Posted on 2014-Jun-20
Why Southeast Asia?
Since we are in Thailand, one of the questions we frequently get from our clients is what people are reading over here and how indie authors could get their books in the hands of readers halfway across the world. The quick answer is I’m not sure—we spend so much time marketing and providing services for authors that we forgot all about the readers (shame on us!) Southeast Asia has approximately 800 million people and tablets and smartphones are becoming more and more prolific, even in emerging markets like Cambodia and Laos. English is the only language that is common to all 10 ASEAN countries and this large market should certainly not be overlooked.
Luckily, we were fortunate to have the opportunity for the MBA students at MountBatten Institute conduct a full-fledged consultancy project for BB eBooks for their course credit. They researched the possibility of an ecommerce platform to sell indie romance eBooks targeting the Thai expat market (of which there are several hundred thousand people). This small market segment would be a great starting point and allow for rapid expansion to other Southeast Asian—plus other Asian—countries. Sometimes it’s best to have an outsider’s perspective on any industry. For example Amazon changed the whole game for the way books were sold in the 90s, and Bezos was a former banking guy rather than a publishing expert or author. It is now Amazon itself that needs to be “disrupted”—to borrow a cliché.
Quixotic or Possible?
Trying to take on Amazon might seem quixotic and foolish and many companies have died trying (cf. Bookish). However, while Amazon is busy trying to be the “everything” store, a small start-up could feasibly develop a platform to go after a niche market with a niche product. The Mountbatten students had some great ideas and excellent marketing research to back them up. With their permission we are able to share some trends and ideas. Perhaps this information could correlate to other niche markets…
Among the female Thai expat community, more women are likely to read eBooks (on tablets) than read print editions. This is surprising as Amazon and Kobo barely have any presence here and the major English-language chain bookstore in Thailand (Asiabooks) is owned by the second-richest family in the whole country. On closer thought it makes sense though, since the print editions of recently released novels can take weeks to arrive in Thailand, while an eBook can be downloaded instantaneously.
Another promising note is that despite the proliferation of pirated digital goods in our part of the world, most people are still willing to pay for an eBook. 150THB was the most common response (about 5 dollars). That’s what most indie romance authors are pricing their eBooks at, but publishing houses still insist upon $10 or more. Indies would have a distinct advantage in this market.
One other aspect that deserves a mention is the method of payment. For cultural reasons, many people in Thailand (and I’m guessing Asia in general) are extremely hesitant to use a credit card. Loan sharks are still common in my neighborhood as a means of borrowing money and I thought only the super-rich had a credit card (unlike the West where everyone has a credit card). This presents a challenge for e-commerce as payment with credit card is the norm. However, based upon the market research conducted by the students, a credit card and PayPal would be a feasible, and even preferable, option. One thoughtful idea was to have people buy eBook credit in blocks (say, $25, $50, etc.) and then use the credit on the website rather than having to deal with the security issue of storing credit cards in a database to facilitate quick payments.
New Ideas for Authors to Connect with Readers
While Amazon’s recommendation algorithms and are by far the best, one common note from the students was that Amazon was not “sexy” enough. This is understandable since Amazon is selling everything from shoes to eBooks to television programming, so it needs to have a generic interface. However, if an ecommerce platform were strictly romance it could be much more sexy. Additionally, this platform could avoid having the ambiguous content restrictions on “graphic material” that Amazon has, which have irked indies in the past.
The Mountbatten students also suggested developing relationships between authors and readers, as well as sponsoring book clubs. The discrimination against romance readers is, thankfully, on its way out and hosting romance-themed book parties could be a great way to promote readership and new authors. While flying authors out to Thailand may not be economically feasible, Skype and chat forums is certainly a great solution for authors to connect with readers.
Thanks so much to the Mountbatten students for all this great research and excellent ideas.
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