The View From The Beach – Mark Williams At Large

Gunjur-Coastline-Gambia

EBUK blogger Mark Williams takes a personal look back over recent developments on the global ebook scene.

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Never mind audio-books. Say hello to smelly books. Smell-e-books, that is.

It had to happen. Ebooks that you can sniff.

A company called Vapor Communications has been testing smelly text messages for a while – no, seriously – and is now ready to apply the technology to ebooks. (LINK)

Not quite sure what they have in mind – food smells for your cookery books? Coffee smells for your series sponsored by Nescafe? Lots of opportunities to get boys reading with the smell-e-book version of Captain Underpants complete with fart smells and smelly skid-marks. As for bringing erotica ebooks to life with the pungent aroma of… No, let’s not even go there.

Or just maybe that wonderful bookstore smell you get when you first open a new print book. Now that would be a breakthrough.

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Romania has long been on my Ones-To-Watch list for Europe, and Publishing Perspectives had a report this past week on one of Romania’s biggest online bookstores, Okian, which saw a 30% increase in sales last year.

I haven’t worked out how to get into Okian yet (they sell both print and digital) but a quick perusal of the store  (LINK) shows the prominence Okian gives to English-language titles. In the Publishing Perspectives report Okian’s CEO Tudor Benga confirms English-language titles are a big growth area for Okian.

Does this mean we’ll all sell more books in Romania? Yes and no.

At risk of being slammed for being anti-Amazon again it has to be noted that Amazon are busily surcharging Romanian readers, so your $2.99 ebook will cost a reader in Bucharest $4.99 plus currency exchange fees. You’ll get paid just 35% of the $2.99 if you do get a sale.

Luckily you can reach Romanian readers through Google Play, Scribd and Apple. To see your books in the Apple iBooks Romania store just go to your Apple product page or preview page link and change the country code (US, GB, AU or whatever) to RO.

There are a good few local ebook stores too. Okian, obviously, and Elefant and Evobook are among the key players. Digital libraries are also doing well in Romania.  No easy access to Romanian ebook stores right now, but that will change. It’s early days. The global New Renaissance is still in first gear.

Romania, Hungary, Greece and Turkey are among the key players emerging in east and south-east Europe right now. These should be priorities for career-authors looking to partner with translators, partner with local publishers, or indeed to find a niche following in the English-language sector.

But the rest of Europe is proving very exciting too, with Poland a key player. Make sure you have your ebooks available in mobi as this format is very popular in Poland, where Poles are returning home from Germany and the UK with Kindle devices only to find they get surcharged by Amazon back home.

Germany of course is Europe’s sleeping giant for ebooks, and especially for English-language ebooks, along with the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

Not so hot for E-L titles but worth keeping an eye on for translation partnerships are Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, and also the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Small populations, but embracing digital fast.

And since we’re on the subject of Europe a reminder that Kobo is now getting titles back into the UK’s WH Smith store, so Kobo is back on track as a player in the UK, as well as taking a keen interest in indies in western Europe.

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Staying with Europe and English-language in Europe, click on this link to see an infographic of the percentage of people in the EU who can hold a conversation in English. It may surprise you. (LINK)

Of course holding a conversation and reading a book are not quite the same thing, but the stats are indicative of the high-regard English is held in as the lingua franca of the world.

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Having mentioned Kobo and WH Smith above, romance writers may be interested to know Kobo is running a competition in conjunction with Mills & Boon, with first prize a Mills & Boon published novel, in both digital and print, with full promo from both Kobo and WH Smith. (LINK)

The deadline is July 14th.

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WhatsApp has hit 800 million active users, with 100 million of them just since January. (LINK)

We’ve covered the messenger services a few times here at EBUK, and it’s a subject we’ll be returning to in-depth later. Here just a few quick observations.

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook but is a very different user experience from Facebook, and one largely ignored by indie authors. But these messenger services – along with the likes of Viber and Line, etc, etc, can, and are/will be key parts of our future promo scene. Ignore them at your peril.

With 800 million active users just on What’s App (equivalent to twice the population of the USA and UK combined) that’s a lot of people.

Re the mini-post above on English-speakers in the EU, chiming in at 90% was the Netherlands. It’s only very recently Amazon opened a Kindle NL store, and being so late to the party most indies are seeing little action, but Kobo now gets you into the biggest-by-far Dutch ebook store Bol.com, and the Tolino Alliance also distribute to the Netherlands, as do Txtr, Apple and of course Google Play.

According to this report (LINK) 8.7 million Dutch smartphone users have downloaded the WhatsApp app, and 90% of all female smartphone users in the Netherlands have downloaded WhatsApp.

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As we explored in a post here at EBUK back in September (LINK), we will all have noticed that we don’t get inundated by tweets and FB posts from people in the Netherlands, or Indonesia or Outer Mongolia, and with good reason. But it works both ways. Our tweets and FB posts, even if promoting ebooks aimed at these markets, simple don’t get seen by most of the world, or even most of our regular contacts.

The only realistic way to connect with the global readership is to reach out and make connections on the social media and messenger services where they are, not where you are.

Not easy, and outside our comfort zone, of course. To make matters worse, messenger services do not work in the same way as the “traditional” (or should we say legacy?) social media we are used to, so there’s a learning curve involved.

But don’t tune out just yet, or you may find yourself standing at the station when this train departs.

You only have to look at the way Rakuten is gearing up to use Viber as an e-commerce sales vehicle – with a strong focus on selling Kobo ebooks! – to understand that it can be done and is being done. More on Rakuten’s plans in a full post very shortly.

Meantime why not trying connecting with WhatsApp users in the Netherlands, where 90% will at least understand your English, and a good percentage may be interested in reading your English books and ebooks? From little acorns…

As ever we indies can move with the times, or stay safe and cozy in our indie boxes partying like its 2009.

Our choice. Our prospective loss. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Oh, and for those wondering what the top ten messenger apps are right now… (LINK)

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Indonesia Alert!

Facebook’s internet.org has just gone live in Indonesia. (LINK)

For those unfamiliar, internet.org is a free curated internet service featuring a couple of dozen key sites like Wikipedia, Wattpad, local government sites, health and employment sites, and of course Facebook.

The initiative is aimed at the net-disenfranchised who may have a smartphone but still cannot afford, or do not have the means to pay for, actual internet access. The internet.org connection is free.

Regulars here will know Indonesia is high on our watch-list as a big prospect for indie authors. Those using Wattpad might want to think about directing messages at Indonesian readers (20% of FB traffic in Indonesia is conducted in English!) to get yourselves known for when Indonesia moves to the next level. Today’s free-readers on Wattpad (accessible through internet.org) may be tomorrow’s paying customers that make you a best-selling author in Indonesia.

And while neither Apple nor Amazon sell ebooks in Indonesia, both Google Play and Scribd do.

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For those who speak/read German the long-awaited Tolino self-pub portal is now up and running. (LINK)

I’m both disappointed and surprised there is no English-language option on the site, given the pan-European nature of Tolino and that is it, apparently, open to all EU members to use direct (presumably a payments and tax issue).

Germany’s Xin-Xii and Italy’s Narcissus both understand the value of the “international” language that is English. Hopefully an E-L option for the Tolino site will follow soon.

Meantime, for those like me who are linguistically challenged Tolino is easily accessible via Draft2Digital and Xin-Xii.

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Rakuten wrapped up its buy-out of OverDrive this past week.

I’m a big fan of OverDrive and delighted Rakuten have taken over the operation. OverDrive are best known as the world’s largest library distributor, and I’ve been enjoying global library traffic through OverDrive for many years.

But OverDrive also supply a number of retail outlets, including key players like Waterstone’s in the UK and Kalahari in South Africa.

Rakuten have intimated there are no immediate plans to make changes at OverDrive, so business as usual for now, but it will be interesting to see what Rakuten has in mind longer-term.

With the Rakuten CEO’s plans to make Kobo ebooks a central part of the Rakuten Viber e-commerce venture it’s very clear ebooks and digital media in general is going to play a big part in Rakuten’s future.

Forward-thinking indies would do well to be fully engaged with both of Rakuten’s current ebook outlets. You can go direct to Kobo via Kobo Writing Life. OverDrive sn’t so easy to access, but the British aggregator Ebook Partnership will get your titles into both the OverDrive libraries and the OverDrive retailers.

For non-erotica indies you can get your titles into the overdrive libraries via Smashwords. The much-screamed-about “indie ghetto” at OverDrive is history, but it’s still a tortuous process gong via Smashwords.

A few days ago it was announced one of OverDrive’s library competitors, Ingram’s MyiLibrary, was being acquired by Proquest. I’d been trying to dig up some background on this without much success when, Nate at Ink, Bits & Pixels (formerly The Digital Reader) usurped my plan and ran a post this morning on this very subject. (LINK)

It’s well worth reading Nate’s post for some speculation on Proquest’s future plans.

Meantime I’m left wondering how indies will be able to get content into MyiLibrary now it is separate from Ingram.

Hopefully a savvy operator like Draft2Digital will step in. D2D have recently signed up with Tolino, and as aggregators go they show a lot of promise, but with neither Smashwords nor D2D yet to secure a deal with Google Play (both Italy’s Narcissus and Germany’s Xin-Xii have, as has Britain’s Ebook Partnership) it may well be that one of the European aggregators takes the lead here too.

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Back in 2013 here on the EBUK blog we speculated that ebooks would soon come with a QR code on breakfast cereal packets and ketchup bottles. Well, we’re still waiting to see ebooks on ketchup bottles, but the innovative British ebook retailer and supermarket chain Sainsbury had ebooks on its own-brand cereal packets just a few months later, and in April 2015 Simon & Schuster joined the cereal club with a deal to promote ebooks on Cheerios packets. (LINK)

By no means the only example of Europe being literally years ahead of America with digital. Just think ebooks on planes, trains and buses, or indeed subscription services.

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Not for everybody, but for those who write about finances, money and business, this new report from K-lytics is very useful reading. (LINK)

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I’m often asked which blogs and such I’d recommend to keep ahead of the ebook game and spot the trends before they become the next overcrowded bandwagon to jump on.

In fact it’s a broad mixture of publishing-industry blogs, tech blogs and finance blogs that collectively give the bigger picture.

So over the coming weeks I’ll take a look at a few must-read sites and discuss their good and bad points. Starting today with GalleyCat.

GalleyCat gets singled out for being one of the most irritating of the industry blogs.

Not that it’s all bad, of course. If you want the latest trad pub news then GalleyCat is as good as any, but GalleyCat also purports to be on top of the indie scene. Yet it rarely shows it is anything of the sort.

Take the weekly best-selling self-published titles report they reel out. (LINK)

This is a great idea in principle, but guys, first you need to understand what the key self-publishing sales platforms are, and clearly you don’t.

In GaleyCat’s own words, “To help GalleyCat readers discover self-published authors, we compile weekly lists of the top eBooks in three major marketplaces for self-published digital books: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.”

Er, guys, I hate to break this to you but Smashwords is a major self-published authors’ distributor. An aggregator. That it happens to sell ebooks as a sideline service does not in any way, shape or form make it “a major marketplace” for indie ebooks. Most non-writer readers have never heard of Smashwords.

If you want to produce a meaningful list try comparing the top indie titles across Amazon, Nook, Apple, Scribd, Oyster, Kobo and Google Play.

To see just how meaningless the current list is, just take a look at the top three self-published bestsellers from Amazon and Smashwords. I leave you to decide which store is which. Somehow I doubt you’ll have brain-hernia working it out.

Store 1:

  1. The Mistake (Off Campus Book 2)by Elle Kennedy
  2. Chanceby Deborah Bladon
  3. The Mad Tatterby J.M. Darhower

Store 2:

  1. Cognitive Activity Design: Designing Creative Activities and Art-Based Projects That Promote Brain Health and FlourishingBy Michael C. Patterson
  2. Negotiating for Success: Essential Strategies and SkillsBy George J. Siedel
  3. Strong Brains, Sharp Minds: The Definitive Guide to the MINDRAMP Method For Brain Health & Mental DevelopmentBy Michael C. Patterson & Roger Anunsen

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While the indie world is obsessing about Amazon’s drone programme, Jeff Bezos is quietly getting on with something far more exciting – a space programme. This isn’t part of Amazon, but one of Bezos’s many private ventures.

His private space company Blue Origin successfully launched its first space rocket at the end of April, taking the world a step closer to passenger space travel. (LINK)

Bezos is no stranger to space. Two years ago his private exploration operation recovered the Saturn 5 rocket engines that launched Apollo 11. (LINK)

I often get slammed for being “anti-Amazon” for suggesting that everything Jeff Bezos does at Amazon is not in fact done for the sole benefit of indie authors. But as a child of the Apollo programme, when it comes to Uncle Jeff’s space endeavours I love them all!

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.

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