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How Self-Publishing Led Amazon to German Ebook Dominance

20 November 2013

From Publishing Perspectives:

When Amazon started its Kindle business in Germany in Spring 2011, it launched the new e-reader together with the Kindle Direct Publishing program (KDP). While the Kindle was far better than other e-readers that were on the German market — especially with its built in ebookstore and wireless access to ebooks in the cloud at a time in Germany when every other e-reader required a PC with Adobe DRM software to buy electronic books — Amazon basically sold the same ebooks as every other retailer.

As the German fixed book price law doesn’t allow anyone to sell ebooks at different prices (“Preisbindung”), Amazon couldn’t differentiate its offer by offering bargain pricing as it did in the United States and elsewhere. So KDP was, ultimately, a perfect  strategy for the book giant to pursue in Germany. It didn’t take long until authors discovered it was a great way to earn money with books that publishing companies had rejected. All the other German ebook retailers, such as Thalia, Hugendubel or Weltbild, hesitated to sell self-published books.

. . . .

The end result has been that fully half of the ebooks from Amazon’s top 100 list in Germany are self published. A third of the top 100 ebooks are only available from Amazon – so it’s no wonder that the company has a market share of (depending on whose numbers you trust) between 40% and 70%.

. . . .

So is it possible to earn a living, being a self published author in Germany? Absolutely, yet. Around 4% of those in our survey said they earned  more than €2,000 per month. In March this year Amazon announced that eight German authors earned more than €100,000 through the KDP program.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Antoine for the tip.

An interesting example of how a law designed to protect existing bookstores by prohibiting price competition produced unintended consequences.

And the growing power of indie authors.

Amazon, Ebook/Ereader Growth, Non-US

16 Comments to “How Self-Publishing Led Amazon to German Ebook Dominance”

  1. And now I know why I sell better in Germany than England via Amazon (Germany is my second-best market). This has puzzled me for a long time. Ich freue mich sehr darauf ;-)

  2. Actually, my sales are not very good in Germany. I understand that Germans look for rock-bottom prices or free books, and I’m not willing to price all of my books that low.

    • same here. nothing from zeem.

    • mark williams international

      “I understand that Germans look for rock-bottom prices or free books, and I’m not willing to price all of my books that low.”

      If Matthias is correct and half the top 100 are self pub then logically half are not, and are therefore expensive. All of which suggests many Germans are not looking for rock-bottom prices or free books and are quite happy to pay higher prices.

    • I can’t speak for every German, but in my experience Germans are willing to pay higher prices for books, at least print books, than many Americans. At any rate, I hear far fewer complaints about pricey print books in Germany than in the US, even though a regular German paperback novel costs approx. 9 Euros these days, whereas an American mass market paperback costs me around 6 Euros.

  3. “An interesting example of how a law designed to protect existing bookstores by prohibiting price competition produced unintended consequences.”

    Indeed. Considering the article you posted about bookstores in Argentina, PG, I think we can expect to see a lot more examples like this as Amazon spreads its Tentacles of Foul Evilness and engulfs the world in cultural darkness.

    • The fixed book price agreement applies to all German publishers, including indies.

      That’s why I don’t run sales and do free promotions outside very limited giveaways, because it would actually be illegal for me to do so. And while I have never heard of an indie being sued over price changes and discounting, I don’t want to court fate either.

      What indies do is price their books lower than traditional publishers.

  4. mark williams international

    Interesting to note the real sales to chart ranking numbers cited. Five hundred sales a day making the op three in store puts Amazon Germany about where Amazon UK was in early 2011.

    Saying that the other companies hesitated to sell self-published titles is a curious claim. More likely simply that other retailers, without Amazon’s deep pockets, were a) not in a position to set up a viable self-publishing portal for a such a small and slow-growing market and b) had legitimate concerns about quality control.

    Thalia, Buecher and other German retailers have been quite happily selling our English-language ebooks for several years now, so there is no question of an anti-indie stance on their part, and other self-pub portals are available, as Matthias points out.

    That a third of the top 100 titles are Select is hardy surprising. German-language ebooks are hardly likely to sell well outside Germany and Austria so an easy decision to make to go into Select and price cheaply in one country without having to worry about the impact on sales in other countries.

    But perhaps the real issue is that so many indie authors have been weaned on the KDP’s easy-pub that they are unwilling to make the effort to explore other self-pub options, or look at aggregators other than Smashwords, let alone the wholesaler distributors..

    In any case the Berlin-based ‘txtr is set to launch a self-pub portal in the near future, and is also teaming with Smashwords to enable indie authors to list in ‘txtr’s seventeen international ebook stores.

    ‘Txtr is already well ahead of Amazon in several countries, with ebook stores in South Africa and New Zealand, as well as across Europe, and had an Australian ebook store long before the Kindle AU site appeared.

    ‘Txtr also has its sights on the US ebook market, which is ripe for fragmentation. What goes around comes around…

    • Thalia, Weltbild et al are very difficult to get into for indies. They are not anti-indie per se, but you have to go via a distributor. And the distributors either require a set-up fee, exclusivity, won’t let you opt out of any sales channels or require an ISBN. And ISBNs are both pricey and difficult for German indies to acquire. The German ISBN authority won’t even sell you more than one ISBN, unless you provide a copy of a trade register entry (which includes a lot of overt and hidden costs). The German ISBN authority also gouges you via useless services such as an entry into the books in print catalogue.

      Last I spoke to someone at Thalia, they had no plans to offer a self-publishing portal, so for the time being the only way into Thalia’s online store and onto the Tolino reader is via a distributor. Interestingly enough it is possible to persuade brick and mortar Thalia stores to carry self-published and small press print books. My local Thalia store carries several books by local authors and small presses and also used to carry the small press mag I was involved with.

      Nonetheless, I don’t think Select is necessarily a good decision for German self-publishers. About eleven percent of my German language titles are sold via Kobo (Swiss customers buy via Kobo a lot), XinXii makes up about five percent on its own, Apple about three. And interestingly, German language books don’t just sell in German speaking countries either. About seven percent of my German language sales are Amazon.com sales. I have also sold German language books in Spain, the UK and Belgium.

      Txtr sounds interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do.

      • mark williams international

        ISBNs are expensive in the US and UK too, Cora, and in the UK the ISBN monopoly holder Nielsen is very good at laying on extra charges.

        We use the UK-based aggregator Ebook Partnership to get into stores like Thalia, etc. The cost is only $40 per title per year, and that gets you into myriad stores all over the world, not just Thalia and Beucher. More accurately they get you into the whole sale distributor catalogues of Ingrams, Gardners, OverDrive, etc, which get you into countless retailers.

        I don’t doubt there are many German speakers in other countries who welcome the availability of German-language ebooks where they live, but the bulk of sales will inevitably be from the home countries.

        European price laws will inevitably slow the digital shift in the affected countries, but the pattern is much the same as in UK and US, where indies took an early lead thanks to low prices, and led to moronic cries of how the trad pub industry was going to die in the face of indie competition.

        Of course trad pub rallied and now dominates the UK and US e-charts, and the same will happen across Europe as and when the legal restraints are eased.

        Regardless, Amazon-domination as we saw in the US and UK is not going to happen. Competition is far more fierce in terms of options for readers (GooglePlay and the German Sony Reader Store are both gaining traction, ‘txtr has an aggressive expansion policy, and there will be numerous more retailers jumping on the ebook band-wagon as we head into 2014).

        For authors like yourself, Cora, with a keen interest in the international market, ‘txtr, Google Play and Sony are definitely the ones to watch (along with Samsung when they get their act together). ‘Txtr has a partnership programme similar to Kobo’s (in the UK ‘txtr powers the small but prestigious Foyles store) and has some ambitious plans. Plus the long-awaited ‘txtr beagle ereader may actually be on sale next month, after a lot of set-backs.

        On price-promotion and German laws, it’s interesting that stores like Sony Germany are happily discounting our titles (22% off, if anyone’s interested!). Worth noting too that Sony is one of the few international players with an Austria store. In fact Sony has seven stores globally and lots more in the pipeline, but most indies get into Sony through Smashwords, which for some reason only feeds Sony US and Sony Canada.

        • Sony e-readers were among the first available on the German market, sold in the big electronics stores long before Amazon launched the German Kindle store or made the Kindle available to German readers at all, so a lot of early adopters have Sony readers

          • mark williams international

            It would be fascinating to know how many Sony early-adopters are staying with Sony as they upgrade devices, or which retailers and devices they are moving to.

            As I recall, Amazon didn’t even think to provide instructions in German when they first started selling the Kindle there.

            No question Amazon has made an impact in Germany, but as the second wave of early adopters give way to mainstream readers embracing digital in each country the real challenge to Amazon begins, with far more competition both from devices and retailers.

  5. We have had some German sales. It would be nice to get more.

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