Tag Archives: Flipkart

Smashwords Titles Are Being Shipped To Gardners This Weekend. But How Long Before Coker Wields The Axe?

By the time you are reading this, Smashwords will have begun (October 22) shipping indie titles to the global distributor Gardners.

Based in the UK, Gardners distribute to retailers and libraries in 138 countries.

It’s a great deal for ambitious indies wanting global reach. My titles have been in Gardners for many years. Back in 2011 one became that year’s biggest selling indie ebook, and the eleventh biggest-selling ebook overall, thanks in part to Gardners. Obviously Amazon was the key player, but it was the availability in and sales from all the other UK retailers that clinched it.

I’ve long advocated indies get into Gardners, and now Smashwords has made it easy (unless you are an erotica author – Smashwords erotica titles are barred by both Gardners and OverDrive) I was initially delighted.

This new deal almost made up for the Flipkart fiasco, when Coker punished all Smashwords indie authors by axing Flipkart distribution because Flipkart wasn’t running its business to suit Amazon’s T&Cs. You couldn’t make it up…

I fear the exact same thing will happen to the Gardners partnership in the not too distant future.

Here’s why.

Smashwords indie authors were sending their titles to Flipkart and, at a later date, changing their mind and jumping into KDP Select.

KDP Select requires exclusivity, so Smashwords indies unpublish at Smashwords and Smashwords orders the partners stores to unpublish those titles.

The big players like Apple and Kobo are quick to respond. Flipkart was not so fast.

Indie authors, having done their bit and delisted from all other retailers, jump into Select and, out of the blue, comes the dreaded email from Amazon telling them they are in breach of Select rules because the title is still on Flipkart.

This meant a lot of unhappy Smashwords indies.

Coker responded by blaming Flipkart (far easier than fixing the problem at the Smashwords end), and cancelled the distribution agreement for all Smashwords authors.

No matter that most of us had no intention of jumping in and out of Select.

No matter that many of us were just beginning to gain traction in Flipkart.

As it happens there is anyway a big question mark over the future of the Flipkart ebook store right now.

But the issue here is Mark Coker letting the whims of Select-Hopping indies dictate which stores the rest of can get into.

Select-Hopping authors understandably didn’t like the Flipkart response time and Coker wielded the axe.

It’s now just a matter of time before the Gardners deal goes the same way, and for the exact same reason.

Gardners distributes to 400 global retailers. I can assure you from long years of personal experience that, no matter how quickly Gardners HQ send out the order to those retailers to make changes, not all those outlets will be fast to respond. Most will see delays of many weeks.

Many of these stores are in countries where Amazon doesn’t have a Kindle store, so the mighty Zon won’t notice if you’ve jumped into Select and your title is still on a retailer somewhere in Denmark or Poland.

Many more will be in countries that do have a Kindle store.

And when Amazon finds a Select title still lingering in a Gardners outlet in the UK, or Germany, or Italy, or Australia, or… The nasty emails will be sent, indie authors will go complaining to Mark Coker, and Mark Coker will start sharpening his axe again.

Internationalist indies looking to use Smashwords to build a global readership will once again find the rug pulled from under their feet. Hey, who cares about us? Not Mark Coker, clearly.

But there’s a simple and elegant solution, that could have been used to save the Flipkart deal, and can be used to save the Gardners deal.

Here’s the thing.

No-one is being forced to opt-in to Gardners, just as no-one was being forced to opt-in to Flipkart.

So, Mark Coker, why not just put a clear message on Smashwords that, if you opt into Gardners you should allow at least four weeks, ideally longer, for changes to be implemented.

That way indies who like to play Select-Hopping will simply not opt-in, or can plan well ahead, and internationalist indies can enjoy the fruits of the Gardners distribution deal without having to worry when the axe will fall.

With the slick and easy-access (no Meatgrinder nonsense!) Draft2Digital about to announce a deal with 24Symbols and lots of neat additions to its services, and with StreetLib and PublishDirect all offering a much broader distribution range than Smashwords does, Mark Coker needs to do everything he can to keep Smashwords relevant to indie needs as we head into the second half of this decade..

The Gardners deal is a big step in the right direction.

If it lasts.

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Something for the Weekend. An overview of the global ebook scene.

There’s a rumour circulating in India that Amazon will be launching the Kindle Unlimited subscription service for just 199 rupees per month.

The report in ETRetail (LINK) does stress this is just a rumour, but if it turns out to be true it could be a game-changer.

The minimum price indies can set on Kindle India through KDP is 49 rupees, so a subscriber would have to read just five minimum-price titles a month to be up on the deal. For more expensive titles it would be even more rewarding for the reader.

And possibly lucrative for the author. The India ebook market may be nascent but it’s not dormant. In time it will be the second largest ebook market in the world.

That’s a few years off yet, but India is already set to exceed the USA as the second largest smartphone market. And every smartphone out there could have our ebooks on.

Any author looking to the long-term will be looking carefully at the India market, regardless of what happens with KU.

See this post on the “globile” future to understand why. (LINK).

~~~

I’ve posted on the phenomenon of adult colouring books a few times.

Mainly to stress that as indies we are already, to some extent, “outside the box”, and we should always be willing to take a few strides further and explore the incredible possibilities digital presents us.

With adult colouring books it’s been small press print outfits that have led the way.

This week it’s emerged that the “Secret Garden” adult colouring book has sold three million copies in the past three months… in China. It also sold a million in Brazil and a half million in South Korea. (LINK)

Both Brazil and China wildly outsold the US, and Korea outsold the UK.

Meanwhile in the US a self-published children’s book produced POD via CreateSpace and Ingram has sold over 20,000 copies in the US, topping the print charts.

In the latter case it was an indie author. In the former it could easily have been.

In this brave new world of the global New Renaissance the boxes we choose to live are largely of our own making.

We have unprecedented reach, unprecedented opportunities, and unprecedented possibilities to experiment.

Don’t waste them.

~~~

The issue of the self-publishers’ ghetto at OverDrive came up again this week. The post has since been updated to say there was “initially” a ghetto. (LINK)

Comments on that post confirm that, while there is a sub-section within the OverDrive facility for librarians that just holds Smashwords titles, indie titles from Smashwords ARE available in the OverDrive public catalogue.

In fact there are 187,000 Smashwords titles showing in OverDrive right now.

So let’s be clear. There is no ghetto.

I’ve been getting titles into OverDrive libraries for almost five years with no problems, and lately have been using Smashwords to add some new titles to the OverDrive catalogue.

For those who assert I’m “anti-Smashwords” for complaining about what doesn’t work well at Smashwords, let me be clear.

IF… and that’s still a big if, sadly – but if you can get your titles into the Smashwords premium catalogue, and of course if you’ve opted into library distribution, your titles will appear in the OverDrive library catalogues worldwide in a matter of days.

The exceptions are erotica titles, which OverDrive does not accept from Smashwords, but for everything else Smashwords is a cheap (pay as you sell), quick and (relatively) easy way to get your self-published titles into the OverDrive global libraries.

~~~

Sadly the same cannot be said for Flipkart. Smashwords has just announced they have cancelled the deal with Flipkart to get indie titles into India’s largest retailer.  (LINK)

Mark Coker makes some interesting, if controversial, arguments about how Amazon’s KDP Select is in part responsible for this decision. Coker argues indies wanting to jump in and out of Select were finding their titles not being removed from Flipkart in timely fashion, leaving indies in breach of Amazon’s exclusivity demand for participation in KU.

But here’s the thing: by cancelling the Flipkart deal, it is Smashwords that is penalizing the many authors that do not jump in and out of retailers chasing every new shiny dangled in front of them and are trying to build a global presence.

Surely it is not beyond Mark Coker’s ability to simply put a clear message on the site in relation to stores like Flipkart that indies cannot expect instant responsiveness from this particular retailer, leaving indies the option to list on Flipkart through Smashwords.

The very real danger for Mark Coker is that ,by removing options like Flipkart, he risks sending indies to rival aggregators like Xin-Xii who do offer Flipkart, along with Google Play and the Tolino Alliance stores that aren’t available through Smashwords. (LINK)

~~~

The latest of Big Pub to sign an English-language deal in China is PanMacmillan UK, who have announced a deal with Trajectory at the Beijing Book Fair this week. (LINK)

Trajectory are leading the way in taking English-language titles to the new globile (global mobile) markets, and fully understand we who write and publish are sitting on a global goldmine.

Trajectory has no facility for (or interest in) indie authors, but it may at some stage come to an agreement with one of the distributors we can access. That could be a long wait. Meantime trad pub is raking in the cash from English-language readers in China and elsewhere.

I’ll be forwarding this latest report to Fiberead (LINK) in the hope of nudging them in the direction of making our indie English-language titles available in China, but as yet their focus is (understandably) on the translations market.

But, in mind the current mess at Smashwords with Flipkart, Fiberead, or whoever steps forward to make China accessible to indie E-L titles, will have to include a clear contractual commitment to keep titles in for a sensible length of time, and that hopping in and out every five minutes will not be an option.

~~~

Globile up 55% year on year!

A new report from Ericsson estimates there are three billion mobile broadband users across the globe right now, (LINK) and the vast majority therefore have potential access to our ebooks.

Globile (global mobile) is still in its infancy in much of the world, but the growth areas are worth looking at. The US, unsurprisingly, but also India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

I’m adding Myanmar (Burma, for those who last looked at an atlas when they were at school) to my watch-list in view of the latest data, which confirms the trend I’ve been watching this past year for Myanmar.  There’s been a massive investment in broadband recently and its beginning to pay off big time.

It’s a pattern we’ll see repeated very soon in countries like Pakistan and Nepal, and across the globe.

I won’t bore you with details of the countless 4G licences I’m monitoring being auctioned right now globally, but my globile map is lighting up in places even I, the eternal digital optimist, thought were unlikely before the end of this decade.

As Google’s Loon balloon project and Facebook’s Aquila drone project go live over the next few years (the former already underway in Sri Lanka) we’re going to witness an explosion in globile traffic and global engagement that will be truly, truly remarkable.

~~~

In mind the previous item ponder this, for of such things as this is our future as global authors made.

The Pacific Caribbean Cable System (PCCS) has just started commercial operations. It links the USA, via Florida, with the Caribbean nations, Central America and northern South America as far as Ecuador, meaning millions more people across the Caribbean and Latin America have access to 4G-standard internet service. (LINK)

This in turn will accelerate the take-up of smartphones across the region, which in turn will build awareness of the benefits of the internet and so accelerate smartphone adoption even more.

Just one of the many reasons I am so excited by the Latin American market right now.

Here’s another.

The Russia-based subscription service Bookmate now has a carrier-billing deal with Tigo Mobile in Guatemala and Paraguay. (LINK)

Tigo Mobile is one of the big telcos in Latin America, and safe to assume this will be the first of many carrier-billing arrangements, not just with Bookmate but almost certainly soon with Google Play.

For those unfamiliar, carrier billing is where you pay for online purchases like ebooks from your mobile phone credit.

For Third World countries like these it is hard to exaggerate the significance of this. Most people across the world do not have bank accounts, let alone credit cards. But trying buying from Amazon or Apple without a card… Try subscribing to Scribd without a card…

Carrier billing enables the cash-paying reader to pay for ebooks online instead of relying on free-reading sites like Wattpad.

Study after study shows that, around the globe, the biggest hindrances to e-reading on smartphones are

a) that the retailers aren’t accessible and

b) where, as with Kobo, they are, local people simply have no method by which to pay.

Indian app-based stores like Newshunt and Rockstand shift millions of ebooks every year thanks to carrier billing. People who have no way whatsoever of paying Amazon India, for example, can simply buy a mobile credit scratchcard with cash, top up their mobile, and buy and download an ebook from Newshunt or Rockstand. No wonder these two stores are the fastest growing ebook stores in India.

In Latin America carrier billing plays a similarly crucial role in allowing people to pay for goods online. But it requires the retailer to come to an arrangement with the telco.

This service is already offered by some “domestic” Latin American retailers, but this move by Bookmate is the first by an outsider. I understand Google Play is also in talks with Tigo and other telcos to offer carrier billing.

Bookmate is a global subscription service that cleverly focuses on markets Amazon neglects, and it’s doing rather well. As well as being one of the biggest Russian services (along with LitRes – but watch out for a possible Kindle Russia store in the future – there are indications Bezos is trying to get a foothold there) Bookmate is a global operator, and big in key countries like Turkey (Amazon blocks downloads to Turkey).

The move with Paraguay and Guatemala is believed to be the first of a wider campaign by Bookmate to embrace Latin America. Just one more sign that Latin America is now firmly on the radar of the global retailers.

I get my titles into Bookmate through the British aggregator Ebook Partnership, but it’s a pay-up-front service and not one I could recommend just now, as the global landscape is changing so fast, and other routes are opening up.

Bookmate recently launched its own self-pub portal. I haven’t had the chance to investigate this yet, but it’s on my To Do list.

Bookmate is not going to make anyone rich with its payouts, but as a vehicle for global discovery and laying the foundations for the future, Bookmate should definitely be a consideration for any author going global.

One final word on Bookmate – they’ve just launched this past week in Indonesia. I can’t tell you how exciting that is. I’ll be doing an in depth post on the Indonesia scene shortly to explain why.

~~~

Here in West Africa the ACE cable linking Europe and the west coast of Africa finally went live in The Gambia just over two years ago.  While meaningful reach is still limited to the coast because the relay infrastructure is not in place yet across the country, the transformation has already been remarkable, with pretty much everyone having a smartphone of some sort in their hands.

Bear in mind this is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

People who two years ago did not know the internet even existed, and still have no access to running water or electricity, now watch youtube videos, use skype and Facebook, and would be lost without their (probably counterfeit, they are so cheap) smartphones.

Do they e-read? Most definitely, yes. But mainly on free sites like Wattpad because, quite simply, there is no mechanism for them to make payments even if the big retailers actually let them download.

But that will come, and with it will come a surge in global e-reading on an unprecedented scale as the global New Renaissance gets into second gear.

It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen everywhere at the same time, but it will happen. It is happening.

And those authors who have positioned themselves well now, and are using sites like Wattpad to establish a global presence where they have no commercial reach, will reap the benefits.

The PCCS cable mentioned above is just one of myriad similar projects happening right now around the globe that, along with the Google Loon project and Facebook’s Aquila drone project, is creating an internet-connected world that within ten years will net-enfranchise well over 95% of the world’s population.

Already our potential audience is well over two billion people. That’s how many people have a smartphone, tablet or similar e-reading device in their hands right now.

More than two billion people.

Yet the majority of indie authors are so busy fighting each other to grab a share of the fraction of the couple-hundred million US market that they don’t even know the wider world exists.

Their loss. And less competition for the rest of us.

~~~

Google’s fleet of self-driving cars now numbers twenty, averaging 10,000 miles a week. (LINK)

Over the past six years there have been eleven minor accidents and all have been the result of human-driver error in other vehicles – even a super-duper computerised self-driven car that can simultaneously see every other vehicle and pedestrian on the road can’t stop some idiot driving into the back of you because they were on their phone.

One day these vehicles will be everywhere, and will save countless lives.

Driverless cars, books with no paper, watching films on a phone, 3-D printers… My childhood science-fiction is today’s reality.

5G is almost with us, and at the current rate of accelerated innovation it’s impossible to guess what even 6G, let alone 10G, will bring, but I plan on living forever so I can find out. 🙂

That way I might even get time to finish a few more books.

~~~

Not everyone is enamoured by the idea of serialization of works, but I’m having great fun with it, and I’m not alone.

This report from the Bookseller is well worth reading to see how trad pub is engaging with serialization and seeing great results. (LINK)

Of course in the case of Transworld and Headline all the serialized parts were professionally edited to meet the requirements of serialization and put out well-formatted on all retail platforms, and then strung together professionally in a print version also made widely available.

Sadly indies going the serialization route often seem more focused on short-term gains (as with the old KU system), but serialization has much more to offer the savvy author.

One of the problems with serialization, of course, is that a serialized novel (or indeed non-fiction works, which is where my serialization focus is) is not a stand-alone book simply chopped into equal pieces.

A thoughtfully serialized work needs to a lot of careful consideration to balance the parts. So while it may allow you to get to market sooner and start building an audience for the project, it may well prove to be not just as much, but more work than slogging away at a single full-length project.

I’m certainly finding that with my serialization of the West Africa travelogues. In theory part two and three could have been live by now, but as I work through parts 4-5 I keep finding cause to go back and make adjustments to parts 2 and 3. While that’s easy enough with digital, it’s not a sensible option once the early parts are live, because early readers will not know of the re-writes and be lost if they impact on later parts.

So if you do go down this route take a leaf from Transworld’s and Headline’s book and make sure you have several parts firmly in place before you launch.

~~~

The Madrid-based digital-library supplier Odilo (LINK) is ramping up its game, and shifting to more English-language titles alongside its Spanish-language range.

No easy way into Odilo right now, but definitely one to keep an eye on, both as possible outlet in the future and as a barometer of the way things are shaping up.

Globally digital libraries are still pretty embryonic, but they present a fantastic opportunity for discovery and reaching new audiences.

Odilo is gearing up to challenge the long-established players like OverDrive, and its focus is worth watching.

While Spain is of course its core market, Odile is taking big strides in the US, and is in Peru, Colombia and Mexico right now, and will soon be in Chile. It’s also, intriguingly, in Australia.

And it’s handling titles in Italian, Russian and Chinese as well as Spanish and English, suggesting global ambitions and, for authors, global opportunities ahead.

Odilo isn’t geared to indie authors yet, but I’m making tentative enquiries about third-party routes in.

Even if we can’t get into Odilo this year or next, we should all be looking at operators like this, because they show clearly the way the global markets are developing. Latin America, for instance, is getting more exciting by the day.

If we’re not taking the global markets seriously and getting into translations and extensive distribution right now we’ll only have ourselves  to blame in years to come when other authors are seeing global success while we’re still struggling to get noticed in the ever more overcrowded market at home.

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

And The Second Biggest Bookseller In The World After Amazon Is…

DiversifyIn2015

For those of us who are neglecting the India market as a place to find readers, take heed of this latest report which suggests Flipkart is way up there ahead of the likes of Barnes & Noble, Waterstone’s, Fnac,etc. (LINK)

A few caveats.

First off, the world’s second largest book market China is totally omitted from the survey.

Second, the survey is actually about the popularity of a store rather than how many books are sold. And it is the whole store, not just the book store.

So for Amazon and Flipkart we are actually looking at the overall popularity of the Amazon and Flipkart stores as opposed to just the bookstore element.

No surprise that Amazon came top therefore. As to whether or not Flipkart sells more books than Barnes & Noble, the jury is out. This survey shows Flipkart is more popular, but given the population of India, the scale of the Flipkart enterprise, and the trending unpopularity of Barnes & Noble, that’s no surprise either.

But we should be in no doubt Flipkart shifts a lot of books and is by far the biggest bookseller in India. Nieslen estimated their market share at 80% in 2013.

Ebooks? There is no breakdown of ebook sales per se for Amazon India and Flipkart, and ebook take-up is India is still in its infancy, so we are not talking massive numbers. But that will soon change as more publishers in India engage with digital, and Flipkart and Amazon will no doubt fight it out for top place as the country’s leading ebook provider.

Both stores are massive in India, although Flipkart by far the largest, but it has to be noted that since Jeff Bezos started taking India seriously last year Amazon has really begun to close the gap on Flipkart’s dominance. Stats for May indicate Amazon actually had more unique visitors than Flipkart, for the first time.

Of course unique visitors and regular paying customers are two different things, but it’s clear that, after a couple of years of seemingly going nowhere, Amazon has really got its act together in India, and is now a major player.

How much that will be reflected in book and ebook market share remains to be seen.

But one thing is clear. Indians love to read, and the Indian reading market, already massive, is growing by the day as more and more of the population engage with the e-commerce world thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets and improvements in internet availability across the subcontinent.

The English-speaking book market in India is impressive. The local-language book market likely to be even more so.

Anyone not thinking about translations into the myriad Indian languages is going to miss out big time in the coming years.

So will those who do not engage fully with the myriad retailers operating in India.

Apple and Nook aren’t there, but Amazon and Flipkart are up against Google Play and Kobo, as well as local players ranging from the small (but very useful for local POD) Pothi to the two big mobile-only vendors Newshunt and Rockstand. There are others. Infibeam perhaps the most interesting as it prepares for its IPO (LINK) , and with a fresh influx of cash it may get back on track with its own ebook store.

India is one of the most exciting prospects on the planet right now for indie authors, and with Bookbub now sending out a newsletter with buy buttons for some of the key Indian stores, including Amazon and Flipkart (but sadly not Newshunt or Rockstand), we can expect to see a handful of western indies do very well here over the next twelve months.

If you fancy your chances check out the Bookbub blog which has a post on how best to discount ebooks in India. (LINK)

Don’t just be a witness to the global New Renaissance. Be part of it.

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Amazon Prime In India By End Of The Year?

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Nothing official, but it seems Amazon is sizing up the prospects for launching Prime in India, with digital content streaming as a key attraction.

Film and music are being explored, in keeping with the current Prime offering, but of course a big boost to Prime’s appeal – in India as at home -would be to add ebook streaming.

Nothing will happen in India this side of summer, but we would expect Amazon to be pushing this venture to be live for the Indian festive season in the autumn.

Amazon is facing lots of local difficulties in India but is making progress despite. Shopping at Amazon is something of a status symbol for the lucky few who can afford to. One more example of eastern interest in western culture, that none of us should ignore.

Flipkart will remain the largest e-commerce player in India for a long while yet, and that goes for ebooks too. Remember, you can get into Flipkart through Smashwords with no up-front costs.

But anyone thinking the Indian ebook market is a two-dog fight needs to think again. Apple still aren’t there, and Kobo totally dropped the ball with this one, with a token presence that does no-one any favours.

But Google Play are there and making good ground. We expect Google Play to become the dominant ebook service in India in the not too distant future thanks to a combination of brand recognition, availability on Android devices, and carrier billing.

Landmark’s experiment with ebooks was short-lived, for reasons not yet clear, and players like Infibeam and Crossword are never going to amount to much.

But keep an eye on the magazine turned ebook purveyors like Rockstand, Newshunt and Magzter, all growing in importance as India goes mobile.

What we would love to see is the big western aggregators like Smashwords and Draft2Digital team up with these three, but as yet no sign. British aggregator Ebook Partnership do supply Magzter, and are looking at Rockstand and Newshunt, but that’s not a cost-effective option unless you plan to use EP’s wider distribution network.

Looking at the wider region, expect Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Bhutan and Sri Lanka to open up to ebooks this year, with Google Play leading the way.

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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.

Ebook Bargains UK

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What Are The Top Five Countries For Romance Ebook Sales?

GoGlobalIn2014_500

We all know romance is a very, very popular genre and many ebooks authors are doing exceptionally well, but we also know most only focus their attention on two countries – the US and UK – and of course therefore only see results from two countries.

We’ve been arguing a long time now that the global market is worth the effort, but very few indies are taking this seriously. We ran a post here back in February stressing the significance of the Indian market for romance writers. Again, it fell on largely deaf ears.

This week there emerged some new data that shows how wrong you are to be ignoring the wider world.

What are the top five countries for romance ebooks? Obviously the US and UK take poll positions.

But in third, fourth and fifth place in order are…drum roll please…India, Australia and South Africa.

And the stores are worth looking at. Obviously it goes without saying Amazon is top, and Apple and Nook close behind. But this report from Epub Direct also cites the following stores as performing well with romance titles.

Quote:

Other sales channels that are quite virile are ebooks.com, Flipkart, Kobo, Sainsbury, Txtr, Asia Books, Fishpond and Libri.

Unquote.

For the UK, read W H Smith for Kobo, and for Australia Angus & Robertson and Bookworld.

Ebooks.com is an Australian store (the oldest ebook store still going in fact!) that sells in US dollars. Supplied via Ingram.

Sainsbury is off limits to indies, but make no mistake Sainsbury (and lately Tesco – too early for any stats for Blinkbox) are doing very well.

Txtr gets a mention. Remember Txtr has twenty global stores, and you can be sure most of Txtr’s sales are not coming from the Txtr US and Txtr UK sites… Txtr are not in India, which means Txtr sales will be coming from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and mainland Europe. If you are with Smashwords or Ebook Partnership you will be in the Txtr stores.

Flipkart is well up there, of course. See our Valentine’s post to understand why Indians love western romances.

Then there’s small players like Libri, Asia Books and Fishpond that indies just love to write off as a waste of time.

Of course Epub Direct, who compiled this report, supply a ton of other retailers too. In fact they have the best reach of any distributor, including getting titles into the key UK stores WH Smith, Sainsbury and Tesco Blinkbox, all off limits to indies.

No, Epub Direct don’t deal with indies (logistical, not philosophical – they are not anti-indie, just not set up to cater for individuals) but what they don’t know about ebook distribution and selling probably isn’t worth knowing.

If you are with a publisher make sure they know about Epub Direct and (if they are big enough) demand they sign up. For the rest of us… Well, for now they are off limits, but we’re hoping someone from Epub Direct will come and share with us their thoughts on how things migt pan out in the future.

Meanwhile, a few other key points from this report:

Subscription services are performing well for romance. Ditto for libraries except for erotica, where many libraries filter titles or – as with OverDrive and Smashwords – simply don’t want to know.

Romance titles see less blockbusters so the market is far more evenly spread and self-pubbers have a better chance of getting in. Look at any best-seller chart where indies are to see this is true.

Romance titles do well in series and are less affected by seasonal buying, so a good year round bet.

Nor is it just India. Michael Tamblyn, Kobo’s president said this week “For e-book retailers like us, it has helped Romance become a huge part of our business.” As we all know, Kobo is not amajor player in the US, so these sales are coming from elsewhere.

But to finish this post a reminder- India is the third biggest market for English language romance titles according to one of the world’s biggest ebook distributors. And no, you don’t need to write about Indian characters in Indian settings to appeal to Indian readers, as we said in the EBUK post in February, and as the new Epub Direct report shows.

 

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A Reminder That Amazon’s Pernicious Price-Parity Clause Is Illegal In The UK And EU.

GoGlobalIn2014_500One of the great urban myths of the indie revolution is that when we self-publish we have control over our pricing.

If only.

In reality of course the retailers set parameters within which we have some limited choice over how we price, subject to their whim.

On Amazon the minimum we can ask is $0.99, but if we do try to offer the reader a real bargain we are penalized with lower royalties. Just 35%. To get the much-vaunted 70% royalty we need to set the list price at $2.99 or above.

If we want the 70% royalty in Kindle countries like India, Brazil, Mexico and Japan we have to sign up to Select as well, otherwise we get the 35% payout regardless of what price we sell at.

In countries outside the Kindle Zones we also get paid just 35%, regardless of list price. And that list price may be considerably more than we set, because Amazon bizarrely surcharges many readers around the globe. Your $2.99 title may cost a reader in the US $2.99 but a reader in Poland or Norway or Malta may have to pay anything from $4.99 to $6.99 for the same book. The author will still be paid a single dollar – 35% of the $2.99 they listed at originally.

Curiously Apple can deliver our ebooks to these same countries and pay us 70% regardless of list price. And it doesn’t add surcharges.

Not satisfied with dictating how much we can sell at on Amazon’s own site, which is fair enough – its their site – Amazon also dictates what price we can sell on other retail sites.

No, seriously.

It’s a little known fact that when you sign the KDP T&Cs you sign away your right to choose how much you list on B&N or Apple or Kobo. Amazon dictates that for you, if you list through KDP on the Kindle sites, you may not list at a lower price anywhere else.

Selling well on Amazon at $2.99 but want to run a sale over at Books-A-Million or Nook or Apple iBooks or All-Romance/OmniLit or Diesel or Smashwords at $0.99? Amazon won’t let you.

If you list at $0.99 on one of the other sites – or even at $2.98 – you’ll get a threatening email from Amazon.

No, it doesn’t say they’ll send the boys round to break your legs. But it will say this (or a variation on this, as they seems to have a small selection they send out).

Hello,

We recently noticed the digital list price for the title(s) listed below is higher than the list price of the same book listed on Amazon.com or another website.

TITLE REDACTED is listed on Amazon.com at $2.99 and at $0.99 on Barnes & Noble

According to our pricing policy, your book should be priced no higher than the list price on Amazon.com or any other sales channel for either the physical or digital edition of the book. Please adjust the list price for the above book(s) within the next 5 business days. If the price isn’t updated within 5 business days, we may remove the book(s) from the Kindle Store, at which point you will need to republish the book with an updated price.

For more information on our list price requirements, see section 4 on our Pricing Page below:

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=200634500

Thanks for your understanding.

Sincerely,


The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

Let’s just have that key bit again: “…your book should be priced no higher than the list price on Amazon.com or any other sales channel…

Amazon is dictating your pricing options on other retail outlets that it has nothing whatsoever to do with.

And if you don’t comply? As the email says, they “may remove your books from the Kindle store.” A variation of this email adds that repeated breaches of this policy may result in account closure.

# # #

Is this legal? We’re not based in the USA, so we don’t know what American law is in this regard, but we can say that this is completely illegal in the UK and across the European Union (EU).

So much so that after a major investigation by the UK’s Office of Fair Trading and Germany’s Federal Cartel Office, Amazon conveniently dropped this pernicious policy before legal proceedings could be initiated.

As of August 2013 you may price how you like on Amazon UK, Amazon France, Amazon, Germany and Amazon Italy and run lower prices for the same title at (for example) Waterstone’s in the UK, Fnac in France, Hugendubel in Germany, or Mondadori in Italy – and you won’t get a nasty letter from Amazon telling you to change it or else.

Savvy indies listing in the UK and other EU countries have been taking full advantage of this climb-down by Amazon to gain traction in the many smaller stores across Europe.

Few will have missed the fact that indie authors have been doing very well on Amazon Germany recently. What has received somewhat less attention is how well indies are doing on other German ebook sites, like Thalia, Bucher, Bol, Buch, Ciando, Bild, Der Club, etc.

Is it coincidence that since last summer when indies were allowed to list cheaper on rival sites in the EU without Amazon interfering, Kindle Germany’s market share plummeted, from around 90% at the end of 2012 to (estimates vary) between 50%-65% by the end of 2013?

Other factors were at play too, of course, as we’ll be discussing in a forthcoming post on the rise and rise of the Tolino Alliance, but safe to say indie titles listed cheaper on rival sites than on Amazon helped.

# # #

One of the few indie spokesfolk to publicly challenge this policy of Amazon’s has been the Smashwords head honcho Mark Coker.

While lamenting the imminent closure of the Sony North America Reader Store, Coker this past week delivered a blistering attack on Amazon’s predatory small-print.

While not blaming Amazon directly for the demise of the Sony store, Coker makes the point that you may find yourself in violation of Amazon’s insidious price-parity clause through no fault of your own.

For example, Google Play are very actively discounting. When you list on Google Play (and with forty-four stores world-wide you certainly should be listing on Google Play) it’s very likely they will discount your title.

When Google Play US discounts your title and your price goes below your Amazon price, you’ll very likely receive “the email” from Amazon KDP telling you they may remove your titles from KDP or even close your account because you have listed on another retailer cheaper than on Amazon – even though in reality you listed at exactly the same price on both.

This creates the ridiculous situation where indie authors are pricing their titles higher on Google Play to start with so that if Google Play does discount, the author will not be penalized by Amazon.

Is it any wonder this pernicious policy of Amazon’s was ruled illegal in the UK and across the EU?

The real wonder is how this can possibly be legal in the US.

In India the online giant Flipkart is busily discounting indie titles listed in their ebook store and Amazon India is busily price-matching. We haven’t heard (yet) of anyone receiving the threatening email from Amazon regarding the price on Flipkart. If anyone has, do let us know.

Hopefully it’s not happening. Amazon is trying to push the door open to further investment in India, so perhaps is playing it safe rather than risk an embarrassing investigation like the ones in the UK and Germany.

Elsewhere we might not be so lucky. We’ve not heard of this happening with authors listing in Australia since the Kindle AU store went live, but that’s probably because so few indies are on more than one or two Australian ebook sites in the first place.

But in the event Amazon revives its international expansion plans for the Kindle stores, which seem to have ground to a halt, this could be a recurring issue. Sadly the indie spokesfolk who were so quick to lambast the Big 5 for their price fixing policies are not so vociferous when it comes to Amazon’s dark side.

One indie spokesperson  that does say what we need to hear rather than what we want to hear is the aforementioned Mark Coker. We leave you with this thought from Coker, from the afore-linked Smashwords blog:

“Amazon punishes the author with full knowledge that the price discrepancies are not the author’s fault, and then authors feel pressured to abandon the smaller retailer rather than risk facing Amazon’s future wrath. The behavior this motivates (opting out of the smaller retailer forever) then harms the smaller retailer and makes the author more dependent upon Amazon.”

# # #

Retailer Round-Up

We mentioned several ebook retailers and stores in this post. Here’s how (or if) you can get your titles into them, In order of appearance in the post.

NB This list is hopefully accurate, but doesn’t purport to be inclusive. If you see any errors, or know of other options, do let us know.

  • Amazon – KDP. One portal to all the Kindle sites.
  • Apple – Direct if you have the right i-device, otherwise most aggregators will get you there, including Smashwords, Bookbaby, D2D, Xin-Xii, Untreed Reads and Ebook Partnership among many.
  • B&N Nook – Direct via NookPress if you are in the USA, otherwise most aggregators will get you there, including Smashwords, Bookbaby, D2D, Xin-Xii, Untreed Reads and Ebook Partnership among many.
  • Books-A-Million – A great little North American site overlooked by most indies. Supplied by OverDrive and possibly also by Ingram.
  • All-Romance/Omni-Lit – With international payments, no territorial restrictions and multiple formats this is a great little site to be on. Accessible direct or through Ebook Partnership.
  • Diesel – A California based pioneer indie ebook store that accepts international payments and has no territorial restrictions. Accessible through Smashwords.
  • Smashwords – As well as being a key aggregator that can get you into many stores other aggregators cannot, Smashwords also has its own retail site offering an excellent range of format, does not have territorial restrictions and does accept international payments.
  • Waterstone’s – The UK’s equivalent of B&N, but sadly not the UK’s equivalent of Nook. Nonetheless the Waterstone’s ebook store can deliver useful results. Accessible through OverDrive or through Ebook Partnership.
  • Fnac – Little know outside Europe (although it is also in Brazil), Fnac is a key player on the French ebook scene. Theoretically accessible through Kobo (via Kobo Writing Life or most aggregators) , but the Kobo distribution channels are a mess right now, so it’s hit and miss.
  • Hugendubel – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • LibriMondadori –  Italy’s biggest player. Theoretically accessible through Kobo (via Kobo Writing Life or most aggregators) , but the Kobo distribution channels are a mess right now, so it’s hit and miss.
  • Thalia – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Bucher – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Bol – This is Bol.de, not to be confused with the Ditch ebook retailer Bol.nl). Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Buch – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Ciando – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Bild – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Der Club – Accessible through Ebook Partnership and probably through Xin-Xii.
  • Google Play – Accessible direct if you are in a Google Play country and have the patience of a saint, or through Ebook Partnership.
  • Sony North America Reader Store – No longer accepting titles, as closure is imminent.
  • Flipkart – India’s biggest online retailer. Accessible through Smashwords or Pothi.

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