E-books: Why HK and Taiwan are slow to take off

December 11, 2017 11:50
Expensive copyright, a lack of technical standards and large platforms like Amazon’s Kindle or Tencent’s China Literature are some of the reasons stalling the development of e-book markets in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Photo: Reuters

Tencent-backed China Literature (00772.HK) is the first company listed in Hong Kong that focuses on online publishing and e-books. Although there are mixed views about its valuation, its stellar public debut suggests lots of people love reading.

China Literature reflects the unique internet-based market in mainland China and the popularity of e-books, a development that Hong Kong and Taiwan seem to both lag seriously.

Chinese Books, the first e-book company in Hong Kong, suffered a setback. The e-book market in Taiwan also lacks traction although there is a huge culture of reading.

I chatted with a friend about this topic the other day. He speculated that the difficulty in obtaining copyright consent has been the culprit.

The copyrights of printed and online versions of books are separate, and some authors might worry that e-books may affect sales of the printed books. Therefore, they would demand huge upfront copyright fees for e-books.

In the meantime, every company publishes their own e-books and the market lacks unified standards. So far, there is no single app that can become a leading platform.

The success of China Literature proves that there is hidden gold in books. I’m curious that other companies might develop another business model, or copy that of Apple Music, KKbox or Spotify, which allows users to pay a fixed fee and choose whatever they like through a wide range of devices.

I have subscribed to Amazon’s US$10 monthly unlimited reading plan on its Kindle platform. The plan allows me to borrow up to 10 books each time from tens of thousands of books. The system recommends relevant books from your search setting. If I’m looking for travel books, almost the whole set of Lonely Planet is on my screen.

Currently, I’m studying new concepts about blockchain, and the system has recommended over 500 books and over 150 design conceptual books. That means I can quickly get a graph of a topic at a cost of less than two cups of coffee.

One of my friends has challenged me to achieve a yearly reading target.

As the boss of a startup, he travels frequently between Beijing and Hong Kong. Therefore, he uses the travel time to read one book each week. I found this quite interesting and decided to do something similar during my commute.

Rather than reading, I prefer to listen to books. I am using audio books services on Amazon, which has worked quite well so far. I’ve completed one book each week over past three weeks.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 8

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation Chairman