eReaders may not be big in UK

Two interesting sets of UK eReader data points were made available recently – it seems that interest in eReaders is rather low in the United Kingdom.

Waterstone’s announces 60,000 eReaders sold since September 2008

These are the sort of numbers Kindle haters wish the US were seeing –

  1. 700,000 eBooks sold since September 2008 launch.
  2. 60,000 eReaders sold in the same time period.

All this is courtesy Graeme Neill at The Bookseller and he adds details on Waterstone’s rather rosy outlook –

head of e-commerce David Kohn told publishing delegates Waterstone’s believed e-books would account for 8% of the book market by 2013. “It’s something that could be the greatest single opportunity, not just for Waterstone’s, but for everybody here.”

Not sure how selling 3,000 eReaders a month (60,000 in 1 year 8 months) translates to ‘greatest single opportunity for everybody’.

The final piece of data is that ebook sales have grown by 100% in the last 12 months.

The Bookseller’s Reading the Future survey doesn’t see a bright future for eReaders

It’s The Bookseller again and this time they have their Reading the Future survey – a survey of 3,000 people with all having read at least 1 book in the last year. It has some surprising results –

  1. The #1 reading option respondents chose (out of ereaders, mobile readers, netbooks, tablets, gaming devices) was ‘none of the above’.
  2. Demographic most interested in an eReader – 41 to 60 year olds. 
  3. Most interested in eReaders – crime fans. 
  4. Biggest factor that would drive users to buy an eReader – price under 100 pounds (22.23%). The second biggest factor was – if it was as easy to read as a book (19.86%). Guess eInk isn’t going away anytime soon.
  5. Next biggest factors were price lower than paper books (16.84%), simple to use (11.09%), and lots of books available (10.31%).
  6. 73.53% of respondents hadn’t even heard of the Kindle. 
  7. 69% were unlikely to buy an eReader or even dead-set against it. 28.1% said that they possibly or probably would get one.

It’s an amazing survey. If it’s accurate then the fact that 73% of people haven’t even heard of the Kindle ought to give Amazon hope.

The accuracy isn’t a given though – it’s 3,000 survey respondents and some of the questions are spotty. Ex: Which of the following might persuade you to buy an electronic book reader? 

Are things really this bad for eReaders in the UK?

You look at 3,000 eReader sales a month at Waterstones, a paltry 7.3% of book readers probably buying an eReader in the next 12 months, and a weak 20.8% possibly buying one and you have to wonder whether the UK is just the wrong market for eReaders.

Then you start considering a few things –

  1. There haven’t been any wireless eReaders available. The Kindle International isn’t available unless you pay import duties.
  2. None of the latest models (except for the Kindle) are available – No Nook, No Sony Daily Edition.
  3. The only eReaders available in physical retail stores are the older Sony – no Kindle, no Nook.
  4. 73% haven’t even heard of the Kindle.  60% haven’t heard of the Sony even though it’s been selling since 2008.
  5. The selection of ebooks is weaker than in the US and ebook prices are higher.  

Basically there’s a pretty big awareness problem exacerbated by the non-availability of the latest and greatest eReaders.

On top of that you add the dismal economic climate. In the US we’ve had the need to maintain Banker’s bonuses ensure the recession is long forgotten. In Europe events like Greece and Iceland’s blow-ups are scaring people out of their minds. Their benefits and retirement and social security net are all under threat.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that a relatively expensive item like an eReader doesn’t hold as much appeal.

Why does the US always get things first?

There’s a never-ending stream of people upset that the US gets things first and that free book offers are only for the US.

Well, this is why.

69% of the people in the UK survey were against buying an eReader. UK readers are buying eReaders from Waterstone’s at a snail’s pace of 3,000 eReaders a month. Only 10% of UK teens want to try the newest technology while 40% want to wait and see (even the kids are smart customers – Have they stopped watching TV?).

No other country’s people are as willing to take a chance on new, unproven products as US consumers.

Basically, the USA is the testing bed. If a product does well here then people in other countries know it’s been stamped with the mythical ‘Approved by US Consumers’ certification. The testing in the US ensures that the product’s flaws have been polished and enough economies of scale have been hit to create a 2nd or 3rd generation version that the rest of the world can live with.

At some level eReaders are still earning their certification – it’s not helping that neither Amazon nor B&N are releasing sales numbers.

eReaders, eBooks heating up in China

There’s an excellent post on China Mobile’s new eReader and eBook platform at Digital East Asia by Doug Herman.

Here were the things that stood out for me –

China Mobile has huge plans for eReaders, eBooks in China

China Mobile are making huge bets on eReaders and eBooks –  

  1. They have released a full-fledged ebook platform that lets subscribers download and read ebooks on their cellphones and ebook readers. They aren’t lacking for ambition and optimism –

    Gao Nianshu, general manager of China Mobile’s data department, said the company hopes the new platform will attract over 200 million users in the near future.

  2. The service costs up to 5 yuan a month and 40% of subscription fees go to copyright providers.  
  3. Supported devices include devices from Nokia, Motorola, Hanwang, Founder, Datang, Huawei, and the iPad.
  4. China Mobile is teaming up with Foxconn Mobile to produce its own eReaders.
  5. The platform covers 40% of the bestselling books in China and has reached 15 million users in 4 months of testing.

Their plan is to attract as many users as possible with low pricing over the course of the first 3 years. Well, since 5 yuan a month is 73 cents a month, they certainly are delivering. Copyright owners get 40% of that. That translates to 29.2 cents a month. 

If China Mobile get to 200 million monthly subscribers that’s $58.4 million a month for copyright owners – $700.8 million a year. Not a bad position to end up in given you’re starting with just 29 cents a month per user.

China is a Huge Potential Market for eReaders and eBooks

Just how big is a surprise –  

  1. China’s mobile market is huge –

    China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology:
    Cellphone users in the country reached 780 million at the end of March.
    Of that group, mobile readers surpassed 155 million.

  2. Supposedly, 45% of Chinese mobile Internet users read books at least once a day by mobile phone. Also, they are reluctant to pay for online content (that part is easy to believe).

It’s interesting that Amazon won’t sell the Kindle in China. That’s a pretty huge market to ignore.

There are lots of Companies competing

The competition is just getting started and there are lots of companies lining up –  

  1. Amazon, Hanwang Technology, and Founder are three of the eReader companies that are competing. Amazon indirectly since it’s people buying Kindles elsewhere and bringing them into China themselves.
  2. Baidu, China’s #1 search engine (and the 3rd biggest search engine worldwide), is preparing to get into ebooks.
  3. There are several other eReaders (with their own ebook stores) and several ebook stores competing with China Mobile.
  4. Apple is competing indirectly via the iPhone and the iPad (latter’s not yet released in China).

There are also some companies that aren’t competing but might jump in soon –

  1. Amazon is staying out for now. However, you have to think they’ll want to enter the market sometime soon.
  2. B&N is not present (it isn’t present outside US at the moment). B&N is rumored to be getting ready for an international Nook release in 2010 and China might be included.
  3. Kobo Books haven’t announced anything yet. However, the investors include Li Ka-Shing whose companies have huge retail presence in China.

Could China become a top 3 eReader, ebook market?

USA, Germany, and UK are considered the three biggest eReader and eBook markets (to the best of my knowledge).

China is considered a very tempting market although there are huge problems to overcome – language, copyright, privacy, the Chinese Government’s supposed favoring of Chinese companies, censorship.

If China Mobile’s subscription plans work out China might become a top 3 eReader and eBook market.

The question will be whether it’s something book publishers and eReader companies can actually tap into. Chinese eReader makers and Chinese companies like China Mobile might be provided unfair advantages and basic concepts like design copyright and content copyright will be ignored. It might end up being the most promising market that never actually delivers.

Western Companies might not be competing in China for good reason

The more you think about it the more the odds seem stacked against Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other American companies –

  1. There are other companies that have gotten the early start and the early lead.
  2. It’s a different language and a different set of content providers. 
  3. Copyright laws are not strong so even books published by US and UK Publishers are hard to sell.
  4. eReader design will be copied and eReaders will be broken into and the ecosystems infiltrated.
  5. It’s a completely different culture and a different set of rules.
  6. The Chinese government is probably going to favor Chinese companies.
  7. There are giants like China Mobile.

China is a very tempting market that might be hugely profitable – However, the race has already started and is well in progress, the odds are stacked against American companies, and there’s no guarantee there will be huge profits.

Using the International Kindle – Quick Thoughts

Playing around with my parents’ international Kindle (at a location outside of the US) and it’s quite an experience.

Top 5 things that struck me about the International Kindle

  1. It’s almost identical to the Kindle 2. Apart from the fact that there’s international wireless it’s almost impossible to tell them apart.
  2. WhisperNet is fast and impressive. Given that my past experience was with a US Kindle in Canada it was quite a pleasant surprise. 
  3. If you register an International Kindle to a US account you get free Internet browsing – even outside the US.  
  4. The $2 charge for downloading books from your archive is painful.
  5. It’s pretty amazing to get a 60 second book download so far from the US.

Using the International Kindle – Observations

On comparing with the US Kindle (using the same version of firmware, 2.3.3) –

  1. The screen contrast is definitely better on the international Kindle. The text seems slightly darker. The background is a little bit lighter.  
  2. The page turns are equally as fast.
  3. Battery Life on the International Kindle is better with wireless on – This makes sense as one of the last two updates had some wireless related battery enhancements for the International Kindle. 
  4. There aren’t any differences on the case except that the International Kindle has a bunch of symbols for various regulatory approvals and the serial number is listed below the model number and voltage details (US Kindle has it above).

On updates –

  • The update process seemed pretty similar. Went through two updates – including the update to 2.4 for testing Kindle Apps (for the limited beta participants only) and everything was smooth.

Will add more – might even take the international kindle back with me as don’t see any way to get the Kindle Apps Beta build on to my US Kindle.