The Malaysian e-book industry is still in the low single digit in terms of market share and international e-book retailers have yet to show signs of setting up shop here. But fast-growing Internet penetration (currently at 67%), high smartphone penetration (60%), extensive digital library initiative, and a government set on digital textbooks by 2017 are siren calls too hot to ignore for many local players, which have started to chart their courses and stake their footholds. PW talks to two such companies working on different segments to find out more about the country’s digital landscape, challenges and opportunities.
For managing director Faiz Al-Shahab, what started as a quest to promote his mother’s romance novels had inadvertently led him to establish Malaysia’s first e-bookstore in October 2011. Operated through Xentral Methods Pte Ltd, eSentral, which is Southeast Asia’s largest e-book depository, has more than 82,000 titles, of which 9,200 are local, for its 113,000 subscribers.
But the e-book segment had been “a hard landscape until about ten months ago”, says Faiz, who attributes the turnaround mostly to having many local bestsellers on his portal. “Another factor is the high digital penetration in Southeast Asia, where more people are reading on smartphone, a habit that is fast becoming the norm. Subsequent Windows 8 upgrades have also dramatically increased the amount of downloads by PC users.”
So adding more local titles given the higher demand makes sense. “But since there has been a steady increase in sales of English titles to consumers and libraries over the past year, we will definitely work on expanding our English offerings as well.” The company’s roadmap, he adds, has always been on regional content.
For now, Faiz and his team are busy getting 40 Bluetooth-enabled free e-book zones up and running at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. “Basically, by downloading the eSentral e-reader app onto their mobile device via Bluetooth beacon technology, airport passengers will be given geo-fencing and micro-location access to specific digital library. This ‘beacon’ technology, commonly used in brand marketing at shopping malls, is now being used to promote reading and enhance passenger experience at the airport.”
Potential application of the beacon technology in the e-book and publishing industry is immense, Faiz says. “A client at an upmarket hair salon, for instance, may prefer to read e-books or e-magazines ‘curated’ by the salon proprietor instead of picking up the print versions. So it boils down to a question of fitting the lifestyle of a selected audience, and this is exciting—for us and content owners.”
Enriched e-book, which has seven times higher downloads in the region according to an eSentral survey, is another focus area. “We have created eStudio, a user-friendly cloud-authoring tool that builds interactive and compact ePub3 e-books that adapt to different screen sizes. We are working with government agencies to create media-enriched content for the education sector, and training teachers on using eStudio. Going forward, we will be organizing competitions for the best digital school yearbook and digital textbook,” says Faiz, pointing out that such competition has proven to be effective in populating users and gaining new and young subscribers for eSentral in the past. “We want to replicate that success here.”
A subsidiary of UBSM (University Book Store Malaysia), Malaysiana LCMS is a partnership with a Singapore-based software company with vast experience in building effective LCMS [learning content management system] and school management programme. “We bring to the table years of experience in understanding how publishers think and what booksellers want, and what we have created is an aggregator engine called eBigator,” says managing director Stephanie Chooi, who is also the business development manager at UBSM.
From the outset, Chooi did not want another Apple- or Google-like aggregator. “Ours is a very simple system where any content creator can place his or her content for e-distribution for free.” So if building a good content management system is easy, she wants to make it even easier—which is what eBigator promises to deliver. Aside from essentials such as DRM (digital rights management), a bookshelf and an app, eBigator also offers an ePub3 conversion engine, which “can perfectly convert any PDF or scanned content into ePub3, and upload the file onto our e-bookstore within minutes.”
For publishers selling through its portal, the team will convert the titles and provide a copy of the ePub3 files free of charge. “The publisher can then place those files on other e-bookstores. By doing this, we give publishers a risk-free opportunity to enter and experience the digital market. We can always work on a white-label e-bookstore for them—at a small fee and royalty—if they are happy with the experimentation and trials,” explains Chooi, whose team has recently built an LCMS-based digital township for 70,000 users for a foreign client.
“Our LCMS solutions are capable of providing social media analytics and custom reporting for large-scale implementation. In fact, we are now working on an analytics model where one government can upskill its citizens via e-learning or blended learning based on the changing needs of their social economic environment,” adds Chooi, pointing out that all the LCMS projects “are white-labeled, unique and purpose-built to suit each client. One size does not fit all, and that is our motto when it comes to LCMS.”
She also works with another partner specializing in data encryption. “Such capability enables us to email sample chapters or books to potential adopters, for instance, and then have these content self-destruct after a predetermined time frame unless purchased or extended. So we are utilizing this technology to protect our publishing client’s asset and counter e-piracy.”