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Do English-language ebooks really sell globally?

English books sell globally

I’ve just read a very interesting overview by Laura Hazard Owen of what’s happening at Frankfurt Book Fair 2013.

What has caught my attention is the discussion about international ebook markets.

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice President responsible for the Kindle content, said at the Publishers Launch Frankfurt conference that international markets will adopt ebooks much the same way as in US.

There is one thing that will make non-English countries develop their own pattern, and not follow the one from US or UK. It’s the availability (or a lack) of mother-tongue books.

The slide shown above is from Russ Grandinetti’s presentation. It shows sales of English-language Kindle books to non-English countries. It looks like publishers should be happy because with Kindle they can sell English books worldwide with no extra hassle.

Kindle ships globally since October 2009. It sounds like Amazon wants to say to American publishers: “You see, we’ve delivered the medium, now you can sell your books, no matter whether it’s UK, or Poland, or Thailand.”

It’s a wrong assumption. So far, users buy English books because they can’t find mother-tongue titles.

Kindle owners in Poland (and there could be 200,000 of them) first of all are looking for Polish-language books. They can’t find them in the Kindle Store, so Amazon’s ebookstore does not become the default place to get content for Kindle. It becomes just one of the sources.

Let me make things clear once more. The fact that Amazon sells over 2 million English books on Kindle to Poland, does not mean there is a demand for English books in Poland.

In Poland there is a demand for Polish books, in Sweden – Swedish, in Thailand – Thai.

Bringing a perspective of selling a lot of English-language books to users around the world is an over promise to publishers. Once local markets will grow and the number of mother-tongue books will increase, the demand for English books will weaken.

Having the content distributed like there were no boundaries is something exciting about ebooks, but an adoption of the English language won’t happen only because of the fact there is not enough books in mother-tongue.

The major challenge is to expand the number of foreign-language books. If global ebook distributors won’t do it, local vendors will fill the gap. Well, this is what’s happening since October 2009.