As e-book subscription models find their place in the United States and UK publishing markets, the model seems to be working elsewhere.
Currently, Bookmate has seen success in Russia and several other countries. It offers about 200,000 titles with more than 400 publishers that dedicated e-books to the subscription service. The service costs about 150 rubles a month (about $4)
“There’s a focus across the industry on success in the English-speaking world and Western Europe – and rightly so, that’s where the money is in the short term,” said James Appell, head of global expansion for Bookmate. “But look further afield, to the giant emerging nations of East and South Asia, or to the relatively untapped readership in Africa, and you see both unrivalled growth potential and a far less crowded marketplace.”
Bookmate, which started in 2010, has established itself as one of the top e-book subscriptions services in other places such as Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. It has more than 300 Russian publishers on board, making it largest distributor of Russian e-books. Bookmate plans on expanding in 2014 to several more countries including Turkey.
“Carolyn Reidy of Simon and Schuster said recently that she sees the big wins in 2014 coming from international growth, and we can’t disagree,” Appell said. “I think putting a bit of physical distance between ourselves and the publishing heartland of New York or London has been key to producing an innovative product.”
Along with Russian e-books, Bookmate is heavy in classic literature. In fact, the top authors in Bookmate include Charles Dickens, Lev Tolstoy, H.G. Wells and Bram Stoker.
One of the reasons Bookmate worked in Russia is because of the vast size of the country. There are nine time zones in Russia, making delivery of physical books a challenge at times.
“Russia has an amazing reading culture, people here can quote whole passages of Pushkin by rote. But in a country that stretches across nine time zones, the logistics of delivering paper books to your customer’s doorstep is a difficult proposition,” Appell said. “Allied to all that, Russians are extremely digital-savvy, and smartphone usage is among the highest in the world. So for all these reasons, delivery of e-book content to smart devices made a lot of sense”
Publishers get paid after a certain percentage of an e-book is read. While Bookmate currently works with publishers, it is testing a self-publishing platform. It has selected several authors to add their titles to the catalogue.
“As in other parts of the world the self-publishing trend is really taking off in Russia, and we see this is as another important string to our company’s bow,” said Bookmate’s Jim Glynn.