Posted on January 30, 2014 in Archive

What do Taiwan, Germany and Russia all have in common?


Essentially, ebook reading statistics. Publishing Perspectives recently published an article discussing the abundant Taiwan print book market… and the ebook market, which is basically a non-starter. This is a rather disappointing development in the market that eventually expects ebook domination. Why is a country that is considered technologically “with it”, so determinedly ignoring ebooks?

The answer to the title of this blog, by the way – is that all three countries are perceived to have shockingly poor ebook reading statistics. India, too.

According to Adam Critchley’s article, just two percent of book sales in Taiwan are digital. Combined with the statistic released by the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture in 2013 that the average person in Taiwan reads just two books per year – they aren’t really covering themselves in glory. Despite this, though, there is apparently still a huge reading culture in Taiwan – bookstalls play a similar role to shopping centres and malls for young people in Taiwan.

Doris Wang, chair of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, says that the trend of ebooks is a slow one, but one that will eventually take off. “There are still very few titles available as ebooks, but all Taiwanese publishers are now preparing to go digital and studying the rights issues. It’s very, very slow, but the change will happen, when the time is right, when people realise that reading digitally is convenient and cheaper. ”

The answer to Taiwan’s reluctance to embrace the ebook might be in Ms. Wang’s statement – there aren’t enough ebook titles available to make it a viable alternative to paper books. Considering the fact that Taiwan’s book market sells 84.5 million units of books every year, and exports $62 million each year, it’s obvious that the ebook has arrived understocked and unprepared, resulting in a poor initial performance. What would be the point of purchasing an ebook if you can’t reasonably expect the ability to access your favourite titles? That’s like buying a DVD without owning a DVD player. Makes no sense.

Liquid State - ebook reading statistics

So as you can see – India doesn’t really dig ebooks.

Germany was a participant in the 2013 Global eBook Survey, which surveyed 13 countries on their ebook reading habits and when (or if ever) they expected to purchase an ereader or ereading device. While they may not own ereading devices at the moment, it seems as though many of the German respondents are getting ready to move to ebooks. While 11.7% of Germans currently own a tablet, only 2.6% actually own a devoted eReader device. Interestingly, they were also amongst the highest percentages within the issue of whether or not they would be purchasing their first eBook within the next 3 years. A majority of Germans also believe that the price of ebooks are too high, and as a result had the largest amount of respondents predicting they would purchase more printed books than ebooks. So from this, we can determine that Germans will buy ereaders and ebooks, realise how much they just paid, and then promptly abandon them to return to the printed format. Sounds like a great use of time.

India was also a respondent country in the Global eBook Survey, and they provided the lowest number of ‘yes’ answers. Over half of Indian respondents were very unsatisfied with ebook pricing, and used that as a reason not to buy ebooks. That might have something to do with the fact of their extremely high population (1.2 billion people) and, perhaps more importantly, Amazon is only just entering the Indian ebook market.

Meanwhile, ereading in Russia is definitely on the rise – it just isn’t strictly legal. 70% of Russian people regularly read ebooks, but 92% of all ebooks are downloaded for free from the Internet. Time, money and convenience are the factors that cause Russians to access pirated ebooks, though apparently most of the time they don’t even know whether they are reading licensed or pirated versions. Clear signage is evidently an issue in Russia.

So what can we learn from this? Maybe this is a signal that non-English languages aren’t as keen on ebooks. That’s not likely, though – many non-English speaking countries in the survey had no problem purchasing ebooks. Perhaps it’s a historical thing – Germany holds the prestigious ‘birthplace of the printed book’ title, so maybe it’s citizens are reluctant to betray their heritage. That can’t be Taiwan’s reasoning, though – they produce the majority of the world’s laptops, so they’re certainly acquainted with the technology.

There doesn’t seem to be a unifying factor between these three countries on their shared disapproval of ebooks, but with Amazon now in place in the Indian market and conclusions from surveys like the Global eBook Survey, it’s likely that we will see a change in those habits soon.

Survey result graph from