Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
By LANA POPOVIC
España—land of siestas, free-flowing sangria, and obnoxiously tiny plates which you are forced to share with others just to add insult to injury, despite the fact that you were the one who ordered the Serrano jamon a la plancha and everybody else said they wouldn’t have any.
Much like tapas (or perhaps not at all like tapas, but they’re delicious to think about), Amazon’s recent foray into Spain has local ebooksellers wondering whether there will be enough consumers to go around.
The Spanish ebook market certainly isn’t lacking in contenders. Casa del Libro, Spain’s largest bookstore chain—owned by Planeta, the world’s largest Spanish-language publisher—launched the Tagus ereader on November 23. Whimsically named after the longest river on the Iberian peninsula, their ereader is WiFi-enabled, featuring a six-inch screen and 2GB of internal memory. It boasts access to more than 60,000 titles—“the largest Spanish-language book catalogue in the world,” according to director Xavier Solà. The Tagus also offers cloud storage for an unlimited number of titles, and a memory capacity for 1,000 titles. Ebooks purchased through the Tagus can be read offline on other devices, through free apps from the Apple store and the Android Market.
And just to sweeten the pot a little more, the Tagus also comes with a copy of the Real Academia Española dictionary on board, as well Javier Moro’s 2011 prize-winning novel El imperio eres tú, if purchased before January 23. For €119, this is an excellent deal for Spanish consumers, with one big drawback—the 18 percent purchase tax on ebooks, as compared to the 4 percent levied on print editions.
However, the huge and arguably unfair disparity between the ebook and print tax doesn’t seem to have hindered the growth of a Spanish ebook market. In June, Spain’s telecom giant Telefónica launched its own ebook reader, which came preloaded with 100 titles and an English-Spanish dictionary. And most recently—and terrifyingly—Amazon.es unveiled its Spanish and Italian Kindle bookstore on December 2, offering 22,000 Spanish-language titles and books in Catalan, Galician, and Basque. The Spanish Kindle retails for only €99, reinforcing Amazon’s established strategy of underpricing the bejesus out of its competitors.
Fortunately, Google Books continues to dog Amazon, and is set to launch in Spain and Portugal with a hefty catalog, after having signed agreements with over 200 publishers. Such an increase in competition is undeniably good for consumers, but what does it mean for smaller ebook purveyors, like Spain’s Amabook and Leqtor? Will they go the way of American indie bookstores, or will they manage to carve niches for themselves and survive? And if they do perish, how worried should consumers be?
As far as I’m concerned, Spanish consumers should be muy desculpado (Nervioso? Cerrado? Limpio? My Bulgarian Spanish teacher roils with discontent), and so should the rest of us. We’re talking about Amazon here, the company that’s already managed, by some shady magic, to forge inroads into France, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland, and Luxembourg (the French Kindle store caters to all of these countries), many of them notoriously insular countries fiercely protective of their own products and economies. In addition, Amazon is set to launch in Chile within 18 months, from where it will serve readers all over Latin America.
I already accused Google of plotting world domination, but I’m officially ready to eat my words like sharp Manchego cheese. With their aggressive pricing and immense catalog, and given the absence of a Google ereader, Amazon is more than capable of squeezing out local competitors and establishing what might eventually amount to a worldwide monopoly in ebooks. Now, I’m no economist, but according to my calculations, all the data point to NO PLEASE SO SCARY MUST HIDE.
But I’ve been known to be wrong, and occasionally I even tend toward the paranoid. So what do you think?