Retailers can learn from pullouts of online bookshops

Retailers can learn from pullouts of online bookshops

First, physical bookstores fell like dominoes and now, owners are pulling the plug on e-bookstores. SingTel's skoob stops book sales on Monday, only a few months after MediaCorp's ilovebooks.com threw in the towel.

Why are e-bookstores failing in one of the most wired cities in the world, where residents sport multiple smart devices?

According to Singapore-based publishers and retailers, the problem is acceptance. Book buyers here have yet to migrate en masse to paying for words on a tablet or e-Reader screen, preferring the solidity of a printed book in exchange for their dollars.

Local publishers say that e-books make up 5 per cent of total sales at best, with the other 95 per cent accounted for by printed books.

To me, a greater hurdle is pricing. In Singapore stores, many e-books cost almost the same as the printed book. The lack of discount immediately discounts the main reasons why e-books are so popular with readers in other countries.

It is obvious that e-books can and should cost less than printed books. Publishers do not have to factor in the cost of paper, warehouse space or shipping, and retailers do not even need a physical space to sell the books from, saving on rental and personnel costs.

E-books are at least half the price of hardcovers in international e-bookstores such as Amazon's Kindle store or Rakuten's Kobo.

At print time, Margaret Atwood's newest dystopian novel, MaddAddam, retails at $25.68 at the physical bookstore Books Kinokuniya. The e-book version is only a dollar cheaper, $24.48, at Singapore e-bookstore Booktique, run by StarHub.

This is a price readers might not want to pay for literary novels without sweeteners such as embedded video content and a free T-shirt, especially when offered the same e-book at the Amazon Kindle store for US$10.99 (S$13.70) or US$13 at Kobo.

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