The annual Hong Kong Book Fair opens in Wan Chai on Wednesday – with suppliers keen to tap into the growing appetite for e-books and e-magazines among younger readers.
Non-publishers and tablet brands are now joining the e-book craze – as digital book purchasing platforms and reading devices become increasingly popular with the touchscreen generation in Hong Kong and mainland China.
This year at the book fair, Acer Taiwan will showcase its e-magazine system, Zinio - with the company keen to promote the merger of magazine content and electronic platforms to Hong Kong readers.
“The tablet market has reached a mature stage as tablets and reading devices are increasingly affordable to the mass,” said Albert Hsu, a senior manager at Acer. “We want Hong Kong consumers to experience how convenient it is to read on screens.”
Zinio, an American-based distribution service for digital magazines, had been collaborating with Acer for 10 years. The company's revenue doubled due to the growing popularity of tablets in July last year, compared with in 2011. Some 75 per cent of its sales orders were from iPad and Android users.
Last year, Chinese e-magazines generated revenue of nearly HK$13 million - triple 2011's revenue of HK$3.1 million.
As a paid-only service, Zinio uploads the newest issues of magazines a day before the actual copy comes out, and charges 30 per cent less than the retail price of the latter.
“Although Zinio charges a little more than other e-magazine providers, our updated content and efficiency appeals to readers above 40 years old,” Hsu said. “This segment has a higher buying power than younger readers,” he said.
Sino United Publishing will also launch a new online book purchasing platform, SuperBookCity, in the hope of expanding its e-book’s market share in the local publishing industry.
“We can’t only rely on the traditional reading model,” said Terence Leung, general manager of Sino United. “With the supply from mainstream publishers such as Joint Publishing and Golden Age, our platform will provide over 1,000,000 e-books and print books to readers.”
Leung explained that their cloud service allows readers to read content in different systems – be it Android, iOS or Windows – without having to pay every time.
Sino is part of the 21 exhibitors who will participate in the book fair’s e-Books and e-Learning Resources Zone. According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, more than 1,000 local e-books were published in 2011, and the e-book reading platform launched by the HKTDC boasted more than 18,000 downloads since the end of June.
“We saw a 40 per cent sales growth on our Kindle products last year compared with 2011,” said Raven Chan, sales manager of Emotions Technology, which started distributing Kindle for Hong Kong two years ago. The company is looking to enter the China market despite the prevalence of copyright infringement and growing competition from local tablet producers.
“Mainland brands like Han Wok and Dang Dang.com are competing on price, but Amazon is not targeting cheap products, which makes Kindle less competitive,” Chan said. Dang Dang.com is one of the largest digital library provider in China, and its recent free e-books downloads service sparked much criticism among book publishers due to copyright concerns.
Depending on each reading device, users typically download legal e-book copies through its official website. However, Kindle’s source of e-books is solely from Amazon China, which provides only three million books in Chinese.
Users also have to pay for the majority of the content, which makes way for companies like Dang Dang to capitalise on this market. Currently, Dang Dang’s “Dou Can 2” provides more than 10 million digital books for download.
In regard to growing concerns over copyright, Leung said the company had collaborated with The Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute to implement a digital rights management system for SuperBookCity. “This protects our publishers as readers download the content, and this will also be applied to the Chinese market.”
China’s e-publishing scene is heating up, with the industry’s value reached 133.7 billion yuan (HK$168.13 billion) in 2011 and a growing number of traditional publishers going digital.
“China e-publishing is potentially a significant market,” said Amy Lau of the Swindon Publishing, which offered e-books reading platforms since March last year. “The production cost is lower, and there is practically no transportation cost.”
An unnamed source within China Telecom’s E-surfing Reading subsidiary told the Marbridge Daily that the company will be releasing a touchscreen e-reader device soon. The “Tianyue” device, which will be made by OBook, will be priced at 849 yuan.
Earlier this week, Chinese e-reader maker Shanda Cloudary announced in a public release that it has raised about US$110 million (HK$855 million) from Goldman Sachs and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek Holdings.
Cloudary filed for an initial public offering (IPO) in the United States more than two years ago, but delayed the share sale because of the volatile market conditions.
The book fair, organised by the HKTDC, will run until next Tuesday at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.