australia.jpgGiven Australia’s geographical position, we’re used to seeing “Made in China” stickers on the backs of everything from TVs to Australian flags. For a while, Korea made a play as our chief supplier of everything, then Japan had a tilt at the title, but China is still king. In fact, China is now the world’s manufacturer.

And I, for one, say hooray.

During the last month, the promised flood of cheap ereaders and touchscreen tablet computers has begun here. And they haven’t been big brands. I either have reviewed, or am about to review three – the Kogan eReader, the LASER EB-101 multimedia ereader and the Pioneer Computers ePad 7. They are all very different but all have a pedigree that leads straight back to China. All three brands make their devices in the world’s most populous nation, where the labour is a fraction of the price of that in the West, and the economy is ticking along nicely.

Tech companies have flooded China with orders in the last decade – remember the recent tragically overworked Foxconn employees in Shenzhen?

For years almost all Chinese goods in Australia were rubbish. But times have changed – in China, you now get what you pay for, like anywhere else. Apple can get their high-quality goods made there to the highest standards, and young entrepreneurs like Ruslan Kogan (of the Kogan brand above) can make devices very cheaply, and successfully undercut his competitors.

So they have the cheap end of the market well covered, which means a low barrier to entry for tech suppliers, which means volume. (NB: At least one of the devices above is not really up to snuff – you’ll have to read the reviews! – and the build quality of all of them won’t make Stevie Jobs lose sleep.)

So is a flood of cheap devices of all creeds and colours good for ebooks? A resounding yes. Certainly in Australia, at this stage of ebooks adoption, I’d say that quantity trumps quality when it comes to both ebooks and ereaders. Those in the US and Europe (in patches) are still in the same boat, although their ebooks markets are more advanced, and I think are past their tipping point.

Here, the only big publisher to invest in a major ebook offering is caught in the trans-format “dead zone”. With REDgroup needs to make a return on their ebook investment fast, but overall revenues are still falling in line with paper book sales. Ebook growth here just isn’t fast enough to make up the difference.

It’s chicken vs egg. Everyone agrees that digital reading is coming – even that it’s inevitable, but other publishers aren’t serious about spending dollars on it yet – it’s only 4 per cent of the market, man!

Gee – could that be because Australia only got its first major supplier two months ago! Oh, sorry. Let me take a deep breath.

That’s why we need China’s assembly lines to be humming with devices so that there is a piece of cheap ereading plastic in every hand – or at least the potential for that one day. Gear from Acme, El Cheap-o, the ePad, N-Pad and iPed, will lob into more hands than the latest shiny-but-expensive device from Apple (although they’ve done a great job so far).

In one fell swoop, China actually has arguably created the world’s largest ebook vendor in the initial offering from Shanda Literature Group. They just have the population to do things big. But the West hasn’t got a major appetite for Chinese literature, so this doesn’t mean a lot to us. We want our own books – but we need cheap products to read them on.

So bring on the ePad, the N-Pad, the Kiindle and the Kobbo. We need to shoot for ubiquity. If the ereaders don’t work for long, don’t worry. They’ll be so cheap that you’ll be able to buy another one at your local corner store.

Editor’s Note: Australian journalist Jason Davis contributes a regular column to TeleRead on the state of “e” in Australia and New Zealand. This content will be exclusive to TeleRead. Jason also runs the BookBee and EbookAnt websites. PB.


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