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Predicting the Winners and Losers in Brazil’s Ebook War

In Digital by Carlo Carrenho

Surprisingly, Apple leads Brazil’s ebook sales, but by 2014 Amazon should dominate, with Kobo, Google, Saraiva and others behind.

By Carlo Carrenho

brazil flagLast month, journalist Raquel Cozer published a column in the Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s leading newspapers, noting that Apple is, thus far, the most successful ebook retailer in Brazil. “It’s Apple, not Amazon, that’s the biggest seller of e-books in the country. And it’s the biggest one by far,” she wrote. “This news took the market by surprise, especially because Apple started without much buzz, selling books in dollars, and with higher taxes because they were imported items.” Nobody thought that after the arrival of Amazon, Google and Kobo, Apple could keep its supremacy for more than a few days, but the fact is that the company from Cupertino is still winning.

In Brazil, “Apple is on top, followed by Google, then Saraiva, Amazon and Kobo/Livraria Cultura.”

Based on Cozer’s research, the ranking looks like this: Apple is on top, followed by Google, then Saraiva, Amazon and Kobo/Livraria Cultura.

The most important question is whether will this situation will stay the same for long? I don’t think so. I think that throughout 2013 will see a lot of changes, particularly in the first six months, and by 2014, it will have changed completely.

Why Apple Jumped Out Front

Apple is ahead for three reasons:

  1. It was the first shop to offer an sizable Brazilian catalogue in Portugese, winning over those readers who cannot read in English.
  2. It’s a famous brand that offers a shopping experience that is simple and familiar to an audience that already consumes music and apps.
  3. The books show up automatically in searches made through iTunes and its apps on the iPhone and iPad (although you must shop inside iBooks).

The first point is the most important factor contributing to why Apple is on top, even though many people have Kindles or use Amazon’s Kindle app in Brazil. The battle has shifted to the local market, for the readers that can’t read in English or simply prefer to read Portuguese. These consumers never committed to the Kindle because there were virtually no books on offer in Portuguese. And once Apple began to sell Brazilian digital books, they took full advantage of the pent up demand from people who love technology—they already have iPads and iPhones after all—launching Apple into first place.

Why Amazon Had a Slow Start

And why is Amazon is still struggling to grow? That’s easy: although they have great apps for iOS, Android, etc., it’s their dedicated Kindle ereader that offers the best reading experience and is the star of their platform. But few Kindles have been available in Brazil, as yet. They only started to be sold at the end of December, just before Christmas, online at Ponto Frio, and physically at the seven outlets of independent indie bookstore chain Livraria da Vila. And unlike other countries, where they launched with massive media blitz, there has been no significant marketing campaign as yet (likely as a consequence of the limited availability of devices).

Now, a little guesswork. Google second-place ranking is also a surprise and it probably happened because their new shop and books appear in web searches. Saraiva, in third place, is likely benefiting from all the ensuing buzz around the digital books, which can only benefit the digital sales for the Brazilian retailer — at least for now (they are the dominant bricks-and-mortar bookseller, so you always have to wonder how the rise of ebooks will impact in-store sales in the long term). And you can buy a book at Saraiva and read it on your Kobo/Cultura ereader. Kobo still needs to publicize their brand, and we must remember that, when it comes to the consumer side, Livraria Cultura ebookstore is all but the same as it was before. They offer more ePub books now, and they’re selling the Kobo Touch, but the website remains virtually unchanged from what it was before the launch.

Six to Twelve Months Ahead

But with the new year upon us, let’s look into our proverbial crystal ball. What will be the ranking in six months? My prediction: Amazon will be on top, followed by a still showing by Apple. Google will remain popular because it is, well, Google, while Kobo/Cultura will overtake Saraiva, which won’t be able to keep up with the advanced technology and marketing muscle of the others.

Let me explain a bit future. Once more Kindle reader are shipped to Brazil — they did, after all, have to maintain stock for the holiday shopping season in the United States, their key market — Amazon will invest a lot of money in advertising and promotion. This will launch them into to the top spot. Apple will likely begin selling in Reais (the Brazilian currency), a change that will turn their ebook sales into “local” transactions, thus reducing tax and the final price of e-books. That change alone should enable them to hold onto the second spot.

Looking Forward to 2014

And by 2014? It will be Amazon, followed by — surprise — Kobo/Cultura, then Apple, Saraiva and Google.

Why? I believe that in one year, Amazon will have consolidated their position in Brazil. Their marketing, ongoing buzz, excellent platform, and retail management based on algorithms will start to show some true results. In addition, over next 12 months, the company might begin selling print books and offering more advanced devices, which will only help to further solidify their position.

Following in Amazon’s wake, Kobo/Cultura will have finally established their brand and their ereader. Here, help from the bricks-and-mortar Cultura stores probably will enable them to reach the second position.

Apple is likely to lose some market share, as e-books are by no means their top priority. At least, that’s been the case so far. And unlike Amazon, Kobo and Google who have already hired Brazilian executives to manage local content, while Apple continues to work from Cupertino.

Google, like Apple, isn’t focused on e-books and isn’t likely to grow much more either. While Apple’s priority has always been selling pricey new aluminum and silicon objects d’art, Google’s priority has been selling ads. The fact is, digital books are just a means to another end for both companies.

If the situation remains the same, although powerful in the retail space, Saraiva will only reach the fourth position within a year’s time. Yes, it’s hard to believe that Saraiva will take all this competition passively, but they do appear to be at a disadvantage, even on their home turf. Hopefully, so wounded, they will fight back and come up with something inventive and innovative that will cater specifically to local tastes and interests. Keeping Saraiva in the game can only help maintain competition in this competitive market.

And let’s not forget Barnes & Noble, who has been quiet, but always kept Brazil and its market in their sites. If the biggest American bookseller decides to come here, it could upset the rankings — but there is, of course, no way to know.

Now, with many of the biggest American and the biggest Brazilian retailers, going head-to-head, we’ll have to watch and see what happens next. There is no template for such competition starting up all at once in such a large, but still technologically and economically developing marketplace. And depending on what they do, in concert or not, everything could change.

Perhaps the one thing that we do know is that it will change.

DISCUSS: My New Year’s Resolution is to Dump Amazon, And Why I’ll Fail

About the Author

Carlo Carrenho

Carlo Carrenho is a Brazilian publishing consultant and journalist. In 2001, he founded PublishNews, a daily electronic newsletter in Portuguese that covers the Brazilian publishing market. He’s also worked for several Brazilian publishing houses, including Thomas Nelson Brasil, which he launched in 2007.