There’s no question Amazon is, in a handful of western countries, a powerful player in the publishing industry, whether through its slow rise to become the dominant online retailer of print books, or its meteoric rise to become the dominant purveyor of ebooks.
To which we can throw in the rise of the company’s own publishing arm, A-Pub, the rising star that is Audible, and the print-on-demand arm that is CreateSpace / KDP Print.
With so many strings to its publishing bow it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Amazon is actually a major player in publishing in just a handful of countries.
Even in what ought to be a safe European country, like the Netherlands, where Amazon has tried to make a play in the publishing arena, the reception has been at best lukewarm.
And where it has entered late – Singapore, for example – books have really not been part of the game plan.
Similarly while Amazon is taking an interest in South America and Scandinavia there is scant evidence the publishing industry is a priority for Amazon in either region.
So when I read today on VietnamNet that,
The day when Amazon arrives in Vietnam and competes with Vietnamese publishers is near, which will be a big threat to Vietnamese publishers,
I had to look twice.
It was only in March that I wrote here,
and there has been scant evidence since that anything has changed.
Nor does the VietnamNet article itself offer any evidence that Amazon is in discussion with Vietnamese publishers.
In fact the VietnamNet article is predicated on an address to the Vietnam Publishers Association by Claudia Kaiser, deputy chair of the Frankfurt International Book Association.
Now it’s possible Kaiser is privy to knowledge of Amazon engaging with Vietnamese publishers, but nothing is offered to suggest that is the case. Rather it seems the case that Vietnam is preparing for the next stage of digital evolution, and that Amazon is just one of a number of players that may or may not play a role in the country.
As VietnamNet puts it,
In the digital and artificial intelligence era, orthodox publishing groups no longer play the key role in the world’s publishing industry. The role has been transferred to Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple.
They have become big publishers and are extremely dynamic when launching attractive services.
Well, no, not really. Amazon is the only one that is actually a publisher in any meaningful way, and certainly the only one that is competing with the book publishing industry.
VietnamNet goes on,
In addition, the 4.0 industry revolution will also empower the role of e-books in comparison with printed books.
Well, Google Play has been delivering ebooks in Vietnam for several years now, but Amazon and Apple have shown zero interest in the Vietnamese ebook market, and Facebook is not an ebook retailer, although of course it does facilitate promotion of ebooks.
VietnamNet paraphrases the Vietnam Publishers Association’s deputy chair Le Hoang as saying,
The 4.0 industry revolution will be associated with cutthroat competition. With the support of Amazon Kindle, writers can introduce their work and launch themselves … The royalties paid by Amazon to authors could be twice as much as the pay by traditional publication houses. Therefore, copyright has become a big challenge between authors and traditional publishers.
Where does all this nonsense come from?
For starters, KDP does not support the Vietnamese language, so Vietnamese authors are going to have a hard time getting anything loaded.
On the KDP help pages Amazon lists forty or so token languages (I say token, because seriously, just how many authors are there out there writing in Scots Gaelic, Manx, Breton, Cornish or Northern Frisian?).
Vietnamese and other SE Asian languages don’t get a look in (neither Amazon nor Apple have any ebook operations in Asia outside of India, Japan and China) and Amazon makes clear that any ambitious Vietnamese author wanting to try their luck will be wasting their time:
Content uploaded in languages that Kindle doesn’t support won’t display properly on Kindle devices and will be removed from sale.
But let’s get back to the VietnamNet story.
In Vietnam, an underdeveloped publication market, the challenges are not as severe as seen in developed countries. Large book houses are still full of visitors, so publishers are ignoring the warnings about e-books.
Analysts said the 4.0 industry revolution also brings great opportunities. The market will expand with a higher number of literate people.
They noted there is a growing tendency for publication houses and readers to have direct interaction without any intermediate distributors.
Hold on. Doesn’t that mean Amazon will be wasting its time if and when it actually does start thinking about a Kindle VN store?
Perhaps the reality is that Vietnamese publishers are not so much “ignoring ebooks” as simply waiting until the infrastructure exists to make ebooks worth their while.
With all due kudos to Google for being there, the Google Play Books VN store is not enough to make publishers rush to digitise. In the aforementioned absence of an Amazon Kindle or Apple Books store that time is still some way off.
In the very unlikely event there is some substance to this story and Amazon is in tentative talks with Vietnamese publishers then we should welcome the news, not panic over it.
At which point you may be thinking, ebooks? Vietnam? Do they even have proper internet in Vietnam?
At the start of this century, just eighteen years ago, Vietnam had just 200,000 people connecting to the internet. The UK had 15 million people online.
Fast forward to 2018 and the UK has ratcheted up an impressive 63 million people connecting to the internet, making the UK the 14th largest country by internet users. France comes in close behind, at number 15.
But here’s the thing. Vietnam, starting from just 200,000 as this century kicked off, today is at number 13 in the rankings, with 64 million people online.
Yes, Vietnam has more internet users than the UK. In fact it has more internet users than any European country except Germany and Russia.
Vietnam is an ebook success story waiting to happen.
And if Amazon is indeed contemplating a Kindle VN store it may just happen sooner rather than later.
But don’t hold your breath waiting.