Thursday, August 11, 2011

Amazon eBooks

So... Amazon ebooks. They have a reader application for my Android phone. And now they have an online reader that works fine under Ubuntu and Chromium. Thought I'd try buying and reading an ebook, just for the experience. It's The Wave Of The Future after all, and who wants to miss that?

I've never read the famous Stieg Larsson thriller trilogy, despite it being in my native language and all. It's the kind of stuff you'd read once then forget about — perfect for an an experiment like this. So I search for it, but alas, it's not available on the Amazon store at all; all I can find is the English translation.

Next try: I'm reading 火車 by Miyabe Miyuki. I have it on paper already so nothing lost if the experience is bad, and it could be really convenient to read Japanese on a device where I can directly look up kanji and words I don't know. But again, they seem to have none of her books in Japanese1.

Well, Amazon is based in a mostly English-speaking country. Better try something in that language. Fortunately, Charles Stross has just recently published his new novel, "Rule 34". Sure to be a good read if nothing else. And it is available — but for more money than the hardcover2. Um, no thanks. I prefer to pay less for the the extra value of a physical book if it's all the same. Or even better, I'll just wait for the paperback.
No ebook for me yet. I still want to try it, but it'll have to wait until I find something I want in a language they support, at a lower price than the paper book.

#1 or anything in Japanese at all, though I could be wrong there; a search for "日本語" ("Japanese") mostly gives me soft-core porn and no titles in Japanese.

#2 Yes there's shipping, but I'm ordering some other books on paper anyway so there extra cost for this one is zero.


  1. Since Swedish and Japanese are both languages restricted to a single territory, so the rights in those languages are unlikely to be held by anyone except the original publishers. Those publishers aren't likely to sell digital rights to Amazon, that would just cannibalise their own paperback sales (or digital sales if they exist).
    It's similarly irritating with Australian books, most of which have no appeal to anyone outside the country, so digital rights are not sold to Amazon and the only ebooks are subsequently from the domestic publisher at a 150% premium over a normal Amazon ebook.

  2. It's certainly true what you say. Japanese books are further hampered by the fact that current ebook formats don't really handle Japanese very well (you can have Japanese text, but not furigana for instance).

    Of course, US publishers seem able to avoid cannibalizing their paperback sales as well; every book I've looked for is cheaper in paperback than the Kindle edition. Which seems a bit upside-down, as a real paper book is much better value for me than an ebook.

  3. Well ain´t that just a surprise. I though that it would be an easy find japanese ebooks ina mazon, because after all they do have a site...odd, why don´t they see the market there? After I began reading books in my galaxy tab I haven´t been able to pick a hard cover book again :D

  4. They don't seem to even have an ebook section on the Japanese site. I tried searching for Kindle, and they tell me you'll buy it through the .com site and will need an account there for it. So no, Japanese ebooks seem to be a no-go here. Never looked up the Galapagos site; they have an Android app as well I think.

    I'll just leave it for now. I just ordered a pile of ordinary paper books. ^_^ Among others a book on André Kertesz that would be rather pointless as an ebook.

  5. I remember reading some articles about the difficulties of selling ebooks in Japan a few years ago, but neglected to bookmark them and now can't find them.

    The gist at the time was that the a large amount of publishers were very ambivalent about offering their catalogues in ebook format and did not believe the market demand justified the investment.

    It didn't help that a few years ago none of the domestic electronic companies even sold ebook readers in the japanese market.

    The situation is slowly evolving. This article is a pretty good overview of the state of the ebook market in japan.

  6. kisoku, one general problem is that current ebook formats don't accomodate Japanese very well (or at all). Most Japanese books use furigana at least to some extent for instance, and books aimed at younger readers use them a lot; something current formats have no support for.

    And adding readings to every single character that the user can opt to show or not as they please would be such an obvious function for a Japanese ebook that I'd consider any format without such support to be at least partially broken.

    But yes, another impediment is that Japanese publishers are very reluctant to enter the market. Another that the market is becoming very fragmented, with each publisher and manufacturer doing their own stores and formats, with little cross-device support.

    I'm afraid it will take quite a few more years before we'll see a well functioning ebook market here.


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