Monthly Archives: September 2014

India’s Fast-Growing Ebook Market Is About To Become A Lot More Lucrative For Indie Authors – If You Are On Google Play.

Go Global In 2014
The Kindle India store is, unquestionably, the easiest option for indie authors to gain access to the burgeoning Indian ebook market. But it’s by no means the most effective.

As reported before, Amazon does not allow local currency payments on many items, and does not accept local payment methods for most.

India may have just put a spacecraft in orbit around Mars, and it may have a bigger smartphone market than the USA, but it is also a land of desperate poverty, where most of the population have no access to the credit cards Amazon expects to be paid by.

Countless millions of Indian consumers now have a device in their hand that could have your ebooks on, and yes, the Kindle app is free, but if you cannot pay for the ebooks in the Kindle store, why bother? Go to another retailer, like Flipkart, that understands customers living in India and buying products in India want to pay in Indian currency with local Indian payment methods.

Flipkart is currently the e-commerce titan of India, with an estimated eighty percent market share. It recently raised $1bn in a funding round to expand further.

Enter Amazon.

Days before the Flipkart funding was announced Jeff Bezos had laid out Amazon’s plans for India, with investment in new warehouses, etc.  Then Flipkart announced the new $1bn extra funding.

Not to be outdone, Jeff Bezos was there the next day saying he would be investing $2bn. No mention of this days earlier in the announcement on Amazon India. Bezos just magicked two billion dollars out of the air to play one-upmanship with a rival store.

Which is fine if the company has money to throw around. But this is a company that, on its own guidance, is about to report a half billion dollar loss for just one quarter!

No surprise then that just weeks after Bezos publicly stated he would throw another $2bn into India Amazon went cap in hand to Bank of America to borrow, wait for it… $2bn. Two billion to add to the already heavy debt Amazon is carrying. (LINK)

No surprise either that the news was snuck out after business hours on a Friday…

But let’s get back to India. Because weeks after saying he would splash the cash on the subcontinent Bezos hit another hurdle. Actually, make that an obstacle course.

India’s authorities clamped down first on western companies (not just Amazon, let’s be clear, but also Google, eBay, etc) not using local payment processing and to stop them demanding payment in US dollars.

This amid a wider investigation into Amazon’s conduct in the country, amid widespread reports that Amazon wasn’t playing by the rules.

Then as September drew to a close the Indian authorities stepped up their investigation. The Enforcement Directorate has issued orders to over 100 Indian business telling them to stop using Amazon to store goods in Amazon Fulfillment warehouses. (LINK)

In response Amazon warned it may now have to close some warehouses on the sub-continent, but casually explained it was all India’s fault.

“We understand this to be a case where the laws have not kept pace with the new-age online business models,” Amazon said.

So that’s alright then. Who cares about a country’s laws when they conflict with Amazon’s business model…

Google, on the other hand, has responded to the Indian authorities’ concerns in typical fashion: glocalization.

It’s not signed, sealed and delivered yet but Google is about to ink a deal with India’s biggest telecom operator Aircel to allow carrier billing for its products bought through the Google Play India store. (LINK)

For those unfamiliar carrier billing is simply where anything you buy online is added to your phone bill or deducted from your phone credit. No need to have a bank account or credit/debit card, or to share those details with the seller.

It’s a bitter irony that Amazon should be criticizing India for failing to keep up with new-age on-line business models when Amazon is still stuck in the last century when it comes to payments options on its own sites.

America is way behind the rest of the developed world in still using credit cards as the norm, and even at home that poses a problem for online retailers as many millions of Americans are without banking facilities thanks to credit checks and similar conditions. Wal-Mart has just this past week stepped in to help solve that problem with its new Go Bank checking account.

But for the less-developed nations the ability to pay by credit/debit card is a luxury even fewer enjoy. Which seriously hinders the development of on-line retail around the globe.

Vietnam, for example, sees just 1% of financial transactions made by card. In the Philippines it’s just 5%. 12% in Thailand. 37% in Singapore. Not that indies in KDP Select need be concerned, as Amazon blocks downloads to these countries anyway. No, that’s not anti-Amazon, simply fact. Google Play is in all of them. Not pro-Google. Simply fact.

Even for key nations like the BRIC countries, which are the current focus of the western retailers’ attention, it’s not good news for those stores that can’t be bothered to glocalize.

Amazon is rumoured to be edging closer to a Kindle Russia store. Great news if true, but less than 40% of Russia’s urban young people use credit cards. For the general population the figure is negligible.

Amazon will find in Russia that, just as in India and Brazil, by refusing to glocalize it will hinder, not encourage, consumer interest.

In India credit card penetration is just 2%. Give the size of the population that’s no small number of people, but it effectively excludes 98% of the population from buying from the Amazon India store at all. And for those who do have cards they are likely to get lumbered with extra costs from currency exchange fees, etc, because many purchases can still only be made in US dollars.

The carrier-billing deal between Google Play and Airtel will mean every one of Airtel’s 40 million data users with a smartphone will be able to access anything in the Google Play store and have the payment taken from their cash-purchased Airtel credit top-up.

Easier than One-Click. Especially since Amazon doesn’t offer One-Click in India.

Google Play currently offers carrier-billing in 26 countries – almost half of the Google Play stores – and is actively working to reach more.

That said, Google Play is late to the game in India. We’ve mentioned before that the real ebook players in India are likely to be the upstart start-ups focussed on m-commerce, like Newshunt (LINK) and Rockstand (LINK).

Neither of these stores are currently easily accessible to indies, but keep an eye on them and jump in as soon as it happens. Or stick around and we’ll take a look at some “back door” options in future posts.

Newshunt, which of course offers carrier-billing for its readers in India, has seen over 4 million ebooks downloaded in the past six months, and almost all paid for with carrier-billing.

Given the Indian ebook market is barely off the starting grid, and there is so much competition, that’s an impressive initial foray, and a sure sign of things to come.

Not to mention a sure sign of which companies are in the running down the road.

Microsoft, for instance, is planning on offering carrier-billing in India in the near future for its Windows phone app.

Looking beyond the region briefly, Microsoft also has carrier-billing arrangements in the Middle East, and Google Play just introduced carrier-billing in the United Arab Emirates. As we’ve said before, Google Play is the only likely candidate for an easy-access western-retailer-operated Middle East ebook store. (LINK) Hopefully we’ll see that in 2015.

Rockstand too offers carrier-billing. More on both Newshunt and Rockstand below.

Amazon? Amazon famously keeps all its payments in-house, and while there’s little hope Amazon will offer carrier-billing in India any time soon, there are indications that the Amazon wall is, if not quite crumbling, then having a few gates reluctantly put in.

Offering carrier-billing for the Fire phone was unavoidable, of course, but lately Amazon has been very quietly signing up to a carrier-billing scheme in Germany of all places.

Amazon has joined with Bango and Deutschland Telefonica’s O2 mobile network to allow German buyers to pay for Amazon apps through their phone bill instead of paying Amazon direct. (LINK)

In fact Amazon initiated this over three years ago, but only now has taken the plunge, slowly facing up to the reality that carrier-billing is the only way the company can hope to maintain, let alone grow, market share in overseas markets.

The cost to Amazon is of course two-fold. First, revenue sharing with another party (but don’t worry, they’ll just tighten the screws on the content-providers all the more to make that up), and second because they won’t have the customer data. For these reasons carrier-billing will always be a last resort.

Across Europe, according to Jupiter Research, there are some 280 million adults who have no debit or credit card to pay on-line. (LINK) This is by no means just a Third World problem.

Amazon will have no choice soon but to look at carrier-billing in India, Brazil and Mexico, but at this stage it doesn’t appear to be on the agenda, leaving an open goal for Google Play among the western ebook retailers.

For the record, there are no Apple, ‘txtr or Nook ebook stores in India.

Kobo is there via W H Smith India (not that we indies are invited, so forget that) and Crossword (but only as a link to the Kobo localized store).

OverDrive are represented via Landmark (also the country’s biggest b&m book chain) and Infibeam.

Other options include Magzter and Pothi, and the aforementioned Flipkart, Newshunt and Rockstand, as well as a growing number of niche players.

We identified Newshunt and Rockstand above as ones to watch, so let’s end on those.

Newshunt is a mobile-only ebooks store that is run by Ver Se.

Newshunt has seen 50 million app installations, has 14 million active monthly users and gets over 1.5 billion monthly page views. More importantly it expects to have 200 million active monthly users within two years, as m-commerce takes off in India. (LINK)

Given India is expected to have 385 million smartphone users by 2017 (more than one for every man, woman, child and baby in the US) that kind of growth is probably conservative.

By 2020…

Make no mistake, India is a place all indie authors should have their focus on. And none should close their eyes to what a deal with a local publisher could bring to the table in terms of access and translation to India’s local languages (both Newshunt and Rockstand specialize in offering ebooks in multiple Indian languages).

As well as carrier-billing Newshunt also allows customers in India to pay using its proprietary payment option iPayy. No, nothing to do with Apple, because that’s not a typo.

What is it is one more way in which local ebook retailers on the subcontinent have the edge over the western giants trying to barge their way in, and one more reason why western indie authors wanting to share in the action need to look beyond the convenience of their home-grown distribution options.

Rockstand is owned by Handygo Technologies, and needless to say it offers carrier-billing – via three Indian telcos: Airtel, Vodafone India and Idea Cellular.

As with Newshunt, getting in isn’t easy for indies.

In March Rockstand signed a deal with Ingram for ebook content, but of course only a handful of indies are in the Ingram ebook catalogue in the first place.  (LINK) We’ve thus far been unable to determine if indie titles in Ingram are actually available among the 2 million ebook titles on Rockstand, but there’s no reason to suppose they are not.

We’ve said before and will say again, India, Indonesia and China are the most exciting prospects on the planet right now for indie authors willing to step outside their comfort zone.

The global ebook market is going to dwarf the US market many, many times over as it blossoms, and those who get an early foot in the door will have best chance to reap the rewards.

No, there will be no instant successes and no instant rewards.

But think about how hard it is now for new authors to gain traction in the US and UK markets. And how much harder it’s getting, by the day.

The nascent global markets aren’t quite open goals, but there are myriad opportunities for savvy authors to become big fish in small ponds overseas. And then to grow to be even bigger fish as the pond gets bigger.

No, it won’t be easy. Yes, it will take time, effort and probably some costs if you really want to make an impact.

So start small. Focus on one country – say, India – and get things in place, and then move on to the next. Build a readership base and then move your focus to the next country.

No-one can do it all at once. Don’t try.

But don’t take the path of least resistance. Amazon is a great starting point for India, but for all the reasons above it is not going to give you much reach in that country, and none at all across much of the globe.

Amazon can play a key role in your path to becoming a truly global bestselling author, but it won’t do it on its own. Period.

Think about the next five years, not the next five weeks.

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Great News From Smashwords!

Go Global In 2014 It seems Smashwords have now dropped the incredibly annoying requirement that you had to put “Published by Smashwords” or some similar text on the title page of your ebook when submitting for Premium distribution.

Why such good news? After all, it’s just a line of text, right?

First, many of us don’t use the Meatgrinder. It’s good (better finish than D2D) but it’s not excellent, it’s bloody cumbersome, and it’s very limited. Professional indies usually have professionally-made epub files that we load direct to retailers, including Smashwords. 

But because of this ridiculous requirement we had to have two versions, one with the extra words in to keep Mark Coker happy, and another for other outlets. 

Second, professional indies do NOT want Smashwords listed as publisher on our title page when Smashwords is not our publisher. It’s called self-publishing for a reason. 

Aside from which many authors go to considerable expense and effort to have their own ISBNs and their own publishing imprint. They pay so that that ISBN is assigned to their imprint and they are the publisher of record. A waste of money when Smashwords is insisting we stated they were the publisher instead.

That said, many indies assert ISBNs are a waste of money. Period. We’ll be taking a closer look soon at ISBNs and why we feel they do have something to offer.

Third, having Smashwords printed there, just like having CreateSpace on the title page of a POD, screams out that the book is self-published.

To some readers, and to some retailers and other interested third parties, that matters. Like it or not, being self-published still carries a lot of stigma and closes doors in our faces.

Those in the know understand indie imprints are still self-published, but they also understand, and respect, that those authors have made the effort to distance themselves from the NaNoWriMo first drafts that give self-publishing a bad name.

We only have to look at the Smashwords-OverDrive fiasco to see that. Smashwords titles are hidden away in a self-published ghetto while indies who used a different aggregator such as Ebook Partnership have their titles proudly displayed in OverDrive libraries and retail outlets.

Fourth, it’s disingenuous of Mark Coker, since the site clearly states Smashwords is not our publisher, but he insisted on adding wording in every ebook that said it was.

Five, we accept that Smashwords has a handful of outlets we cannot get into otherwise, so we play the game and have another epub made with the required wording.

No big deal if you make your own or are competent with the Meatgrinder. Not everyone is. Many an indie author has ended up atop the Brooklyn Bridge, ready to end it all, after yet another merry-go-round with the Meatgrinder’s utterly meaningless auto-vetter rejections.

So most professional indies have their epub files made for them, in the same way most of us farm out our cover designs or our editing or proofing.

And that becomes a very big deal if you are paying the crazy prices some ebook formatters charge.

So either you had “Published by Smashwords” in your epub even if you were going direct to Nook, or to Google Play, or whatever. Or you had to have two epub versions, one with the wording and one without. Which could get seriously expensive for those paying for the work..

But now we can load the same epub to all retailers – and of course that includes Amazon. One of the many upsides to Amazon is that you can upload a quality epub file to KDP and they will convert it to a mobi file. No-one should be paying extra for a mobi file for Amazon when your epub will load in KDP just fine, and now you don’t need a separate epub file for Smashwords.

All that said, if you use a Smashwords-allocated “free” ISBN then Smashwords will still be your publisher of record and it will still say “Publisher: Smashwords” in the metadata on the product page.

The only way to avoid that is to buy your own ISBNs. Again, more on this thorny subject soon.

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E-Zines – The Next Big Thing For Indie Authors. Think Outside The Book.

Go Global In 2014

Apple has just bought a digital-publishing start-up, in what look like the next step in a shift towards more focus from Apple on content-sales. Good news for all of us.

This latest acquisition is aimed at the magazine market and will likely be integrated into the iAuthor ebook creation tool, or run alongside as a dedicated e-magazine creation tool, allowing small publishers and individuals to produce e-zines of comparable quality to the content currently available from the big players.

E-zines are an area in which indie authors would do well to invest some serious thought.

Not ideal for everyone, but for many – especially those planning image-rich non-fiction, etc – a periodic e-magazine (quarterly, for example) would be a great way to reach a new readership who are regular magazine readers but not so heavily invested in reading books.

Apple already has the software to make great illustrated books, and for those using them it should be a small step to producing e-magazines, especially when this new acquisition is integrated.

But other authors should not feel left out.

Consider: we all pay out for covers for our ebooks, and many of us invest substantial sums finding a graphics artist who can deliver a bespoke cover that embraces a character or theme.

The next step is to get closely involved with that cover artist and develop a bevy of bespoke illustrations that reference the characters, locations and events in the story.

This is especially ideal for fantasy and sci-fi, of course, but equally applicable across any genre, and particularly valuable for a series, or where building an eco-system where different series – even in different genres – are linked, affording a bridge for readers to cross genre with the author.

This can be done as a one-off on a website, for example, but only existing readers will know about it.

Pinterest is the next step up. A lot of authors use Pinterest to promote their book covers. But very few use it to promote their book’s content in a visual way. An opportunity missed.

But stepping beyond that, think about a quarterly e-magazine.

For any author with multiple titles, having a graphics designer on hand to provide consistent-quality and consistent-style illustrations would open many doors.

Most obviously your ebook readers would want to buy the e-zine. Magazines are marketed in a separate sphere from ebooks, so your e-zine will reach a new audience who may then buy the ebooks.

For writers in genres like fantasy in particular this might open the doors to comics and games based on your created world. And of course having a breakout game on your hands could make you forget all about writing books!

But for all authors there are serious opportunities ahead.

For example, writers could open up to fan-fiction and fan-art, and use this to provide content for the e-zine. No payments made, of course, but the contributors get full credit and a free ride to be seen before all your readers. If your readers like their work they can then buy the contributor’s own stuff. Obviously you have total editorial control, so the only material that would be allowed through would be approved by you.

And it doesn’t just need to be existing fans of your ebooks. If you are producing a non-fiction journal about animals, for example, these are pretty much guaranteed to find a very receptive audience among magazine readers. And many of these readers – readers who will have never seen your books – will have their own animal stories and photos to share. At least some will be good enough quality to use as content for the next issue.

And of course anyone who does get included will be sharing like crazy among their friends and e-contacts when the new edition is published.

For authors of books aimed at younger readers, again, the opportunities are endless. Not least inviting the young readers to submit their own drawings and thoughts on the book and characters. They and their parents will be delighted, and in a school environment word of mouth and ease of e-transmission could see your e-zine gain new readers in leaps and bounds.

But the same goes for books across all genres. Anything from romance to diet books, from erotica to cookery, from thrillers to history books.

And so much cross-over potential. All that research for your thriller set in Cold War Prague, your cozy mystery set in Barbados, your thirteenth century historical romance, or your dystopian sci-fi epic about climate change could find a receptive home, while also letting you test interest in new projects. And of course slipping in a mention for other books you may have in other genres.

Yes, you can do all this on a website or blog, but who will see it that doesn’t already know your books, and how will that add to your earnings?

E-zines bridge that gap, boosting your income and boosting your reach and readership.

Don’t dismiss the idea out of hand because you haven’t the time or skills to do it yourself. Just like with formatting and cover design, there are plenty of people who can and will for a one-off fee.

Or consider this: try putting the word about on graphic design sites and the like that you are looking for artists willing to help develop your fantasy novel (or whatever) on a profit-share basis. They’d do most of the hard work, and probably have the design expertise too to take it to completion.

If you offered a 60-40 or even a 70-30 in their favour on all net proceeds from the project (not from your existing ebooks, etc, just the stuff they work on) you’d likely get a lot of interest and have very little to do yourself.

It’s a great deal for them ,earning more than you, so giving them every incentive to go that extra mile. And for you it’s 30%-40% of something, rather than the 100% of nothing you are earning right now in this format.

We’ve mainly referencing Apple here because of the ease in which you can already create e-zine style ebooks with Apple software, but ebooks and e-zines are not the same thing, though Apple is closing the gap.

But once you have the Apple version done it will then be a lot easier to create (or pay someone to create for you) a version compatible with Amazon’s e-magazine store and the epub magazine stores of the other key digital players like Nook, Google Play, etc. And you can also put them direct on web-sites yourself either free or with paid access.

Beyond this there are the specialist e-magazine retailers like Magzter and Scoop which have global reach and open up vast numbers of potential readers you won’t come close to by just being in the ebook stores.

Don’t get trapped into the rut of an ebook-only existence. We are witnessing, and are party to, far more than just an ebook “revolution”. We are witnessing, and are party to, a global New Renaissance.

POD and audio are two obvious ways in which indie authors can reach new audiences who may never read a digital book, but there are plenty of others.

E-zines are one of them. More on other options at a later date.

 

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Google Play Launches Another Four New Ebook Stores. Amazon Still Thinking About One.

Go Global In 2014

While rumours abound that Amazon has a Kindle Netherlands store on the way, Google Play is busy doing what it does best: adding more international ebook stores to its already impressive global list.

Or at least it is about to. The Digital Reader reports (LINK) that Google Play has added the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania to its list, along with the Ukraine.

The stores aren’t fully live yet, but when they are it will take Google Play’s total country-dedicated international ebook stores to 61 – substantially ahead of Apple’s 51, the twenty or so ‘txtr sites (Latin America additions still pending) and Amazon’s dozen Kindle stores.

Comparing the Apple and Google Play lists is instructive.

Apple iBooks stores:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia,
Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic,
Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France,
Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary,
Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg,
Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua,
Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland,
Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain,
Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom,
United States, Venezuela.

Google Play Books ebook stores:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia,
Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica,
Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador,
Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala,
Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia,
Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia,
Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama,
Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal,
Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea,
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand,
Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States,
Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam.

While Apple has a very solid presence in Asia, and its devices sell in the millions there, Asia is for some reason all but devoid of iBooks store. Across the whole of the continent, Apple has just one solitary iBooks store, in Japan.

By contrast Google Play serves Hong Kong, India, Indonesia,
Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea,
Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

Amazon obviously has Kindle stores serving India and Japan, and a token presence in China. but for the rest of Asia Amazon may as well not exist, as downloads are blocked there.

The only other easy access to Asian ebook stores for western indie authors are Kobo (but only for the Philippines and Japan), e-Sentral (direct upload, or via Bookbaby or Ebook Partnership) or Magzter (via Ebook Partnership).

Which makes Google Play the essential place to be for any indie authors wanting to reach readers on the world’s largest and most populated continent.

The much-rumoured Kindle Netherlands and Kindle Russia stores may, hopefully, yet materialize. Apple, Google Play, Kobo and ‘txtr have all long ago managed to come to an arrangement with Dutch publishers, and Google Play is already in Russia.

But as we’ve expressed before, Amazon’s Kindle stores run on print rails. And they do themselves little favour by imposing surcharges on ebook buyers in countries prior to opening Kindle stores.

The Netherlands already has a well-established domestic ebook store in Bol, and the recent partnership of Bol and Kobo will only strengthen Bol’s clear dominance of the burgeoning Dutch ebook market.

A market Amazon could have been nurturing by the simple expedient of letting international buyers download ebooks without surcharges.

Why doesn’t it? Ours is not to reason why.

But on the other hand, why not. Here’s one possible reason.

Trad-pubbed ebooks come to Amazon with strict territorial rights, reflecting the print editions.

As said above, Amazon Kindle stores run on print rails. The Kindle stores are driven by trad-pub interests, not indie ebooks.

Indie authors, as we see time and time again (how many years has it taken for us indies to get the pre-order option?), are an afterthought. Even when indie titles provide the bulk of a service, as with Kindle Unlimited, it’s the trad pubbed titles (and the Amazon imprint titles) that are showcased. The rest of us are just padding.

With its brand-recognition and international reach Amazon could have been bringing many indie authors a significant secondary income from international ebook sales outside the Kindle zone countries. Instead it surcharges readers, so most go elsewhere.

Your $4.99 ebook in the USA will cost a reader in the Netherlands or Poland or Sweden $6.99. Amazon will pay you just a 35% royalty on the $4.99 and pocket the rest. Your free ebook in the US will still cost a reader in these other countries $2. And no, you won’t see a cent of that either.

Curiously, as we’ve seen with Kindle France, Kindle Germany, Kindle Brazil, etc, as soon as Amazon gets a good deal with trad pub and has enough titles to open a Kindle store the surcharges miraculously disappear.

All the while it was just indie titles available in these countries Amazon was happy to deter interest, in the full knowledge readers will be signing up with rival stores.

So long as this policy remains in force Amazon will continue to be a bit player on the international ebook scene outside of the handful of Kindle countries.

The others?

‘Txtr is a plucky little store with ambition and stamina, but little hope of making a significant impact. Nice to be part of, but it won’t make any authors rich.

Kobo is broad in reach and lots of potential, but as yet Rakuten have not put their muscle behind it. When they do that will make all the difference

Until then, pending entrance of the eastern players like Alibaba, and the possible purchase of Nook next year, the global ebook market will be either carved up between Apple and Google, or left to Google. At the moment it looks like the latter.

No indications Apple is looking seriously at further global iBook stores. Which is tragic because there are literally hundreds of millions of iDevices out there globally that could have our ebooks on.

On the bright side iBooks stores are now coming as default installations on iDevices, which may be a precursor to a more serious approach to ebooks by Apple. Fingers crossed on that one.

But for now, even if Amazon pulls it off and launches Kindle Netherlands and Kindle Russia stores, Google Play remains the best bet for an international writing career.

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A Royalty Cut By Any Other Name… Kindle Unlimited Launches In The UK.

Go Global In 2014

As Kindle Unlimited is launched in the UK today, it’s clear the Big 5 boycott is holding steady.

No major trad pub titles are in apart from the same handful of selected big names like Suzanne Collins and J K Rowling, and a selection of heavyweights from another era, like Arthur C. Clarke and Kurt Vonnegut.

Amazon has been able to muster 650,000 titles for Kindle Unlimited’s US and UK sites by pulling in Select titles, nearly all of which are in English.

But what happens when Kindle Unlimited goes “international” and extends its reach to Germany and France, and possibly other European Kindle nations like Italy and Spain, as is widely expected next month?

A safe bet the Big 5’s EU operations have no more intention of getting in bed with Amazon on this than their US and UK counterparts.

This puts Amazon in a difficult position, as there are far fewer local-language KDP Select authors to pad out the European KU offerings than there are English-language titles. A KU France or KU Germany launch that asks readers to pay for access to a handful of French or German titles and a ton of foreign language (English) titles is not going to have readers stampeding to sign up.

The UK version of KU, by contrast, should do very well, at least at first. But will it benefit indie authors long term? Somehow we doubt it.

Oyster isn’t in the UK at all and Scribd, while it can be used by Brits, is almost unknown this side of the Atlantic. It means Amazon has an open goal in Britain.
Bear in mind readers who are not indie authors will have no idea that the three big names used for promo are pretty much the only three big names. It will probably take several months for the penny to drop, as readers exhaust the handful of names they do know, and are tempted to try those they don’t.

It’s a clever ploy by Kindle chief Russ Grandinetti – the most dangerous man in publishing right now – to play this as an opportunity for readers to try new authors they might otherwise have avoided. At face value it sounds like Grandinetti is supporting both readers and indie authors.

Unfortunately, given the quality of much of KDP Select’s offerings, many readers will find out the hard way, using up their monthly download limit instead of using Look Inside, that for every top notch indie title that can compete with the best trad pubbed titles, there are a dozen NaNoWriMo first drafts with a home-made cover that should never have seen the light of day.

With the first month free Brits will be rushing to sign-up and try it out, and as with the US launch, Amazon will be giving heavy promotion to KU titles to make sure it looks like a success.

No coincidence this UK launch is one month from the dreaded Q3 financial statement, which will report Amazon’s worst losses ever.

The surge of Brits signing up to KU and the inevitable ton of downloads that result, will be a major news item to deflect attention from the financial mess Amazon is in. And you can bet your grandmother’s bottom dentures Amazon will forget to mention that the first month’s sign-up was free, so totally meaningless.

But for indie authors getting all these downloads from KU this is great, right? As Hugh Howey delighted in telling us, he saw absolutely shed-loads of KU borrows after Amazon thoughtfully included his titles in the scheme.

But there’s the thing. Howey didn’t volunteer his tiles for KU. He couldn’t. He was non-exclusive on multiple retailers, and the KU rules are quite clear that indie authors, unlike other publishers, have to be exclusive with Amazon to get any preferential treatment.

So Amazon put his titles in KU anyway – hey, they make the rules, they can break them – and then made absolutely sure Howey got maximum visibility so the KU borrows would mount up, knowing Howey would then let the world know how well KU had done for him.

And lo and behold, it came to pass.

Howey’s borrows soared, but of course his income didn’t.

As we’ll explain further below, KU is an integral part of Amazon’s stealth royalty cuts programme. A KU borrow pays out around $2. A sale of the same title gets 70% of list price. For a $4.99 title a KU borrow means a drastic cut in income over a sale.

Not very helpful for keeping the top-selling authors in the loop. If they are going to lose money on every borrow they may as well stick to direct sales on Amazon and stay on other retail platforms as well.

But Grandinetti had already thought of that, and introduced the Kindle All-Stars jackpot payments, so the big names in KU will get a substantial cash hand-out from Amazon to make up for their lost income through the KU borrows.

But why is Amazon so desperate to keep indie authors in KU in the first place?

Quite simply, because while for the handful of top names the All-Star cash handouts will more than recompense any likely losses from KU, for the rest of us it’s a royalty cut by stealth.

Consider: While a few shorter and cheaper titles will pay more than the standard payout, most indies will be losing out when they have a borrow instead of a sale.

A $4.99 ebook sold at list price nets $3.50 for the author. A $4.99 ebook borrowed via KU nets the author around $2. Probably less because the pot will need to be shared between more authors.

It’s a simple trick for Amazon to rig the charts so more higher-priced and longer-length KU titles get noticed. Higher-priced because they pay out the same money whether a borrowed book is 0.99 or 15.99. Longer length because a subscriber can easily get through ten short stories in a month and result in ten pay-outs. The same reader may get through only two 400 pagers, or one 1000 page box set.  Far less pay-out for Amazon.

Hugh Howey proved the point. Amazon increased his visibility to maximize his KU borrows and sure enough they went through the roof.

Yet almost all KU users are existing Amazon customers. There’s no evidence to suggest readers from other sites deserted in their droves to join KU. And for those with epub ereaders that would be totally pointless anyway.

What is happening is that KU users are downloading ten titles at a time where previously they would have downloaded one. And of course they focus on the first pages of the charts, where sure enough all the big names like Howey are being heavily promoted by Amazon.

These top “sellers” dominate the upper echelons of the charts and of course stay there because visibility begets visibility.

A look at the new Kindle UK KU page is instructive. Check out the Editor’s Picks and sure enough most of them are Amazon imprint titles. Check out the recommended titles and it’s the usual handful of Amazon-imprint titles, Amazon cheerleader titles and a few better-known names from mid-sized publishers that threw their hand in.

Common or garden indies like you and me? Do be serious.

The only thing lesser indies are on Grandinetti’s radar for is cutting our royalty rates by driving all sales through KU where the payout for indie authors is far less.

And with a secondary benefit that KU users who can access these ebooks all month are far less likely to go and buy a print book from a store, or buy a print book from Amazon which Amazon will have to ship.

Luckily we indies currently have the choice. We can be in KU and earn far less for a borrow than for a sale. Or we can stay out of KU.

But for how long?

Let’s return to the problem Amazon faces with KU in France and Germany. But let’s instead pose that problem as one that might shortly confront KU US and KU UK.

Here’s the thing: With 650,000 titles in KU, the Amazon US subscription service is ahead of Scribd and Oyster, but not by much.

And without the Big 5 on board, volume is Amazon’s ONLY real selling point in making KU more appealing to readers than Scribd or Oyster are.

But Amazon only got to that 650,000 figure by hauling KDP Select titles into the frame. And Amazon only has 500,000 exclusive titles in all.

What happens when Scribd and Oyster sign up the next tranche of Big Pub and small pub titles and hit 700,000 titles each? Or more?

At the moment only HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have titles in these two subscription services. But Macmillan is currently experimenting with Skoobe in Germany.

And for two reasons it’s really only a matter of time before Macmillan, Hachette and Penguin Random House decide to put their back-list titles into Scribd and Oyster alongside the two Big 5 publishers already on board.

First, because of the proven success of the model. By all accounts Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins have done well out of the deal.

But more importantly, as with the boycott of KU, the Big 5 can significantly strengthen their own position by simultaneously not being in KU and actively supporting the two key rivals to Amazon’s subscription service.

f the other three members of the Big 5 each loaded up their back-list titles to the Scribd and Oyster catalogue the gap between KU and Scribd and Oyster could be seriously narrowed, and put the focus back on content, rather than volume.

You can be sure Grandinetti already has that fully planned for.

It’s pretty obvious Amazon has already pulled out all the stops to get publishers on board, and failed abysmally. The boycott holds.

To boost KU numbers above Scribd and Oyster again, if they bumped up their numbers, the ONLY option available to Amazon will be to put ALL the KDP titles into KU.

The sop to authors will be that this time they won’t have to be exclusive. But this will be one HUGE stealth royalty cut when it happens. The algorithms will be rigged to make sure the higher-priced, longer-length Select titles get the extra visibility, just like now.

More KU downloads of indie titles. Far less royalties being paid out to indie authors for sales. Especially those who refuse to tow the line and choose to still sell on other retail platforms.

Make no mistake, KU is a stealth royalty cut. Period. And as Shakespeare once almost said, a royalty cut by any other name will stink just as much.

But don’t expect any protest from the Amazon cheerleaders if it happens.

As they will tell us deadpan, struggling to keep the smirk off their face, “Hey look guys! We’ve got tons more downloads from KU, and Amazon have paid us a shit-load of cash on top. It’s so easy, anyone can do it.”

 

 

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

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the BBC Is Now On Line. No, Not On-Line. On LINE!

Go Global In 2014

The BBC Is Now On Line.

No, not on-line. On LINE.

As in, Line, the Japanese messenger service we mentioned here a few days ago (LINK) as an ideal way to promote your ebooks in foreign lands.

In the past week the BBC has begun using Line to promote news in countries including India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

In just said past week the BBC has already picked up over 80,000 followers. And yes, the BBC is messaging to all these countries is in English.

The BBC has also been using the hugely popular social media services WeChat and WhatsApp in India for nearly six months.

The BBC thinks these messaging and social media services are a great way to reach people overseas. So do we.

And for reasons explained in the previous post (linked above), your existing Facebook and twitter accounts are not best suited to finding readers in foreign lands.

The global ebook market is already bigger than most people imagine, and is growing by the day.  But we indies need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones if we want to be part of it.

Just like with selling ebooks back home, being there is unquestionably half the battle.

Letting readers know you are there is a big part of the other half.

Ebook Bargains UK

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Far more than just the UK.

Almost Two Billion. That’s How Many People On The Planet Could Be Reading Your Ebooks.

Go Global In 2014

As we love to remind you here at EBUK, every single smartphone and tablet around the world is a potential recipient for your ebooks, and the number of people who have them is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

Currently almost TWO BILLION people on the planet have smartphones.

And that number is about to get even bigger as Google launches its Android One programme – with a mission to bring affordable smartphones to the FIVE BILLION people on the planet currently without a device.

Over the next couple of years the potential readership of your ebooks is going to grow exponentially as Android One partners – including some of the biggest device manufacturers on the planet, such as Lenova, HTX, Acer and Asus – to bring affordable smartphones to the developing world.

As we often say here, we regard India and SE Asia – and in particular China, Indonesia and the Philippines – as key growth areas for ebooks we should all be targeting. And as we reported here (LINK) the demand for English-language books in these countries is clear.

It’s no coincidence that Google’s Android One launched this week in India, and next on the list is Indonesia and the Philippines, with Pakistan and Bangladesh to follow, as well as Sri Lanka and tiny Nepal. And an Android One roll-out globally in 2015.

But hold on. Did we say “tiny” Nepal? This wonderful country may indeed be a tiny smudge on the world map, but with a population of 28 million it has more people than Australia, and almost as many as Canada!

Sri Lanka? Just behind Australia, but still five times more people than New Zealand!

The Philippines? The Philippines has more English speakers than the UK has people!

So has Pakistan, where English is the official language. Total population in Pakistan is 180 million.

Bangladesh comes in just behind Pakistan with 160 million people. English is not so widely spoken here but still very widespread.

Indonesia has 250 million people. Twenty per cent of Facebook users in Indonesia conduct their business in English, suggesting the English-language is very widely used in this beautiful country.

Smartphone penetration is still low is many of these countries. But even so, the numbers are surprising. Take this snapshot of SE Asia:

33m people in Vietnam are already using smartphones (LINK). 32 million in Thailand. 15m in the Philippines. 23 million in Malaysia. In Indonesia only 23% of the population currently use smartphones, but that’s almost 60 million people – close to the entire population of the UK!

Apple is big – very big – in Vietnam and Indonesia, but until they open iBooks stores in these countries it’s not relevant to us as indie authors. Fortunately for us the big growth in smartphones across the region is Android-driven, and that means Google.

Obviously global Google’s mission isn’t primarily about ebooks, but as Google have already shown with their rapid expansion of the Google Play Books store to 57 countries, ebooks are a key part of the equation. Google Play already has ebook stores in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Expect Google Play ebook stores for Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal in the not too distant future.

As Google said on their blog this week (LINK)

“Knowledge is a game changer. I’ve long been inspired by the Internet and how it opens the doors to opportunity. It provides access to knowledge, no matter who you are or where you are. For instance, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Nobel Laureate at a world-class research center or a young student at a rural school in Indonesia, with Google Search, you have the same information at your fingertips as anyone else.”

Of course, the difference between the Nobel Laureate in the world class research centre and the student in a rural school in Indonesia is that the former will be able to buy your ebooks very easily from a western retailer. But apart from Google Play there are no western retailers who will even give Indonesian readers the time of day.

Amazon completely blocks downloads to most of SE Asia. Even Apple, which is hugely popular in the region, has yet to make its iBooks store available in Asia apart from Japan.

Tim Cook, wake up and smell the coffee! Apple and Google are the only two companies currently capable of creating truly global ebook retail franchise, but Tim, you seem happy to hand the opportunity over to Google. Take the iBooks store seriously!

Pending Apple getting their act together, there are other options for indie authors to reach the SE Asia market. Malaysian-based E-Sentral, for instance, which serves not just Malaysia but also Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and tiny Brunei. And there are many “local” retailers like Ookbee and Scoop, though getting into these is not easy at this stage.

For the record, you can go to E-Sentral direct, or use Bookbaby or Ebook Partnership.

But for most of us Google Play remains by far our best bet for reaching readers not just in SE Asia but also across the vast regions of the world that Amazon either blocks, surcharges or makes payments difficult.

Payments are one of the key sticking points for global expansion, and Google understands this. Expanding their range of payment options to suit local needs (glocalization) is a top priority for Google (LINK), who already offer a diverse range of payment options quite aside from credit cards, which most of the world’s population do not have. Carrier billing, Paypal, gift cards and other options and local payment processing such as over-the-counter payments are all on the Google agenda.

And these will all help potential readers buy our ebooks. If they are available.

At risk of sparking another bout of “anti-Amazon” cries, it needs repeating here, because so many indie authors think that when you tick world rights box in the KDP dashboard, that huge list of countries means that your ebooks will be available in all these places. It doesn’t.

The simple fact is if you are exclusive with Amazon you are not going to reach digital readers in these exciting nascent markets because Amazon – the “world’s biggest bookstore” – blocks downloads to these countries. And no, there is absolutely zero chance Amazon will be opening Kindle stores there in the future.

But here’s the thing. Unless you are in Select you can sell on Amazon and still enjoy the reach of Google Play.

And for those who have tried and given up because of the frustrating experience that was the Google Play self-pub portal, note the use of the past tense there. Google Play has just upgraded their self-pub portal to make it a far easier experience.

Get your ebooks in the 57 Google Play stores (LINK) and grab a ride on Google’s Android One programme.

We often talk about a New Renaissance.  That we are witness to, and participating in, a global renaissance unparalleled in human history.

Just take another glance back over the countries mentioned above. Five years ago smartphones, for all practical purposes, did not exist. Digital reading was, for all practical purposes, non-existent outside of  a handful of rich western nations, and the limited availability and high cost of print books meant reading was a privilege of the elite.

The chance of any author finding a readership for their English-language tiles in Vietnam or Indonesia was limited to having print books left  by tourist when they headed homes.

Digital has changed everything.

Digital democratizes the world, and for those indie authors willing to grasp the nettle, we can now reach readers almost anywhere on the planet.

And with every new smartphone out there that’s another device they could be reading your ebooks on.

If you are available.

How available are your ebooks?

 

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.