Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Opening the doors to the international book market


According to a recent article by Digital Book World, “sales of e-books by U.S. publishers to readers in other countries increased to $21.5 million in 2011 from $4.9 million in 2010, a 333% increase.” The figures come from a report released on May 18 by the Association of American Publishers.

Rapidly growing ebook sales only accounted for six percent of overall sales, with Amazon and Apple at the helm (really, is anybody surprised?). Yet I must admit that this kind of news shuttles me towards the “hopeful” end of the spectrum whenever I consider the future of an industry gathering speed as it zooms in on the digital horizon.

More readers. More purchases. An expanding clientele is always a good thing—publishing is a business, after all—and if the digitization of books is throwing open all the doors and windows to the international market then the “fluid, dynamic, cheap” future of ebook pricing might prove to be less detrimental than it first seems.

The AAP report also indicated the most rapidly growing regions for US publishers:

Continental Europe — 14.7% overall increase in revenue; 218.8% in eBooks, 9.5% in print
UK — 22.9% overall year-to-year increase in revenue; 1316.8% increase in eBooks, 10.4% in print
Latin America — 15.4% increase in revenue overall; 201.6% in eBooks and 9.7% in print
Africa — 21.9% total increase in revenue; that translated to 636.8% gain in eBooks and 17.1% in print

“We’re all very excited about international e-book growth,” said Seth Russo, vice president, director of international sales at Simon & Schuster in an interview with Digital Book World. “There are far more English speakers around than have access to print books.”

Conspicuously absent from the statistics is Asia, which might be attributed to a weaker demand for English-language literature compared to the aforementioned regions. Furthermore, the fact that Asian ereaders need to accommodate a larger variety of scripts places a technological restriction on the market. If an ereader doesn’t have the capacity to display the native language of Country X, then we can hardly expect its citizens to take up the device and truly get their money’s worth.

Yet there is one quiet giant that seems to be maneuvering towards the Asian market. Global etailer Rakuten is often touted as “the Amazon of Japan,” and while considerably smaller than its American counterpart, Rakuten has been swiftly expanding ever since its acquisition of ebook retailer Kobo. As far as we can see, Kobo is the key to Rakuten’s current and future digital initiatives, though we have yet to see it take full flight.

Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet of Rakuten told BBC in November: “An e-book reader will ultimately not be only about selling books […] It’s about potentially selling other digital goods, and it’s also about being in the consumers’ homes with a hardware device.”

He is, of course, talking about the Kobo Vox and other Kobo ereaders, all of which offer an enhanced social reading experience through Facebook and Reading Life.

Rakuten took another large step in the direction of social networking when it announced on May 17 that it will invest $100 million in Pinterest. As someone with a growing Pinterest addiction, I am intrigued…but where will all this lead? And how, if at all, will this give Rakuten an edge over Amazon?

And what does Kobo say about this latest move by its parent company? The company blog says it all:

Welcome to the family Pinterest! […] Kobo knows first-hand the amazing things that happen when you have Rakuten behind you! […] This new partnership offers a great synergy with our own social experience and will present great new opportunities moving forward in the world of social. We want our customers to be able to share book covers and passages in as many creative ways as possible – expressing their reading life in their individual way! Check out the Kobo Pinterest Page to add your favourite titles from the Kobo eBookstore to your boards or to purchase a book that your friends have “pinned”.


This entry was posted on May 29, 2012 by in Business, News and tagged , , , , .

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