BEIJING — Zhang Wenyi is bullish on Amazon in China, which he says is already the U.S. retailer's fastest-growing market in the world.
Zhang is Amazon's vice-president and general manager of Amazon Kindle in China, and the recent press conference of Kindle's annual eBook reading behavior report was a chance to demonstrate how fast growth is in both sales — and changing Chinese reading habits.
Since Kindle launched its eBook store in December 2012 in China, its active monthly users have grown 37-fold in three years. Kindle's online store now offers 300,000 books for Chinese readers, a 12-fold increase in the same period.
Amazon's Chinese experience has shown that it pays to simultaneously offer online purchases to readers who prefer print and those who have moved to digital. Zhang said that not only do the two products not cannibalize each other, they can actually help spur sales for both. "When a good e-book is released, it can generate word-of-mouth among readers, and in turn drive sales of paper books," he said. "It's a win-win situation."
Meanwhile, from the users' point of view, e-books and paper books also present a complementary relationship. Yu Hong, Amazon Kindle's China marketing director, is convinced that nowadays, except for classics, as the choice of books is so vast, readers tend to be very dispersed. Therefore more and more of China's budding writers tend to prefer publishing their new books simultaneously. Some actually prefer to publish online only.
Looking at such positive numbers, more and more Chinese publishers want to work with Amazon's online store. However, three obstacles remain to be overcome.
"First is the copyright. For those books that have been published long ago it will take quite a while to sort out their copyright. When they were first published, there was no such thing as an e-book," Zhang Wenyi pointed out. "Second, publishers have to convert the books more efficiently and with lower cost. Third is to convince those conventional publishers who still have a psychological barrier about e-books."
Kindle provides publishers with regular technical forums to train them and allow them to share experience, so more are willing to join.
Kindle's survey of reading habits shows that users of the device read much more than China's national average – 72% of them read more than 12 books annually, and more than half of them read more than 24 books, including both electronic and paper versions.
As the e-books market grows rapidly in China, several competitors such as Vdisk, iRead of Zhangyue, and Hanwang have all launched similar devices. Zhang Wenyi is convinced that the more products join the market, the more it will increase e-reading and lead to further development of the industry.
Perhaps surprisingly, both in terms of sales and reading consumption, China's readers from first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Shenzhen have fallen behind those in the second and third-tier cities.
"This tells us that the number of these e-readers in the smaller cities is only just the tip of the iceberg," Zhang concluded. "The potential for development is huge."