The View From The Beach
Mark Williams At Large
With India set to surpass the USA as the second-largest smartphone market after China, there’s never been a better time to start taking the global ebook scene – and especially India – seriously.
“While it often seems the tech world revolves around the US”, said VentureBeat earlier this month, “this next decade is shaping up to be quite different.” (LINK)
Well, no surprise there. I’ve been saying a long while now that the centre of digital gravity is shifting east. I’ve also been saying that there are some two billion people out there that hold a device that they could be reading our ebooks on.
And that number is growing by the day.
As the same VentureBeat post reports, global smartphone sales (not total, just new sales) will increase from 1.5 billion this year to 1.7 billion in 2017.
India will play a big part in that, with 118 million smartphones being sold in India this year. By 2017 the figure is expected to be 175 million.
And that may well be a very conservative estimate.
I’ve often talked here about Xiaomi, the upstart start-up in China that went from nowhere to become the number one smartphone maker in the country. They also sell ebooks, and as an aside are setting up an English-language ebook section in their Chinese store this year.
This month it has been announced Xiaomi are setting up their own manufacturing plant in India, which will bring down costs and make even more smartphones affordable to Indian consumers. (LINK)
Not to be outdone, Google recommitted to its exciting Android One project in India. (LINK)
Amazon of course is investing massively in India, and so, somewhat belatedly, is Apple, which saw 93% growth in India sales of its ebook-friendly iPhone 6 in April-June of this year following a big TV promotional campaign.
There isn’t an iBooks India store yet, but that will come. Meanwhile Apple devices are just one more instrument on which consumers in India can read our ebooks.
The problem of course – and the excuse we can all hide behind to avoid taking this seriously – is that India has only a woeful 19% internet penetration right now.
Nineteen percent! Now worth bothering with, right?
Let’s just knuckle down with the easy US market. The USA has 86% of its population online after all. An impressive 280 million people.
Why spare a second thought for India’s measly 19%?
Here’s why: That measly 19% equates to almost 245 million people. Just 25 million people short of the US number, and India is barely off the starting grid.
India needs just a 3% increase in internet take-up to equal the USA. A 5% increase will push India significantly ahead, and a 10% increase will leave the USA far behind.
Imagine what a 25% increase will do…
And then, if you brain can take the strain, give some thought to the rest of the world where internet access is also becoming “the norm”.
With projects like Google’s Loon and Facebook’s Aquila set to transform the way the less accessible parts of the world connect to the net, we are just at the start of an incredible journey.
Just last month Google announced a deal with the government of Sri Lanka to bring internet access to every part of the country via the Google Loon balloon project.
Facebook are already committed to connecting the Third World with the internet, as we see with their innovative (if controversial) internet.org initiative.
But with the Aquila drones project they quite literally move to new highs. Sixty thousand feet, in fact, which is where the Aquila drones will be flying.
While Amazon is working on drones that will one day deliver your POD book to someone’s door, Facebook’s solar-powered Aquila drones – each the size of a Boeing 747 – will be delivering your ebooks to places that right now can only dream of connecting to the internet.
But no need to wait for the Loon and Aquila projects to turn science fiction into reality.
Science fiction is already a reality for the over two billion people who now hold a device they could read our ebooks on.
Three billion is just around the corner, and five billion is on the cards as Loon and Aquila come of age to deliver the net, and as smartphone proliferation (and whatever comes to make them obsolete) escalates.
And that escalation might just exceed our wildest expectations.
Last year I reported on Xiaomi’s fabled flash-sales, when they would sell 40,000 smartphones in less than five seconds.
That is soooo last year. This past week Letv, another of those upstart startups we’ve never heard of, sold one million smartphones in just ninety days. (LINK)
In author terms, that’s one million devices that could be holding your ebooks, sold in just three months.
With 86% net penetration the USA’s 240 million internet users, important though they will remain, are just one small fraction of the reach we indie authors have right now, let alone the incredible reach we will have in five years time.
As indie authors we can and of course should all stay focused on the big western market(s) that sustains us now.
But it’s not rocket science to see the way things are going.
The US and UK markets are not going to get any less crowded with titles. Just the opposite.
• Fact: more and more people are self-publishing for the first time, producing a ton of new titles that compete for visibility and reader’s dollars with ours.
• Fact: more and more established indies are upping their output as they grow in confidence and keep churning out new titles. All competing with ours.
• Fact: more and more trad pub titles are seeing their contracts time out and rights revert. Guess what. The authors of those books are going to slap a cover on them and re-release, flooding the market with even more titles that will compete with ours.
• Fact: trad pub, instead of keeling over and waving its legs in the air as seemed to be the consensus view back in 2011-12, is going to churn out even more ebooks, flooding the market with more titles that will compete with ours.
• Fact: it’s not just fiction ebooks we have to worry about. Smartphones and tablets make great reading devices for the many areas of non-fiction and children’s fiction which, back in the dark ages of black & white ereaders, were an insignificant part of the market. All these new titles will be competing with ours.
• Fact: comics and graphic novels, not so long ago insignificant in the digital reading scheme of things, is now directly competing for readers’ attention. And often on the exact same device those readers will be reading our books on.
• Fact: it’s not just a tsunami of new reading material that we have to compete against. Digital games, digital music, digital film and TV, audio-books, social media… All right there on the same device as our ebooks.
And all this stuff is still in its infancy.
We know how hard it is already to get noticed in the e-stores if we aren’t big names or do not have a well-established brand. The future is just going to be more and more authors chasing an ever smaller slice of the American and British pies. Pies that, put simply, haven’t got much more room to grow.
Because let’s face it, even if US internet penetration increased to 100% and every single man, woman, child and baby in America was connected we’d be talking less than 350 million people.
Now that may sound a big number, but bear in mind we’re already talking 240 million right now.
The number of authors and titles competing for those readers’ attention is growing much faster than the number of readers who have attention to give.
So what’s a savvy indie author to do?
Well, we could take a step back, take a deep breath, and spend just a fraction of that time and effort we currently spend fighting for a share of the US and UK markets and invest in the future, laying the foundations for a truly global presence in a truly global market beyond our shores.
Because mobile is going global, and where mobile goes, the savvy indie authors ebooks will go too.
Make no mistake, the future of the internet is global mobile. And here I exert my right as an author to invent words and lay claim to the word “globile” to summarise this new phenomenon.
The nascent markets are going to expand at a phenomenal rate over the next decade, as the developing countries simply skip that expensive and cumbersome desktop and cable phase we grew up with, and go straight from no internet access to a globile world where everyone and their camel has a mobile device in their hands.
And for savvy indie authors this presents us with incredible opportunities, because just like the US market in 2010 and the UK market in 2011, the globile markets are still pretty much an open goal for those authors willing to go the extra mile.
While the individual globile markets may not (China aside) be as big as the US market, they collectively already pack a punch and can deliver a healthy chunk of change.
And in five years time…
Where will you be an author brand in 2020?
Think about the next five years, not the next five weeks.
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