iBooks Is To Trigger “The Catfish Effect” In The Chinese E-Book Industry

摘要: By all odds, the burgeoning e-book industry is going to continue to rise in the future. The upgraded iBooks will certainly have huge impacts on the Chinese e-book industry, but it takes time for Apple to reach a better understanding of the market and for the Chinese e-book market to develop and become more mature.

(Chinese Version)

Recently, Apple announced that it was bringing iBooks “really” to its customers in China. Finally, iPhone users won’t open iBooks only to find several public domain books such as The Four Masterpieces of China.

Back when Apple first released iPad and iBooks app, Apple’s new device and app almost stirred up the global market. At that time, there were only a handful of e-book platforms around the world. But after Apple’s release conference, lots of entrepreneurs and related enterprises were encouraged to cash in and grab a piece of the pie. Likewise, the upgraded iBooks will certainly pose a threat to other Chinese e-book platforms, yet on the other hand, a certain degree of competition might be a good thing for the Chinese e-book industry.

Two impacts iBooks will have on the Chinese e-book industry

One should be aware that iBooks was definitely not the first foreign company to enter the Chinese e-book industry. As a matter of fact, Amazon’s kindle has arrived in China quite long ago. With a good number of e-books and resources, Amazon was the first one to be able to end the overwhelming piracy in the Chinese e-book industry and help Chinese consumers really get into the habit of reading e-books. Although Amazon’s kindle became so popular for some time, it failed to maintain its popularity due to a misunderstanding of the Chinese e-book market and an inappropriate price strategy.

In this sense, iBooks might have the opportunity to fill in the gap. I won’t bother to mention the popularity of Apple’s products in China and the hundreds of millions of “natural” users of iBooks, via iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Mac, etc. No wonder, iBooks is the most-installed (pre-installed more accurately) e-book store in China. All in all, I summarized the impacts of iBook on the Chinese e-book industry into the following two aspects:

First of all, iBooks will become a leading force in cracking down on piracy in the Chinese e-book industry. For quite a long time, the e-book industry has been haunted by piracy, especially here in China. Consequently, some Chinese consumers became accustomed to downloading any book they wanted for free. Gradually, they even became unaware of the harm their habits can do to the Chinese e-book industry. Actually, the more accustomed they are to downloading books for free, the more the Chinese e-book industry suffered. Other Chinese readers downloaded books for free because they were so eager for knowledge but were not able to afford to buy books. Still others turned to free e-books because they couldn’t find the official version here in China.

For a long time, App Store has also been flooded with pirated e-books. In the past, Apple’s users could not only find official e-book stores such as QQ Reading, iReader, Doukan in App Store’s Book sector, but also various apps selling pirated e-books, such as The Complete Volume of The Lost Tomb, The Most Highly-Rated Books on Douban and Free Whole Copy Books. However, none of these apps provides copyright information below their home pages on App Store. Although the Chinese e-book industry has long been appealing to Apple, it always turned a blind eye since piracy used not to be a threat to Apple’s owninterests.

Now that Apple officially opened its e-book service to Chinese users, it was probable Apple would finally crack down on those e-book apps selling pirated e-books to better protect the interests of itself and of copyright owners and get Chinese consumers into the habit of buying e-books. I have every confidence that apps selling pirated e-books will gradually be taken off Apple’s App Store in the near future.

Secondly, iBooks will trigger “The catfish effect” in the Chinese e-book industry. “The catfish effect” is the effect that a strong competitor has in causing the weak to better themselves and revitalize competition in the market. It is probable that iBooks will become the “catfish” to revitalize the Chinese e-book industry. I do believe that iBooks, with its special focus on reading experience and huge amount of resource will force other players in the Chinese e-book industry to make adjustment and better themselves in the competition. For example, even Amazon Kindle might be under pressure to lower the price of its services.

Over the past few years, Chinese consumers have already become accustomed to paying for high-quality services and contents, such as games. It follows that they will also gradually get into the habit of buying e-books. At the same time, iBooks lived up to our expectation and did a great job in delivering an excellent reading experience via iBooks, which could become a great advantage in its competition with other e-book platforms.

Amazon Kindle’s typesetting, however, has always been the main complaints of its users. How so? Amazon Kindle’s e-books are mainly produced by publishing houses that are neither experienced nor aware of the importance of e-books. That’s why the majority of them produce an e-book simply by scanning the paper version. No wonder the quality of their e-books are too poor to meet consumers’ needs. I have every confidence that Apple’s move to the e-book industry will certainly help publishing houses realize the sense of crisis and importance of e-books and revitalize the Chinese e-book industry, which is a good thing both for the Chinese e-book market and e-book readers.

Although iBooks will have the above impacts on the Chinese e-book industry, there remains some fundamental and persistent problems and challenges worthy of our attention.

Three persistent challenges in the Chinese e-book industry

Although there are several exclusive e-books such as Twilight, the number and variety of e-books on iBooks remain limited and the majority of e-books on iBooks can also be found in other e-book platforms. In addition, Apple’s still green in e-book sector and doesn’t know quite well the preference and reading habit of Chinese consumers due to different cultural backgrounds and ways of thinking, so it might take Apple some more time before it could reach a comprehensive understanding of the Chinese e-book market. The inconvenient truth is that although Apple has always been boasting about its dedication to high quality, it fails to do so at least up till now.

Worse still, there remains some fundamental and persistent problems and challenges in the Chinese e-book industry.

First of all, most Chinese consumers haven’t formed the habit of buying e-books. Statistics suggest that while half of Chinese women often read digital materials, only 12% are willing to pay. The biggest challenge for iBooks’ developers, however, remains how to attract the users of Apple’s devices to realize they can buy so large a variety of e-books on iBooks now and gradually help its users form the habit of buying e-books in iBooks, just like buying apps on App Stores. If Apple succeeds, the Chinese e-book industry will certainly benefit a great deal.

Secondly, Chinese publishing houses remain ambivalent over e-books. Many e-book platforms suggest that the biggest reason why user retention rate is significantly low on e-book platforms is that publishing houses were unwilling to provide the e-book version of their latest books. However, publishing houses did have a fair cause for doing so: they feared that providing e-book versions of their latest books will compromise the interests and affect the sales of paper versions.

Thirdly, a copyright model that suits the Chinese national conditions hasn’t been developed yet. Amazon adopted, here in China, the same copyright model as in the US. Many Chinese e-book platforms followed suit but found that the model might not function well here. Amazon’s copyright model worked in the US because the model was developed when it merely needed to reach agreements with six dominant publishing houses.

In China, however, it’s no easy task to reach agreements with the hundreds of publishing houses out there. Huge effort, time and money is needed to achieve so. Although Amazon attempted to save the effort by directly buying e-book copyrights from authors, few Chinese e-book platforms are capable of doing so. In this case, a copyright model that suits the Chinese national conditions should be developed in time to best promote the development of the entire industry.

By all odds, the burgeoning e-book industry is going to continue to rise in the future. The upgraded iBooks will certainly have huge impacts on the Chinese e-book industry, but it takes time for Apple to reach a better understanding of the market and for the Chinese e-book market to develop and become more mature. While all e-book platforms are struggling to grab a piece of the pie in the market, Chinese e-book readers are also looking forward to high-quality e-books and e-book platforms. Only by setting meeting users’ needs as the highest goal can all the major players in this market grow and prosper along with the entire industry.

 

[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @SuperGeek, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Levin Feng (Senior Translator at ECHO), working for TMTpost.

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