Kindle store for Chinese works went live last week, offering over 22 thousand Chinese-language e-books with about a thousand free titles. Though Chinese users can only access those books through its iOS or Android apps, it is reported that five gadgets have received approval from authorities and are expected to appear on China market by the end of this month at earliest.

Looks like a good start, but both my friends and I aren’t motivated to use the service, only to find that we cannot buy those books with our Kindles bought from abroad. The e-book market in China has already been crowded and each of the major players has its own cutting edge, from content to design. When industry professionals and average readers opened the Chinese-language Kindle apps, they felt disappointed.

Apps & content of inferior quality?

“The e-books are poorly made. Apps are full of bugs and cumbersome to use that take little of user experience into consideration”, said Hu Xiaodong, VP of Doukan whose business began as an alternative Kindle system for Chinese reading (source in Chinese). Many users encountered typos, missing words or pages, or displaced images in the books. It is true that text files provided by Chinese publishing agencies always are of low quality.

As you cannot expect those old, state-owned publishing bodies to make improvements, many e-book providers re-do the typography themselves. Tangcha, a well-regarded e-book provider, would do a redesign for every single book with a particular Chinese font bought from a HongKong designer. Douban Read, an e-publishing platform under Douban the social network, also takes care of content themselves and offers delicately-designed, easy to use reading apps.

But it seems Amazon would rather encourage publishing companies to do it by sharing 5% more of sales with those who’d like to do so (source in Chinese).

Competitiveness: price?

Mr. Hu with Duokan is kind of angry that Kindle apps include price comparison feature, saying “it’s complete disregard for the feelings of publishers“. He doesn’t welcome price wars in book industry. I checked out prices of one of the works by the latest Nobel Prize winner in literature on all e-book platforms, finding Amazon China indeed offers a low price, but not the lowest — 360Buy wins here.

Considering so many Chinese users are still downloading illegitimate e-books, price war really doesn’t make any sense here. Efforts made by existing players to have users pay are create better designs and features, as mentioned, and differentiated content. Both Tangcha and Douban Read carry exclusive content, having a say in copyright industry. Cloudary, among several others, is a platform for producing exclusive content — original online literature.

How would Kindle China differentiate? Hard to imagine. Hopefully it’s not price. Since Amazon acquired Joyo and became what it is now, Amazon China has been just another e-commerce retailer. And mind you, there weren’t many strong competitors in Joyo times, while there are a flock of powerful players in e-publishing business.

Walls

The Kindle store is operated under Chineseall, a Chinese digital publishing service, as Amazon hasn’t got authorization for operating such a business from the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP). When reached out by media, Wang Qiang, the director responsible for such an issue at GAPP confirmed that it’s illegitimate to “borrow” a license and would look into it. According to You Yunting, a Shanghai-based intellectual property lawyer, Amazon China is even not a qualified body to apply for such a license as “video & audio production as well as the electronic publication and making is prohibited for foreign investment.”

Will Kindle devices change anything when they finally make their way into China market? I have friends having been using Kindles for reading Chinese characters in PDFs. When asked whether they’d buy e-books from Amazon China if their devices could do so, some of them answered that they’d still download free, pirated files as always; the rest said they’d incline to other reading apps since they’ve been using them for a while.