E-books Around The World

E-books began as a phenomenon in the USA, one that has grown to enormous proportions since the e-reader explosion that took place last winter. We’ve come a long way since Michael S. Hart created what is widely agreed to be the first e-book when he uploaded the Declaration of Independence to a computer at the University of Illinois back in 1971. These days, if you don't have an e-reader (or use e-books) you probably know several people who do. At the beginning of this year online retail giant Amazon announced that e-book sales were up higher than paperback sales. And Americans aren't the only ones getting in on the electronic action; today we are taking a look at the state of the e-book industry around the world.



One year ago this month, in November 2010, debut author Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists won Canada’s highest literary honor, The Giller Prize. This went a long way towards legitimizing e-books in the eyes of the public. 

The e-readers were first introduced in the country back in 2008, with Sony’s e-reader being the first to cross the border into Canada. By the end of 2010, Canadian’s had their own Amazon Kindle store and e-reader devices. (The company had delayed the country’s e-reader roll out — opting for a Canada-specific e-reader rather having their international Kindle that launched October work in Canada. At the time, The Globe and Mail, a popular Canadian paper, offered some suggestions as to what the hold up may be.) Additionally in the summer of 2010, Kobo Inc. — a company that was fifty-eight percent owned by Canada’s bookselling superstore, Indigo Books and Music — had released the low-price Kobo e-reader to compete for Canadian dollars.

E-book and e-readers are certainly getting more accessible for Canadians as well. In December 2010, Apple opened up an arm of their iBookstore to Canada. And just this summer Amazon teamed up with retailers Staples, The Source and Shop e-Readers to sell their devices in brick and mortar stores across the country. Additionally, on the first of this month, Google opened the (online) doors of their Canadian eBookstore. 

Google Books’ director of product management, Scott Dougall, said of the company’s expansion that the site’s visitors shouldn’t simply expect this to be the same e-store as the American version. He said, “we had a merchandising team building and curating the store that is culturally sensitive and basically not just assuming that Canadians just read American books. … For example, on the home page we have the Globe and Mail bestseller list, which is a little more relevant to Canada than the New York Times bestsellers.” The company is working hard to make sure that the country’s popular authors and artists are well represented in their online store. Google’s eBookstore is working with several Canadian independent stores to help them sell books online, as well.


Just last spring Amazon launched their first of several non-English Kindle stores. Kobo’s expansion is not far behind Internet mega-seller Amazon, they’ve opened e-book stores in Europe and would like to continue expanding their reach across the continent. Additionally Apple’s iBookstore, grew their European presence to 28 new markets in September. Bluefire Productions also has a European presence. The company works with booksellers to create individualized e-reader applications that run on Android devices, such as phones and tablets. This move allows small companies, such as brick and mortar bookstores, to compete with these larger retailers for readers’ e-book buying dollars. By this November retailers across the continent from Switzerland to Romania and beyond were working with Bluefire Productions. And, not to be left out, Sony has also said that they hope to have their e-reader in several European countries by the end of 2011.


In the UK e-book sales are estimated to make up approximately six percent of sales, which puts the nation behind US selling rates, but still far ahead of many other countries in the world, says MokoNews.net. We suspect that this high number is at least partially due to Amazon UK’s Kindle Store, which has been up and operating since August 2010. The UK Kindle Store comes complete with its own pricing schematic, its own Kindle daily deal and its own Kindle blog posts — about different subjects than it’s American sister-store’s Kindle blog— and (Today’s post is Five of the Best Tech World Records from the Guinness World Records 2012.)

Amazon isn’t the only e-book and device vendor in town. Google eBooks has already opened a store to serve these citizens, in what PW reports as the first in their international chain of stores. And US bookstore giant Barnes & Noble may soon be making an announcement that they will also be selling their e-reader, the Nook, in the country. The retailer’s CEO, William Lynch, said the company is moving slowly as they, “want to do it right” — which means that it may still be several months before English, Scottish and Irish readers are able to purchase this popular device. Regardless of the timetable on the device’s roll out, the news is welcome and there are rumors flying that the Nook may be sold in conjunction with the UK’s popular retailer Waterstone’s. There have also been reports that Sony’s e-reader may be available across the UK by the end of the year. 


During April of this year, Amazon opened up their first non-English Kindle store. Just three months after Amazon’s German Kindle Store launch, Kobo also set up shop in the country. The Bluefire Reader application powers the popular online bookseller Libri.de. (Today their top selling e-book is Apocalypsis Ep.5.) Additionally, Apple’s iBookstore has an online presence in the land of bratwurst and beer. Sony has also expressed an interest in entering the e-book store fray in Germany, before the company continues expanding throughout Europe.


Just last month Amazon launched a Kindle Store for Amazon.fr. The new arm of the online retailer gives readers access to more than 35,000 e-books all written in French, as well as many free classics and hundred of graphic novels. The company said that by the start of December readers can also expect to access more than 825,000 e-titles and the first Kindle available in the French language! The French Kindle will also give readers access to a wide selection of the country's top newspapers and magazines in digital format. Additionally, French publishers and indie authors were thrilled by the news that they are able to access Kindle Direct Publishing, to create works that can be purchased in the Amazon.fr Kindle Store. 

Amazon isn't the only company spreading to the land known for their baguettes, berets and wine. The e-reader (and e-book) company Kobo has partnered with FNAC, the book retailer with 81 stores and a significant online retail business. Not only does FNAC sell approximately 50 million traditional format books each year, their website has approximately 750,000 unique visitors. Thanks to a recent deal, soon all of these stores and the website will be selling readers "Kobo by FNAC" the e-reader powered by the retailer. And making the news even sweeter is the fact that through the partnership, the country's readers will soon have access to a free "eReading French language apps" which can be used on Apple and Android devices. Additionally, Apple’s iBookstore is also open and selling to the French.


It’s a good time to be an e-book reader from “down under.” Google eBooks has just opened a store to serve this population. A particularly exciting tidbit of news is that one of the retailers on board with the program is the popular chain store Dymocks, that serves many Australians in their almost 100 stores across the country. Furthermore, Sony has said that they would like to be in the country as well by the end of 2011.


Publishing Perspectives reported that the Japanese e-book industry is already a business worth $600 million, figures Impress R&D, a research company that suggested Japanese readers would make this number grow by over 20% in the next year. But, like here in the US, Publishing Perspectives reports that, “Simply put, publishers continue to remain reluctant to convert their books into digital formats due to cost, as well as their own ongoing fears about digitization.” 

But not everyone there is running scared; PRWeb reports that several companies in Japan are already working with Bluefire Productions to create their own Android e-reader app. And it comes as little surprise with this burgeoning market, Japanese company Rakuten snapped up e-book and e-reader company Kobo, originally owned by a Canadian company. 

But Rakuten and Kobo aren’t the only ones making news in Japan. Amazon already operates an online store there and now, according to Paid Content, the company is hard at work with some of Japan’s publishers, such as Kodansha, Shogakukan and Shinchosha, to negotiate terms that will allow the Internet-based seller to open a Kindle store or something similar. 


This is just a snapshot of e-books (and e-readers) around the world today. But one of the things that make this topic so exciting is that the e-industry is moving ahead at high speeds. We’ll keep you up to date on the changes in the market but our prediction is that pretty soon e-books will not just be taking over the world but the entire galaxy!