One of my favorite local Vietnamese tech sites, Pandora.vn, just came out with an interesting report saying that in Vietnam e-books haven’t even hit one percent of the market.
Frankly, I’m not surprised. I had to go to Singapore to get my Kindle Paperwhite. Kindles in Vietnam are either sold out or nobody’s heard of them. For e-readers like Nook, they’re even harder to find. This is despite e-commerce companies like Tiki.vn promoting the sale of Kindles and companies like Alezaa promoting the use of e-books.
From 2010 to 2012, there have been some minor efforts from the Ministry of Education in digitizing textbooks and training materials. But companies like VTC and Go.vn, the government’s social network, have also created initiatives, but maintaining copyrights have been a big hurdle.
This is all in stark contrast to e-books in the US, where last year e-books took 22 percent of the total book spending. I think Vietnam specifically struggles with two things as far as e-books are concerned:
- There are just no e-readers around. In all the local electronics stores, they’re ridiculously hard to find. Merchants don’t think customers don’t want e-readers and customers aren’t buying them. Not to mention, tablets aren’t showing as much aggressive growth as smartphones are.
- Alezaa is one of the only platforms to distribute e-books - but it’s experiencing copyright issues, as are the other platforms. But the real issue is just like iTunes over Napster, this platform needs to be easier for people to buy, because some customers are always willing to pay.
Until these two things are solved, a kind of chicken and egg problem is occuring, e-books will continue to fail to gain traction. The Vietnamese e-book market needs to take a page out of the playbook of Ookbee, the startup e-bookstore from Thailand, and build a model that works for an increasingly mobile-oriented population.
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