Tag Archives: ebooks

Investors are betting big time on an ebook startup in China

2017-11-11

Tencent is a large social media and gaming enterprise in China, but the company has also been developing an online book publishing business. The ebook arm of the enterprise grew so rapidly that Tencent decided to detach it from the mother ship by issuing an IPO (Initial Public Offering) at Hong Kong Stock Exchange on November 8, 2017. Investors couldn’t get enough of shares, raising the price so high that it became the largest technology related IPO in Hong Kong since Alibaba.com was listed in 2007.

Chinese book cover images
The new startup is simply called China Literature, but the development of its digital publishing business was not simple.

China Literature already has a mind-boggling catalog of 9.6 million works from 6.4 million authors. Sure, China is a vast market, the largest in the world, but still, the numbers are incomprehensible. Here is how it is possible.

The company has developed two popular applications: QQ Reading and Qudian. Readers can use these apps to download ebooks, see what their friends are reading, rate and review titles, and receive recommendations from others.

In addition to purchasing titles from established publishing houses, readers who have written a book can self-publish their works directly to China Literature’s ebook store.

China Literature’s apps have proven to be the drivers for reader engagement. The applications let readers interact with writers and it helps writers to learn about their audience. For example, micropayments are used for allowing readers to download sections from ebooks. That is one of the features of the QQ Reading app.

Opening chapters of books are free, but after the first chapter readers have to pay 5 yuan ($0.75) per 1,000 characters. China Literature also has a subscription service that gives customers full access to select titles. The subscription fee is between 10 yuan and 18 yuan per month ($1.51 and $2.71).

New developments include readnovel.com that promises “literary works concerning campus life and contemporary romance”, and possibly TV shows and movies as well.

Via Quartz.

EU country Portugal has banned the use of DRM in ebooks in certain cases

2017-10-25

Portugal may not be a forerunner of digital media business within the European Union, but Portugal’s lawmakers have taken a significant step towards consumer friendly digital media and ebooks. Portugal has banned the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in ebooks when the works are in public domain or they are published by the government.

woman reading an ebook on the beach. Photo by  Michael Mol.
The new restriction for DRM technology in Portugal is included in the law (Law No. 36/2017 of June 2, 2017) that has been effective since June 2017. Three key points that deal with DRM technology in the law are permission to break DRM in certain cases, prohibiting the use of DRM completely in certain cases, and the requirement to have the copyright holder’s permission for the application of DRM.

1. Permission to circumvent DRM protection in digital media products.
In specific fair use cases, anyone is allowed to break or circumvent DRM restrictions in digital products. The cases include reproduction of content for private use, for news reporting, for use by libraries and archives, for teaching and education, in quotation, for persons with disabilities, and for digitizing orphan works.

2. DRM is not allowed at all in specific types of digital products.
The new law prohibits applying DRM to any works that are in public domain and to works published or financed by the government. Citizens are allowed to break DRM in these works if the technology has been applied.

3. Copyright holder must give an explicit permission to the use of DRM.
This may not have a large effect on the business of ebooks since all distribution agreements already include a statement if DRM will be applied to the products and what kind of technology is used.

What is Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Digital Rights Management is a software technology that is used to control the ways a digital media product, such as an ebook or a movie download can be used by customers. The most common application is to restrict the number of copies a customer can make from an ebook he or she has purchased.

Some big digital media stores, such as the Amazon Kindle Store and the Apple iBooks Store have their own DRM technologies that are built in to the purchase process. Customers don’t see that the products have DRM until a built-in restriction is triggered.

Other stores that use Adobe DRM for controlling the use of downloaded products tend to have issues with the technology. Customers must create an Adobe account and a store account in order to purchase a product, which makes it a somewhat troublesome system.

News about Portugal’s new law via EFF.

The five tech giants are also media business giants that dominate the distribution of ebooks

2017-10-23

Five tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are marketing products that most of us use daily – some people perhaps use them most of the hours they are awake. Each of these tech giants is – one way or another – a media company. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft sell digital media products from their online stores. Facebook and Google are categorized as publishers in a number of markets, because they distribute news and information to the public. All these companies have enormous powers to promote or block items and products.
Microsoft ebook store in the Edge web browser
Facebook reports it has more than two billion active users on its social media service. About 45 percent of American adults get news from Facebook. Although Facebook doesn’t admit it is a media company, that’s how it is treated, for instance, within EU.

Google’s search market share in the U.S. approaches 86 percent, whereas in Europe it is over 90 percent. Google’s primary business is advertising, but the Play Store features music, movies and ebooks as well.

About 43 percent of all online retail sales in the U.S. last year went through Amazon. The vast majority of ebook sales in the U.S. is conducted by Amazon.

Microsoft has a dominant position in PC software with its Windows software, and Apple has grown to the most valuable company in the world because of its computers and mobile devices that customers are ready to pay premium for.

Curiously enough, four companies out of five tech giants are also booksellers. Only Facebook hasn’t opened an ebook store.
Amazon Kindle Store
Amazon, of course, gets the credit for facilitating the ebook’s breakthrough into a mass market product with the Kindle and low ebook prices. The company is the undisputable leader of the ebook business in the world. Not only has Amazon a role as a book retailer, but the company is also a book publisher, translation firm and a marketer.

Apple was the pioneer of music downloads with the iTunes Store where people could find MP3 songs for their iPods and PCs. Ebooks were introduced to the iBooks store along with the iPad tablet.

Google started scanning printed books from libraries because the company wanted to archive and index all the information in the world. Many years and legal problems later, Google has agreements with publishers to sell their ebooks at the Play Store.

Microsoft has marketed applications and games in its digital download store, and has added ebooks to the store as well, although the market coverage is limited at the moment. The new Edge web browser can open EPUB books without any additional plugins or tricks.
Google Play Books store for ebooks

What do the tech giants’ media businesses mean for ebooks?

If we think about the global ebook business, the tech giants dominate the distribution of digital products to customers. Only Kobo has the global reach that is anywhere close to the giants, but Kobo probably does not have the customer base to generate the same amount of sales as the tech giants.

In every market, local online bookstores compete against the global giants. In many markets, local booksellers may have a larger market share than the giants. Tolino in Central Europe, for instance, is a strong brand and sales channel for ebooks in the German speaking part of the world.

For tech giants, ebooks are not necessarily the core products they will bet their futures on. Tech companies’ priorities are in software, cloud services, hardware, artificial intelligence, and in other new technologies. Amazon is the only company that (at the moment) is an online retailer first, and technology supports that goal.
Apple iBooks Store
Let’s take a look at other types of digital media products and which companies dominate those markets. Online movies and television shows are streamed and downloaded from Netflix and Hulu. Music is discovered and streamed to homes and mobile devices from Spotify and Pandora.

Only ebooks are purchased from tech giants. Isn’t it a bit strange?

Perhaps ebook subscription services, like Scribd, 24 Symbols, Storytel, Bookmate will change the landscape of distribution of ebooks one day. Perhaps Kobo is able to compete against the giants in the future. Perhaps a group of investors believes there is a place for an independent global bookstore and establishes one that is in line with the interests of the ebook trade.

Dual-screen Hisense A2 smartphone is also an ereader

2017-04-10

Common smartphone screen sizes are between 5 and 6 inches, and the most common ereader screen size is six inches. Reading a book on a bright and colorful smartphone display is pretty convenient these days. The downside is that the color screen drains the battery and it is still difficult to read in sunlight. So, why not build a smartphone with two screens: a color screen for apps and a black-and-white screen for ebooks.

Hisense A2 smartphone ereader. Photo: maistecnologia.com

Hisense A2. Photo: maistecnologia.com


The Hisense A2 is the latest product that has implemented just that. The smartphone comes with a 5.5-inch color display and a 5.2 E ink display. One side of the phone is used as an ordinary smartphone and the other side an ereader. Two devices in one product.

01net had an opportunity to get their hands on a Hisense A2 prototype. Their first impression was positive, so it seems that we finally could have a proper dual-screen smartphone for ebooks by the end of 2017. The price is expected to be around 400 euros.

Similar products have been available in some markets earlier. Yotaphone has returned to the business, introducing the Yotaphone 2. Its availability, however, is unclear at the moment. Also Onyx, which has successfully introduced a number of ereaders recently, had a dual-screen smartphone earlier, but it didn’t live long.

The Hisense A2 is already available in China, running on Android software.


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Bonnier takes digital disruption seriously, establishes publishing company for ebooks and audiobooks

2017-03-28

Very few (if any) traditional book publishers have given their ebook business the freedom to independently from the mother ship run their operation. Bonnier opens a new publishing company Bookery in April 2017 which specializes in ebooks and audiobooks alone. This is the classic method for managing disruption caused by a new technology in large companies: let the new company compete in the changing markets on its own terms.

ereader on top of stack of books
Media company Bonnier operates in 15 countries, primarily in Europe. The company was established 200 years ago in Sweden, where its headquarters still are located. In addition to books, the family owned business publishes magazines, newspapers, broadcast media, and owns bookstore chains.

If a visionary manager tries to run a new business within a large corporation like that, he or she is often doomed to fail. The new business may compete in different terms than the primary business, and may even compete head-to-head with the corporation’s main business. It is not usually tolerated, and the new business doesn’t have room to operate.

So, establishing a separate company for a new business indicates that the headquarters is serious about the new thing. In this case, Bonnier has determined it is time to take digital book publishing seriously.

The management for the new digital-only company has been hired from outside Bonnier. The CEO of Bookery Åsa Selling told SVB: “We believe series and short texts work well in digital formats. Above all novels, but also non-fiction. Now, we will talk to authors who are willing to write stories for the new formats. They can be plain ebooks, but also audiobooks that are something else than simply recorded readings.”

Bookery aims at sourcing and publishing 20-25 new titles per year with the first ebooks available in 2018.

Are travel coloring books the ultimate relaxation option on the road?

2016-12-01

There are times during every traveler’s journey when it would be smart to switch off brains from constant planning ahead, working, or worrying about what can go wrong. Some (printed) book publisher believe they have a cure for traveler’s anxiety: the travel coloring book. Coloring books for adults were recently popular, but now, it is possible to find a coloring book for your special interest, such as travel.
travel coloring books, cover images
The theory is that since the world inside a travel coloring book is already organized and static, the tourist can manage the world drawn on the pages of the book by coloring it the way he or she wants. It is supposed to take your thoughts away from anything that may burden your mind and from everything around you.

Maybe that is exactly why many travelers have their music collection on a smartphone or on an iPod with them and they listen to their favorite artists when they want some distance to the world around. Some travelers, surprisingly, read books, whereas others watch movies, or sip gin and tonics.

There are many ways to relax on the road apart from coloring books. Yet, it is an interesting trend. Whoever was the mastermind that thought of producing coloring books for adults must be congratulated. Creating a new trend is once-in-a-lifetime event.

If you want to color Paris or San Francisco on your flight across the Atlantic or the American continent, it is possible (Amazon). Or perhaps you would like recolor 30 World Heritage Sites in your favorite colors? Kobo bookstore markets ebooks that contain drawings that you can print out and then recolor.

The New York Times discovered that some upmarket hotels give guests coloring books and crayons as they check in. There was a time when it was cool to have the morning’s newspaper delivered behind your hotel room door in the morning, and a time when Wi-Fi was new. Now, it is books.

What about ebooks? Are there any coloring ebooks that you could use on your Kindle ereader or on the iPad tablet? Not really. While it is possible to produce an ebook application or Apple iAuthor book that lets you change colors of objects on the screen, these types of interactive multimedia ebooks are very expensive to create. Travel guidebooks that feature reliable and useful information on your destination can be viewed here.

If the coloring book trend continues after 2016, we may see a few ebook coloring books in the market. Otherwise, it is the old, proven paper, ink and crayon technology that dominates the coloring book business.

Globally, ebook markets to continue steady growth during the next few years

2016-10-22

In North America, where Amazon kicked off the modern ebook business in 2007, some book industry experts today are lamenting the recent decline of ebook revenues. Ebook markets outside the US, however, have a different situation and possibly also outlook for the future. PWC, a consultancy, forecasts that globally ebook sales continue to grow steadily, whereas print book revenues continue their gradual fall. PWC’s forecast is projected until 2020.

pwc, book publishing forecast 2020Annual growth rate for ebooks 10.4% and for print books -0.4% until 2020 according to PWC.
In regions like Europe, Asia and the Pacific, the adoption of ebooks have been a lot slower than in the US. For instance, in many European countries the market share of ebooks from the total book market is at 1 – 5% level. There is room for growth. Plenty of it. Sales channels are still being established (for instance, grocery store Aldi in Germany and subscription service Storytel in Scandinavia), tax laws are being amended (in order to treat ebooks equally with print books), self-publishing services are being set up, and people are realizing that large screen smartphones are reading devices.

Do you remember when the Internet bubble burst in 2001? It had been a wild run since the IPO of Netscape in 1995. For some pundits, 2001 was the end of the Internet business and tech business. Well, what happened? Today, they are shaping our world in all fields of life: transportation, entertainment, shopping, working, relationships, you name it.

The fact is that the world is taking its first baby steps in the new era of digital media that today also features electronic books. Today’s ebooks are more or less direct conversions of print books into electronic format – sometimes not even conversions if an ebook is delivered as an PDF file. Multimedia and augmented reality are some of the technologies that may get smartphone-generations to read commercial ebooks just like they read fan fiction, messages or watch online videos. Books will develop with technology, but the concept of book is so strong that it will remain.

So, yes, PWC’s cautious forecast for global annual ebook revenue growth of 10.4% is way more likely to happen than the decline of revenues in the US would turn into a long term trend.

pwc book publishing market forecast

Finally, European Union agrees that ebooks are books

2016-09-19

It is the content that matters. A book is a book regardless of the method you use to read it. A book printed on paper conveys the same ideas, information, excitement and messages as an electronic book enjoyed on a tablet, ereader or smartphone. Now, the European Union agrees with this concept. It means that the VAT for ebooks can be the same as it is for printed books.
kindle page flip video
So far, the VAT for ebooks in EU countries has been higher than for printed books. In some countries paper books don’t have VAT at all, but ebooks may have 15-24% VAT. It is a significant price difference.

France rebelled against the different VAT levels for books and ebooks already in 2013, but EU told France and later Luxembourg that they have to follow the rules. Ebooks were considered electronically supplied services rather than media products because ebooks are being delivered electronically, and there is no physical product. The great project to standardize VAT levels in EU had already started, and media products were part of it. France, Luxembourg and other countries were told to wait for the big VAT reform.

Now, Financial Times reports that Pierre Moscovici, the EU tax commissioner, agreed that ebooks are books. The commission will propose legislation to address the problem during October 2016. National governments will have to approve the initiative after that, but it is difficult to see why any government would want to stop it.

The next interesting story will be the level of VAT for ebooks. Will it be as low as it is for printed books, or will the VAT for paper books be raised to the same higher level than it is for ebooks?

Book lover’s vacation accessories

2016-08-28

It goes without saying that a book lover loads a fresh stack of ebooks on his or her tablet or ereader when packing for a vacation. In some countries the busiest vacation months are also the hottest months for ebook sales. But you also have to think about the destination climate, mode of transportation and technical standards when packing electronics (or paper book) for the trip.

Bookpub has published a great blog post where they introduce 11 products for book lovers who are going to a vacation. The ereader case and stand pictured above is one of the 11 accessories. You can find all the products here.

Readers adopted fiction ebooks quicker than non-fiction: Non-fiction ebook market has room to grow

2016-07-18

Book market statistics provided by publishing organizations are often quoted as the only authoritative numbers that reflect what is going on in the book trade. Many industry analysts have disagreed with these “official” numbers for years saying that they only represent a portion of the market: sales of big publishers. Especially, the emergence of digital books has brought a huge number of small publishers and self-publishers whose book sales is not tallied up in the statistics published by, for instance, AAP, Nielsen, or publishers’ associations in Europe.

An analyst who calls himself Data Guy (at Author Earnings) has discovered a way to collect data from ebook sales independent of which organization (or person) has published the title. He has created a system for extracting data from Amazon Kindle Store web pages. Therefore, all the statistics he can provide is from the US. Nonetheless, it is useful reference for ebook authors and publishers across the world because the US is the pioneer and the leading country in ebook business.

In July 2016, Data Guy gave a speech where he presented statistics specifically concerning romance literature ebook market in the US. The included data, however, has many valuable lessons for all authors and ebook publishers. Here are a few highlights from his speech.

author earnings: Slide07 july 2016

Source: Author Earnings.

In the US, non-fiction books has slightly over 50% of the print book market, and fiction slightly under 50%. In many European and Asian countries, non-fiction books have way larger market share from the print market. For instance, in Finland non-fiction print books had 35%, text books 35%, fiction 26%, and ebooks less than 4% market share in 2015.

Now, Author Earnings reports that non-fiction ebooks have only 12% market share in the US ebook market. Fiction dominates the ebook market with 88% share, and roughly half of purchased fiction is romance. Although we haven’t seen the ebook market in Europe segmented by genre, we believe the overall situation is roughly the same: non-fiction ebooks haven’t been adopted as quickly as fiction.

Yet, the potential to introduce something new to new generations of readers is in non-fiction and text books: digital media lets authors and publishers embed more attractive images, animation, photo galleries, interactivity and even moving pictures in books. You can view samples of this in Klaava Travel Guide titles.

author earnings, Slide12, july 2016

Source: Author Earnings

In the US, Amazon really dominates the ebook retail sales with 75% of title purchases going through the Kindle Store. Amazon UK has similar, some claim even stronger position, of the national ebook market, but elsewehere in Europe, other stores compete successfully with Amazon. For instance, in Germany Tolino is a major player in the ebook market. In Scandinavia, Adlibris and Storytel are big digital retailers (there is no Amazon store in Scandinavia yet, but Nordic citizens buy from Amazon.com if they want Kindle products).

It is still early days for digital books. The market developed quickly in English-speaking countries, primarily because of romance and crime titles. Fiction ebooks are replicas of print books. The big technical development is still to happen, and non-fiction and text books will drive the development. For instance, Amazon Page Flip is one of the early signs of things to come. It is a marvellous new feature for browsing non-fiction books.

Ebooks are slowly gaining market share in Europe as print books decline

2016-02-14

Ebooks made a quick breakthrough in countries where English is the dominant language after Amazon introduced the Kindle ereading system. From the beginning, Amazon’s ebook selection was huge, and prices were reasonable. In Europe (apart from the UK), the situation is different: ebooks haven’t gained the same status as printed books. Slowly, but surely the situation is changing in Europe as well, because ebook sales is continuously growing and print books are declining.

EU organization European Parliamentary Research Service has drafted a report that looks at the book market in Europe and possible reasons, such as country-specific taxation policies, for the slow development of ebook markets.

eu: ebooks vs print, 2008-2014
Data source: European Commission, Analysis of the media and content industries: The publishing industry. EPRS report “E-Books: Evolving markets and new challenges”.

The statistic sums up only five EU book markets, but (again, apart from the Great Britain) the trend is clear: ebooks are slowly finding readers, whereas printed books are losing readers. In 2014, the market share of ebooks was about 10%.

What is missing in Europe is the quick quantum leap that took ebooks to a new level in the US around 2010 and 2012. Then, ebooks gained 20-30% share of the book market. Recently, ebooks have taken a step back when the big publishers started controlling ebook pricing.

Why the quantum leap hasn’t happened in Europe? There are many small countries and a variety of languages. Many regional publishers have not made their back catalogue available as ebooks at all. It means that the ebook selection in a small language area may only be a couple of thousand titles. Ebook prices can be almost at the same level with print book prices. Poor selection, poor pricing strategy, and little marketing for ebooks.

The attitudes are changing in Europe. EU is examining ways to tax ebook and print books according to the same principles. Ebook selection is growing and big European publishers are reporting big growth numbers for digital products. One of the largest publishers, Bonnier, recently told that its ebook sales increased 69% in 2015 compared to the year before. The total share of ebooks from the sales in 2015 was 10%.

Just a reminder that books are a huge global business compared to other media businesses. With an estimated value of US$151 billion, books have outdistanced music (US$50 billion), video games (US$63 billion), magazines (US$107 billion) and even film and entertainment (US$133 billion).

Online media subscription service Playster bundles ebooks, music, movies and games

2016-01-13

After Netflix hit the big time with online movie subscriptions and Spotify made online music available at low or no cost to listeners, the book industry has been looking for a similar solution. Is it possible to create a low-cost service that lets readers consume as many books as they want? Many have tried, but it still remains to be seen if it works for books. Now, Playster has a new value proposition: a bundle with books, movies, music and games in one subscription package.
playster ebooks, subscription
Playster media package of ebooks, movies, music and games costs 29.50 a month. You can read as much as you want, watch movies, listen to music and play games.

Playster sells individual media subscriptions as well. Unlimited books is 11.95 a month. The first month is free, but you have to give your credit card details.

We haven’t tried out the service yet, so we haven’t seen the book selection or how smoothly the Playster service works.

Nonetheless, the bundle package has potential. Perhaps it is too much for an individual person, but for a couple or for a small family it could be a good choice.

Other ebook subscription services are, for instance:
Scribd
Bookmate
24 Symbols
Safari Books Online
Mofibo (in Danish, Dutch and Swedish)
Skoobe (German)
Nubico (Spanish)
Amazon Kindle Unlimited (available in U.S., UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Mexico and India)
playster ebooks