There’s no question Amazon is a powerful force in publishing, in those countries where it chooses to engage.

But the days of Amazon spearheading an entrance into a country with a Kindle store, as happened in Brazil and Mexico, are long gone. And it seems increasingly that books and ebooks are not going to be Amazon’s focus as the company continues its global expansion.
As previously reported here at TNPS, Amazon is looking at the Middle East, South America, and SE Asia, but with AWS and a handful of other Amazon services leading the way, not books or ebooks.

As Amazon’s South America plans become clearer, will Kindle ebooks even be a feature?

Nowhere is this clearer than in Amazon’s long awaited entrance into SE Asia, which began with an Amazon Singapore store late last year and within the next week, if rumours prove accurate, will launch an Amazon Vietnam store.
Amazon, as ever, is giving away nothing in advance, but all the signs are the Vietnam project will be little more than a token opening up of the Amazon network to Vietnamese businesses to sell globally, following a deal with the Vietnam E-Commerce Association (VECOM).
According to VECOM Vietnam’s e-commerce market grew by 25% last year, with online revenue expected to reach $10bn in 2020.
The big challenge for Amazon is that is has left it so late to enter the region, leaving an open goal for rivals like Alibaba, JD, Rakuten and others.
JD started the year by investing $44 million in Vietnam’s biggest online store Tiki (which like Amazon began life as an online bookstore), while Alibaba famously now owns Lazada, by far the biggest online player across SE Asia.
Of course, the Vietnam venture is just starting for Amazon, but with the company losing money hand over first in the international sphere thanks to its fight against Flipkart in India, it seems improbable Amazon is going to do more than make token moves in SE Asia for some years to come, with Indonesia likely next.
But for books and ebooks, Amazon is very much tied to big publishing with its tight territorial controls on distribution, and which has little interest in nascent markets like Vietnam.
Which means it seems improbable we’ll see Amazon Books or the Kindle Store in SE Asia anytime soon.
Which is a missed opportunity for Amazon given it is sitting on a large volume of indie titles with full world rights allocated.
With Apple iBooks and Nook also unavailable in SE Asia, it leaves just Kobo and Google Play to lead the ebook charge.
Sadly Kobo only has a localised store in the Philippines. Google Play performs slightly better, with localized stores in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Looking at the bigger picture, Vietnam, with a population of 96 million, has some 64 million people connecting to the internet, making it the 13th largest country in the world by internet users, ahead of the UK, France and Italy. That’s at just 66% penetration, compared to 95% penetration in the UK.
Vietnam also has faster average 4G speeds than the USA, adding to the country’s potential.
But with Amazon and Apple both looking the the way when it comes to Vietnam’s book markets, it will be up to other players to step in and engage with Vietnam’s readers.
Past TNPS posts on Vietnam include:

SE Asia “one of the most promising publishing regions”

S.E. Asia online economy growing faster than predicted. $200bn by 2025. Will publishers rise to the opportunity?

Vietnam’s Tet book fairs sell $280,000 books in seven days, taking Vietnam book streets sales towards $4 million