Asia sees slow e-book uptake

While digital books have taken off in U.S. with growth expected to continue upward, consumers in Asia-Pacific have yet to show similar interest in platform, say analysts.
Written by Jason Ng, Contributor on

The e-book market might have taken off in the United States for some time now but there remain significant challenges to overcome in order to see the same level of consumer traction in Asia-Pacific, analysts noted.

Pranabesh Nath, industry manager of enterprise & services and ICT at Frost & Sullivan Asia-Pacific, said that in order for the region to embrace e-books and e-book readers, there are a few challenges such as content and device availability, to be overcome. High costs and lack of awareness are other factors hindering the adoption, he added in his e-mail.

Low regional interest
Elaborating, he said that the level of awareness for e-books in the region is low because consumers have yet to appreciate and understand the concept and advantage of reading a digital book over a paperback.

Additionally, many international e-book distributors such as Amazon.com are still unavailable in many parts of Asia-Pacific, which is another barrier, Nath noted. China and Japan are the only markets Amazon.com is currently supporting, he added.

Similarly, the lack of e-book readers here and the high costs of such devices have also put off regional consumers from purchasing them, he said. Using Amazon's Kindle e-reader as an example, he pointed out that consumers outside of China and Japan need to pay additional international shipping costs in order to get hold of the device.

Larry Fisher, research director of ABI Research's emerging technologies research incubator, agreed with Nath on the unavailability of e-books affecting its uptake. He said in an e-mail that international distributors are apprehensive about offering more products in the region because of "fears of piracy and the difficulty of negotiating license agreements for their content.

Beyond unavailability, though, he said the appeal of printed content in books, magazines and newspapers will continue to overtake that of digital media. "We anticipate nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide will be buying hard-copy books in 2016, nearly four times as many as will be purchasing digital books, magazines and newspapers that year," said Fisher.

A postgraduate student from RMIT University, Jonathan Julius, agreed. He said over an online interview that printed books allow a "more personal experience" over digital ones.

"I feel that it's harder to engage with e-books. Not that the text is any different, but books allow for a more personal experience. Accessibility and digital shelf space that e-books provide take away such an experience," he explained.

E-books see sales uptake
However, the February sales report from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) appears to contradict ABI Research's prediction.

According to its report, e-books in the U.S. recorded US$90.3 million in sales revenue, a triple-digit percentage growth of 202.3 percent year-on-year. It also showed that sales of e-books during the period of January to February 2011 grew by 169.4 percent to US$164.1 million from the same time last year, the sales of printed books fell 24.8 percent to US$441.7 million over the same time period.

Tom Allen, president and CEO of AAP, said in the report: "The public is embracing the breadth and variety of reading choices available to them. They have made e-books permanent additions to their lifestyle while maintaining interest in print format books."

This is why Nath said that it is difficult to predict if e-books will topple printed books. He did add that while he expects to see the sale of printed books to decline in the next 3 to 4 years, the market will eventually develop to see the "parallel existence of both e-books and printed books".

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