Tag Archives: Amazon

tnps_the view from the beach

Cyber Monday Amazon’s biggest shopping day ever. But still way behind Alibaba. What future the international Kindle stores?

  • Total US online sales Cyber Monday: $6.59 billion
  • Black Friday $5.03 billion
  • Thanksgiving Day $2.87 billion

A record-breaking holiday for US e-commerce – $14.49 billion spent online – and by some estimates half went to Amazon.

Yet just two weeks earlier almost twice that amount – $25 billion – was spent online in just 24 hours at just one company.

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce titan, took the equivalent of Black Friday’s total US online sales – $5 billion – in the first fifteen minutes of trading on Singles Day earlier this month.

“It’s easy to look back at the past ten years of the Kindle store and the rise of Amazon as a global e-commerce power and see an unstoppable force.

And realistically there is little chance that Amazon’s dominance in the US, UK and a handful of European countries will be usurped any time soon.

But as those markets become more competitive and more aggressive, so Amazon needs to look abroad to maintain the revenue growth that drives its stock valuation.

The easy options are fast being taken – west Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia… China was, if not a fail, certainly not a spectacular success for Amazon, and India is going to be a very long haul…

And while Amazon is clearly making an effort with publishing in India (not just the Kindle store – Amazon also acquired a major publishing house) there are few indications Amazon sees publishing or the Kindle store as a key part of its next stage in globalisation.”

Read more at The New Publishing Standard

Mark Williams writes daily on global publishing matters for The New Publishing Standard.


Tencent joins the half-trillion club, and look how close it is to Amazon…

tnps_publishing brief

Tencent joins the half-trillion club, and look how close it is to Amazon. The centre of digital and publishing gravity shifts inexorably east.

If you’re thinking, “Who? And what’s it got to do with us indie authors anyway?” then you really need to read this post.

The New Publishing Standard – charting the Global New Renaissance as it unfolds.

Mark Williams now writes daily on global publishing matters for The New Publishing Standard.

Mexico is Publishing’s New El Dorado, Draft2Digital to Distribute to 24Symbols, and other Hot Tips for Internationalist Indie Authors.

There’s so much happening on the global scene right now it’s hard to keep on top of things. And that’s before the Frankfurt Book Fair kicks off.

To keep you up to speed, here’s another batch of short posts on how the global markets are shaping up.

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Regulars will know how excited I am about the Spanish-language prospects right now. With a half billion Spanish speakers around the world this is a huge market to tap into, and because of the concentration of Spanish speakers in Spain and Latin America it’s also a relatively easy market to tap into.

Two Spanish literary agents have just this past week launched a new venture called The Spanish Bookstage. (LINK)

The more observant will have spotted that’s in English, and so is the site – a reminder as ever that we Anglophone authors have a built in advantage in tackling the global markets even when the markets are in another language.

I’m a big fan of Babelcube – it’s a great way to find translator-partners. But… And it’s a big but… By going through Babelcube you hand over the distribution rights for that language to Babelcube and, at this stage in their game, that can be a frustrating experience, as Babelcube’s distribution leaves much to be desired.

Which is why, while I use translator-aggregators like Babelcube and Fiberead, I also seek translator-partnership arrangements independently. Not least for when opportunities like The Spanish Bookstage come along.

“The new platform,” says Publishing Perspectives (LINK) “comes at a time when the Spanish publishing industry (both in Spain and Latin America) is gaining stronger visibility in the global marketplace.”

While this is the first major platform dedicated to Spanish-language titles, there are plenty of similar operators which savvy indies should be keeping a close eye on that cover the global markets generally. I’ll be taking a close look at some of them as we wind up this year.

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Publishing Perspectives is always a good bet for global publishing insights, and especially so this month with the Frankfurt Book Fair almost upon us.

In an article on Publishing Perspectives few days ago Özkan Özdem offered some very useful insights into the exciting Turkish market. (LINK)

Again, regulars will know Turkey is high on my list of priorities, so I found this post very instructive. You may too.

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Moving on to that headline. Mexico is publishing’s new El Dorado?

Well, so says Diana Hernández Aldana from Turner Libros, a major Spanish-language publisher. (LINK)

Aldana expresses surprise at “the size of the markets in Mexico and Latin America and at their growth.”

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Over at The Digital Reader Nate reports that 3M is out of the library distribution business. (LINK)

From Nate’s post:

3M’s library division has been bought by Bibliotheca, a company that describes itself as “the largest global company dedicated to the development, deployment, and support of self-service library solutions”.

Nate assures us the 3M library distribution will continue without interruption, just under another name. Which hopefully means there will be no interruption to Babelcube’s distribution to what is currently called 3M.

3M supply mainly the US library system, and had ventured into Canada. There was talk of an international network along the lines of OverDrive, but that came to nothing. It remains to be seen what will happen globally.

Meantime be sure to be in OverDrive’s library catalogues. OverDrive have extensive international distribution and with Rakuten now owning them it’s likely they will be expanding further as we hit 2016.

OverDrive library access for your titles can be gained through the pay-as-you-sell aggregators Smashwords or StreetLib . as well as many pay-up-front services.

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Staying with StreetLib, a reminder that StreetLib now gets you into the key Latin American ebook retailer Bajalibros, which has stores across the region, including Brazil.

“In recent years,” opens Publishing Perspectives in a post on opportunities in Brazil (LINK) “while European book markets have remained almost flat or have even declined, the emerging countries are seeing a new chapter of the global business of books emerge in terms of exposure, opportunities and sales.”

Hardly news to regulars here, of course. Brazil has long been on my priority list.

Apparently only 25% of Brazilians have read a book in the past three months.

Plenty of reasons for that. Not least Brazilians being too busy playing on those beautiful beaches, or exploring the Amazon. Or, far more likely, that books have been a) unaffordable and b) unavailable.

But that is changing fast. Very fast.

And anyway, before we dismiss that 25% as too small to bother with, let’s bear in mind that 25% of Brazil’s 200 million population is 50 million.

Liana Suppressa, an Italian rights agent who specializes in children’s and YA titles, says that in Brazil there is a very strong enthusiasm and openness of publishers and of readers towards international authors,” adding, in Brazil “there’s a growing interest for middle grade and YA titles, both fantasy and contemporary realistic stories.”

Savvy internationalist authors will be looking to partner with Brazilian publishers to get a share of some of that growing enthusiasm, and of course making their own luck by going direct with their digital titles. Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google Play are in Brazil,.

And not forgetting POD.

Babelcube is a great place to find (with some effort sifting through) some very competent Portuguese translators for both Brazil and mainland Portugal.

And longer term there are prospects for Portuguese translations in countries like Mozambique and Angola. As I’ll be exploring in a dedicated post shortly, Africa is an exciting emerging prospect.

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Speaking of Africa…

As I’ve reported many times, one reason I’m so excited by the global opportunities unfolding is because of the way some cyber-companies are investing in global internet reach.

I summarised the wonderful work of Google (Internet Saathi, Loon, etc) and Facebook’s Aquila project over on the Anne R. Allen blog last month (LINK), and also mentioned satellites.

Both Google and Facebook are investing in satellites, and this post over at VentureBeat this week adds further details of what Facebook have planned for us. (LINK)

Facebook have just partnered with Eutelstat Communications to deploy geostationary satellites  that will cover vast expanses of sub-Saharan Africa, starting in 2016.

The five ton Amos-6 satellites, built in Israel, will orbit above Africa (in sync with the Earth’s orbit) and facilitate broadband internet reception across the region, linking to African ISPs and direct to consumers. Crucially working with standard off-the-shelf devices like regular smartphones and tablets. No specialist equipment needed.

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Next, some words from trad-pub industry commentator Mike Shatzkin.

Shatzkin’s posts often get picked up by the indie blogosphere with the intent of ridiculing everything trad pub is doing. Usually with scant regard to the reality that trad pub is doing rather well.

This post from Shatkin covered backlist and export. (LINK)

That’s global sales, to us folk for whom international is a frame of mind, not just an ambition. Of course the indie blogs seized upon Shatkin’s thoughts on backlist and totally ignored his thoughts on export.

Shatzkin reports on an Ingram-hosted conference recently where one US publisher, Diversion Books, had launched its own ebook store app for its romance titles.

Shatzkin reports that Diversion are now seeing almost half – 49% – of English-language sales coming from outside the US, and perhaps most significantly of, 43% of sales coming from outside the US, UK and Canada.

A safe bet that 43% is not all from Australia and New Zealand, and very likely India is playing a significant role. But even so, a substantial portion of those “export” sales will be coming from other markets around the world.


Because they are being made available and buyable.

As I’ve said so many times here, trad pub (big and small) is raking in the cash from the global New Renaissance while most indies are still partying like its 2009, fighting each other for a share of the ever more competitive US market.

Indies can already get very profitable global reach from the mainstream retailers, but there are still vast tracts of the world off-limits by going this route.

Diversion’s ebook store app is one way in which small publishers – and indies –can reach a far bigger audience. And earn more from each transaction. And have access to the customer data.

Direct to consumer sales are something all indies with a decent-sized portfolio need to be looking at as we enter the second half of this decade.

I’ll be exploring this more as we head into 2016.

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Finally, let’s end with the second half of that headline somewhere above.

Yes, Draft2Digital is about to announce a distribution deal with the Spanish subscription service 24Symbols.

24Symbols is a subscription service in Europe that has been happily managing to survive with the subscription model since 2011.

Draft2Digital currently supplies the US subscription services Scribd and Oyster (Oyster will be closing early next year), tas well as the European ebook operator Tolino, the global Page Foundry (Inktera and Versent ebook stores) and the usual suspects Apple, Kobo and Nook.

As best I can see, the new addition will make D2D the only English-language aggregator getting indie titles into 24Symbols (if anyone knows another, do let me know). UPDATE, With great embarrassment I have to admit I somehow missed the fact that StreetLib already supplies 24Symbols. Sorry guys! So Draft2Digital will not be the first or the only.  🙂

And with Smashwords having recently dumped Flipkart, the addition of 24Symbols will make D2D a first-option for ever more indies frustrated by Smashwords’ antiquated system.

I’ll be running a comparison of the main pay-as-you-sell English-language aggregators shortly, looking at the pros and cons of each.

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We have unprecedented opportunities before us as the second half of the second decade of the twenty-first century unfolds.

Don’t let them pass you by.

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

For daily news and discussion about the global indie publishing scene join this lively Facebook Group.

The International Indie Author Facebook Group

Self-Publish At Home, Query Abroad. The Indie Author’s Guide To Becoming A Bestselling Author In A Far-Away Land.

The chances of getting “discovered” by a foreign (outside US/UK) publisher and getting a nice deal in a country you can’t easily reach on your own is pretty remote.

It happened to me with Sugar & Spice when a French publisher came cold-calling, and a nice advance and 50,000 hardcover sales later I’ve no regrets. But I’m not holding my breath until it happens again.

Now I’ve got my new-and-improved internet here in West Africa I’m taking Going Global to the next level.

Not just chasing translators through Babelcube and Fiberead (which together will get you eleven languages if you are lucky see here ((LINK)) and the follow-up post here ((LINK)), but trying two other key tactics:

1)  Finding more translator-partners independently.

My priority countries should be well-known to any regulars. China, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, India, South Korea, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Poland, etc.

And the other countries on my radar should also be familiar. The rest of Latin America, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Romania, Hungary…

The downside to this strategy is that, even if I can get a translator on board and get my ebooks into Polish or Korean or Vietnamese, my chances of actually getting into the ebook stores in these countries is limited, and of course the level of ebook take-up in many of these countries is still low.

Which is where the second strategy comes in.

2) Finding a trad pub print and/or digital partner in these countries.

The indie stalwarts will cry “No! Self-publish and get 70%!”

But that’s a fundamentally flawed approach when it comes to the international markets that ignores certain realities.

Taking Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh as examples, Apple has no iBooks stores in these countries and Amazon blocks downloads to these countries. In countries like Poland, Romania, Norway or Argentina Amazon pays just 35% and surcharges readers.

My first Norwegian translations are just about ready to go live. But these are short stories selling at $0.99 or the local equivalent.  Amazon will charge a Norwegian reader $2.99 (list price plus the Whispernet surcharge) and I’ll get just 35% of the 0.99 to share with my translator.

No, that’s not “anti-Amazon”. It’s simply stating the cold reality we need to understand when going global. That outside the dozen or so Kindle stores Amazon is not going to be our key breadwinner.


But don’t let that put you off. No question the readers are out there. And no question sowing the seeds now for future harvests in the global markets is eminently sensible.

But sometimes sowing those seeds may be best achieved by partnering with trad pub in these countries.

With Google and similar search engines it’s no big deal to find publishers and agents overseas, and there are a number of websites that specialise in such information, complete with useful email addresses and contacts.

But when your English-language email lands in the inbox of the Vietnamese or Korean secretary who doesn’t speak English, always assuming it has survived the local spam filter, what chance they will then bother to track down someone in the company that does speak English? More likely the secretary is as far as your email will get.

You might have just blown your chance of getting a trad pub deal to get your bestseller translated and in book stores in a remote land.

Don’t go assuming foreign publishers will only be interested in the “big name” authors. The reality is those foreign publishers will of course be interested, but simply won’t be able to afford them.

On the other hand your respectably-selling indie title that doesn’t come with demands for a huge advance and special treatment might be perfect for them to expand their portfolio.

And don’t assume that your particular book won’t be of interest because it’s set in the US or UK and has absolutely no connection with the rest of the world.

Sugar & Spice is a dark crime thriller set in obscure parts of the UK and heavily reliant on the detail of the British criminal justice system, with lots of British prison slang and absolutely nothing to suggest it would appeal to readers in, say, France or China. But the translations have topped the charts in both countries. And I do mean topped. So far it’s the only western indie title to reach #1 on Amazon China.

Another factor that gives indies an advantage is list-price. A title that sells at 9.99 in the US is not going to fare well at a similar price in Vietnam, Turkey of Indonesia, but if you’ve been happily selling at 2.99 or less in the US and UK you are hardly going to object if the foreign publisher prices you low in their country.

But that’s all pretty academic if you can’t get their attention in the first place because your English-language email doesn’t get past the company secretary.

But there’s a simple solution. Invest $5 of £5 on a Fiverr or Fivesquid translation service.

Check out these sites and you’ll find no end of people offering to translate anything from 500 words to 2,000 words of English text into just about any language you’ll likely to need, and for just a fiver.

That could get expensive for a translation of a novel, but for a short query letter it’s perfect.

I’m just about to approach publishers in Vietnam and Korea. Having final-drafted the first-contact letter (which should be kept brief, so 500 words should be ample) I’ll be paying £5 a time to a translator to turn that letter into fluent Vietnamese and Korean.

Here’s an English-Korean translator on Fiverr (by way of example, not a recommendation). (LINK)

And here’s a Vietnamese translator. (LINK) Again an example, not a recommendation.

When you compose your English-language template do remember to include a note that you don’t speak/read Vietnamese, Korean or whatever and if they can reply in English that would be greatly appreciated, but not essential.

If the foreign-language reply is brief you can run it through Google translate to get the core meaning, and if the reply is positive then invest another fiver to get it professionally translated back into English so there’s no misunderstandings about what’s on offer.

DO NOT use Google translate to get a cheap translation of your letter to the publisher. At best it will be a poor translation and look unprofessional, saying more about you than your book, and at worst it could be complete gobbledegook.

If you have translated titles out in the big wide world, whether direct, through Babelcube or Fiberread, or through a publisher, it could also be well worth spending a fiver to get short blog posts and other promo tweets, etc) prepared.

Anyone using Blogger or WordPress for their English-language blogs will have seen those wonderful maps showing where your traffic is coming from, and this could be a great indicator of where you (and potentially your books) are finding interest overseas among English-language readers, and where you might therefore want to focus your global aspirations.

We are witnesses to, and can be party to, a global New Renaissance quite unprecedented in human history.

We have unprecedented reach and unprecedented opportunities.

Don’t let them pass you by.

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

Exodus! Konrath Joins The Big-Hitters Leaving Kindle Unlimited As Amazon Continues To Punish Indies For Their Loyalty.

Go Global In 2014

When Joe Konrath launched his latest attack on trad pub, in the form of a “translation” of Macmillan CEO John Sargent’s statement to Macmillan authors, we looked on in amazement as Konrath appeared to take hypocrisy to a whole new level.

Konrath slammed Macmillan for even thinking about putting Macmillan backlist titles into subscription services, saying that these services devalued books, and that authors were badly remunerated, even noting that indie authors were complaining about Kindle Unlimited’s lousy payout.

But as we asked in comments on the Amazon-affiliate blog The Passive Voice, which carried Konrath’s post (LINK),

“If subscription services are such a bad idea, why are your titles in one at all, and why is it they are in the one that, unlike Scribd and Oyster, treats indies as second class, imposes conditions on indies other publishers are not required to meet, pays indies less than other publishers, and will not even tell us in advance what that ever-diminishing payment will be?”

Konrath didn’t respond to that. But other authors picked up on the apparent hypocrisy and successful indie author Mel Comley, on Konrath’s own blog, coyly asked Joe exactly why he had all his titles in KU if subscription services were such a bad idea.

Konrath responded,

“I’ve taken them all out after this period”, adding lamely, “to compare numbers.” (LINK)

And so we end 2014 with a bang! Konrath adds his name to the list of big-hitting authors like HM Ward who are deserting Kindle Unlimited after seeing their income plummet.

It’s not clear when Konrath will be officially out, but the wording offers room for further speculation. Konrath says he’s taking all (not some, all) his titles out “after this period”. The mixed tense suggests he’s pulling them when the current 90 day KDP Select runs finishes.

(Edited) But why wait? When KU launched, all Select titles were included but it gave indies the chance to opt-out. Konrath clearly chose to stay in despite his belief subscription services devalue books. It seems that opt-out is no longer available, which presumably means Konrath is leaving KDP Select itself, and with it Amazon exclusivity, and going back to all the big retailers.

A safe bet this news will make a lot more indie authors question the value both of being in Kindle Unlimited, and in KDP Select.

Hugh Howey perhaps the exception. Howey left KDP Select back in 2012, but in September of this year was saying going all-in with Amazon was his inclination. (LINK)

Howey of course was one of the authors who got the red carpet treatment from Amazon and was allowed to be in KU and sell on other retailers too. And needless to say he has seen a lot more sales/borrows from Amazon as a consequence.

With logic that beggars belief Howey then concludes that being exclusive with Amazon, with just 65% of the US ebook market and sweet FA of most of the global market, reaches more readers than being available on all retailers everywhere and on Amazon as well.

If Howey cannot grasp the simple fact that Amazon is tilting the playing field in his favour to keep him on board, increasing his titles’ visibility at the expense of other authors not exclusive with Amazon then there’s no hope for him.

Or maybe Howey really believes that 65% of the ebook market is somehow bigger than 100%.

By all means go exclusive with Amazon, Hugh, while they are rigging things in your favour. You write for a living, not for free. But don’t pretend you really think that somehow Amazon’s KU has magicked out of thin air millions of new readers equivalent to more than 35% of the US ebook market. Most KU subscribers are the exact same Kindle readers who were previously paying full price for our books and now getting the same books for less.

Or just maybe you will do the right thing and join Joe Konrath in pulling your titles from KU. KU might not be hurting your pocket, Hugh, but you know as well as we do that for most indies it’s a different story. You can’t champion our cause by looking the other way.

2015 was already promising to be a watershed year for the industry, and this latest show of disaffection from Konrath, one of Amazon’s most vocal supporters, makes the prospects for 2015 all the more interesting.

Now it’s time for the other Amazon cheerleaders like David Gaughran and the aforementioned Hugh Howey to declare their hand and draw a line in the sand. Come on guys, grasp the nettle.

Hard through it may be to understand, we don’t need more posts telling is how scammy Author Solutions is. We don’t need more posts telling us how evil trad pub is. Seriously. We’ve got the message. You’re preaching to the choir.

Here’s the thing, guys. We indies know about Author Solutions. It doesn’t affect us. We know about trad pub. If it affects us it’s already too late because we are contracted, or we’ve made a conscious choice to go down that route.

What Amazon does affects us all, every day, whether its “royalty” cuts at Audible or stealth “royalty” cuts through KU, “royalties” that vary from country to country, lower “royalties” at certain price points, demands for exclusivity, etc.

Apple manages to pay us 70% (or more accurately to charge us just 30%) across the board regardless of list price, regardless of where the sale is made, and without demanding exclusivity.

Scribd and Oyster manages to pay us a full “royalty” rate for our borrows in their subscription services.  No exclusivity required.

Meanwhile Amazon has been turning the screws. We’ve seen KU payouts drop from around $2.30 to below $1.40 in less than six months. For ordinary indies not called Hugh Howey Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s digital equivalent of a sweatshop factory in China or India. No wonder Joe Konrath is calling it a day.

Come on guys, give the Author Solutions bashing and Trad Pub a bashing a rest for 2015, and start addressing the real issues that affect us indies every day. Kindle Unlimited is top of the list.

Ebook Bargains UK

Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

Far more than just the UK.


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.

 Ebook Bargains UK

 Far more than just an ebook promo newsletter.

 Far more than just the UK.

Google Play, Glocalization and the Global Ebook Market – and why Google Play will be the first major western retailer to open ebook stores in the Middle East and Nigeria .


Go Global In 2014

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.

VentureBeat recently ran a post on the global gaming industry – and the top 100 countries are worth closer examination. You can check out the full top 100 list here/.

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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