a spearhead operation to bring the bigger Amazon e-commerce store into play.
For this reason Amazon is never going to be a major global ebook player, and will continue to surcharge readers in the few countries outside the Kindle Zone it allows to buy from the US store. It has no interest in the wider international ebook market beyond its broader e-commerce ambitions.
But back to that games chart.
At 31 and 33 in the global gaming chart are Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Egypt is at 37, Iran at 47, the United Arab Emirates at 52, and Kenya at 68.
Currently the only country in Africa with a dedicated major western retailer ebook store is South Africa (Google Play, ‘txtr, and a localized Kobo store – plus some domestic stores supplied by OverDrive). The Middle East (and most of Africa) is off-limits not just for stores but even for downloads.
A reminder here: Despite all the Middle East countries and all the African countries being listed in the KDP drop-down menu, leading indies to believe they can sell ebooks in these countries, Amazon actually block downloads to most of them and imposes a $2 or more surcharge on the ones it does allow to buy from the US site.
Nigeria, an English-speaking nation with a massive population (180 million), is obviously key contender for the second African ebook store for Google Play, and Egypt and Israel the likely first candidates for the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE will no doubt have additional political hurdles to clear regarding content, but hopefully won’t be far behind. And for the rest of Africa, while it’s mainly the Arabic-speaking North African countries that are on the top 100 gaming nations list (Morocco and Algeria notably) it’s a safe bet Google Play is looking at the bigger picture in Africa.
Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi and Senegal are all contenders, along with Kenya, to be not far behind Nigeria in Google Play’s sub-Saharan ambitions.
And looking further ahead, Google Play will have ebook stores in every country in the world in the foreseeable future. Google is investing heavily in satellite internet, which will mean the Google Play store will be accessible literally anywhere on the planet to those who have a receiving device and to those who can make payments.
Google is currently rolling out its Android One project designed to get even more inexpensive Android devices into the developing nations’ markets, with India first on the list. It’s an exciting project that will eventually go hand in hand with the satellite project to bring internet access to every part of the globe.
Obviously Google is a business, not a charity, and these altruistic ventures have a key business angle – every Android device is a potential repository for the Google Play store, and for us indies that will eventually include a Google Play Books store.
But having a Google Play store on your device is no use if you don’t have the means to buy from it. Which is where Google Play again has the edge over its global rivals.
One of the reasons Google Play is proving to be the only western retailer capable of embracing the global ebook market is glocalization.
Glocalization – What It Means and Why Most Western Ebook Retail Giants Will Be Left Behind.
Japanese spending on mobile apps was just 36% of US spending in 2012. In 2013 it was bigger than the US. And one company led the way – Google Play. Not just leading the way, but surging ahead. Google Play not only equaled Apple iOS revenue, but is expected to leave Apple standing in 2014.
In previous posts we’ve mentioned how m-commerce – spending on mobile devices (smartphones, tablets and phablets) had rocketed, why m-commerce is the future, and why global ebook sales are going to expand exponentially. Apps are how it all happens.
The reason there has been such a surge in Japan, and the reason Google Play is raking in the cash and leaving others – even the mighty Apple – behind, is because Google Play understand glocalization.
Glocalization is a combination of two words – global and localization. Put simply, being in foreign countries but doing local business.
When Google Play hit Japan it didn’t just turn up with the Google Play US site with some Japanese window dressing. It glocalized. It didn’t just set up a store and let people pay with local currency with credit/debit cards. Crucially it added the preferred payment system in that country. Carrier billing.
Now carrier billing may be meaningless to you and I, but if you live in Japan its second nature.
Android owners on NTT Docomo, KDDI, and Softbank can pay for their apps, or Google ebooks, or Google music, etc, in a single payment, along with their airtime, data, and messaging fees, right to their carrier.
When a savvy Japanese reader is choosing their next ebook they don’t want the hassle of setting up accounts with Amazon or filling in their credit card details to Kobo, etc, etc. Google Play is integrated with their carrier (ISP / mobile phone supplier with probably a ton more services included) and they just buy from Google Play and the item appears on their monthly statement.
Yes, Amazon’s one-click is pretty cool too, and that’s the same thing, right? Or as good as.
Well, if you’re in the US or UK it’s pretty cool, granted. But supposing you live in, say, India? True, Amazon has a Kindle site there now, but Amazon’s famed one-click isn’t available, and when you want to pay you actually pay in the USA.
Amazon famously only allows internationally-enabled card to be used for payment, and only allows local currency on some products, forcing buyers to pay in USD for the rest, with all the additional costs that incurs with exchange rates, bank fees, etc.
In the small-print on Kindle India Amazon helpfully advises: “If you’re unsure whether your credit or debit card is internationally-enabled, please contact your bank to confirm.”
Be honest. If a foreign company set up shop in your country and gave you all those hoops to jump through just to buy an ebook, when there are perfectly good local alternatives, how long would you stay there?
No wonder Indian readers are sticking with Flipkart, Landmark and Infibeam, or going to the next-generation stores like Rockstand and Newshunt, all of whom understand people living in India want to pay in Indian currency using Indian payment options.
And no wonder Google Play is soaring ahead in Japan and around the world.
The biggest hurdle for Amazon’s international aspirations is payments. Amazon, as per the Kindle India example above, expects you to pay with a card because that’s how it is in America. The complete opposite of glocalization.
Amazon its expanding its own payments system, but as with everything Amazon it’s a walled garden. This seemed (and was) a great idea from Amazon’s perspective in the countries it got a head start in. Readers who bought into the Kindleverse in the early days will find it hard to ship their ebooks to other devices should they decide to move on.
But what Amazon is finding to its cost is that it doesn’t just keep existing customers locked in. It locks prospective customers out.
If the rumoured Kindle Sweden and Kindle Russia stores ever do materialize the readers who are already buying ebooks from existing retailers will face the same issues should they want to go the Kindle route. With the additional problem of payments thrown in.
In Russia only 35% of metropolitan18-35 year olds use bankcards at all – and far rural areas the number is far fewer.
It’s a similar story in most of the developing world. People pay by cash (even for digital goods, by paying over the counter at their local equivalent of a 7/11) or use e-wallet solutions or carrier billing, because – again as per the Kindle India example above – even if they have local bank cards it’s unlikely any international retailer will recognize them. And if they are recognized the buyer will get stung for currency exchange fees.
On top of all this comes brand reputation. Amazon has a reputation (deserved or not, it exists) as the Big Bad American Wolf that enters a country with the sole purpose of decimating local competition to build its own business up.
Google? Google is also in the business of making money, but its approach is just the opposite.
Google’s Android system has just reached the one billion user benchmark. Android has almost doubled its user-base in just twelve months.
When it comes to the global markets Google is a universally recognized brand beyond compare. Which means the Google Play store will be the first port for huge numbers of users.
Google Play “only” has 57 global ebook stores so far, but the direction is clear, and the gaming numbers indicative. While Amazon is on hold at a dozen or so Kindle stores Google Play is on target to have over 100 ebook stores in the next year or so, and be in every country in the world in the not too distant future.
Most importantly for us indies, for most of the current 57 countries Google Play Books is in, and for pretty much all future ebook stores they open, Google Play will be the only big western retailer available to readers. What competition there is globally will come from the next-generation players emerging from the Asia-Pacific region. Or what we Brits call the Far East.
Google Play may never be a match for the Kindle and Apple iBooks stores in the US and UK – but for the rest of the world Google Play is our best hope for a global readership.
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