Amazon Launches In Spain, Kindle Store By Year End

Amazon made the first move in its latest wave of international expansion by finally throwing open the doors of its long-mooted Spanish site Amazon.es.

Amazon’s eighth store outside the US (following Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and China), will stock the usual assortment of books, games, DVDs, appliances, and electronics, but neither the Kindle nor e-books, for which Spanish customers will continue to be re-directed to Amazon.com.

Respected Spanish daily El Pais has a source which claims that an official Kindle Store – selling both the device and e-books (including local-language books) – will be open before the year is out (link in Spanish).

Physical books are on-sale already, available in Castilian (Spanish), Galician, Catalan, and Euskara (Basque), as well as English and other languages. There are over 2.5 million books available for purchase, and Amazon is believed to have been stockpiling them for the past year.

A cursory glance through that book selection reveals some of the challenges facing Amazon in Spain, and perhaps some opportunities for self-publishers.

English hardbacks are offered at Amazon’s usual competitive discounts; for example, George RR Martin’s A Dance With Dragons is offered at 58% off. However, local language books reveal something very different.

Under Spanish law, Amazon can only discount books from Spanish publishers up to a maximum of 5%. This ban on deeper discounting holds for the first two years after publication. A quick glance through the local language book listings will confirm that this is the exact discount that has been applied to newer books.

Amazon was able to achieve dominance in the US through selection and price. One of the major weapons in their arsenal has essentially been disabled, for newer releases at least.

However, they will still be able to remain competitive through offering cheap or free delivery, and perhaps by being creative in bundling books with other items. Textbooks are exempt though, and we could see some aggressive Amazon pricing here.

With regard to e-books, an agreement is believed to be in place with the major Spanish publishers to price the Kindle editions at 30% below the print editions.

This rigid price structure presents a number of opportunities for both self-publishers and smaller publishers who fall outside the ambit of any price agreements (such as the Agency Agreement) and outside the remit of Spanish law.

CreateSpace books seem to be slowly filtering through. I found a print edition of Nathan Lowell’s Quarter Share, but none of his other books. But it won’t be until the Kindle Store opens later this year that real opportunities to undercut the bigger publishers will present themselves.

The biggest prizes of all may go to writers like Bob Mayer and Scott Nicholson, who are already working on Spanish language editions of their books.

It is not yet clear whether the hundreds of millions of Spanish speaking customers in Latin America will be able to purchase Kindle books from Amazon.es, but this would seem to be a logical move, especially given that the entire Spanish language area is usually carved out as one for territorial rights.

As for Amazon, I’m sure they would love more freedom to discount (and indeed they are up against similar, but not as restrictive, legislation in France and Germany). Help may be on the way from the European Union.

Earlier this year, the EU raided the offices of several French publishers who were suspected of colluding to fix prices. The investigation has since been expanded to several European countries.

The strange thing about this is that price fixing for print books has long been enshrined in law in several European countries, including France. What seemed to trigger the move was an alleged attempt by publishers to fix the prices of e-books.

Print books have often been treated differently under the law as they are considered cultural artefacts. Curiously, e-books, as they are delivered over the internet, are classified as a service, and often fall under the ambit of different legislation.

As EU law supersedes national law in both these areas, these discounting laws may have to be abolished, and, indeed, publishers could potentially face fines.

On a similar note, the Office of Fair Trading (a UK government body) is investigating the legality of the Agency Agreement and is expected to rule shortly. And, of course, in a highly publicized move last month, several class action suits were launched in the US alleging price-fixing in relation to the same agreement.

If any of these agreements are struck down, it will be a huge blow to the larger publishers who are attempting to both artificially inflate the prices of print books and e-books by limiting the ability of retailers (such as Amazon) to discount.

While some self-publishers may reflexively cheer any black eye given to Big Publishing, they should be careful what they wish for here. With no restrictions on discounting, Amazon (and other retailers) will be free to sell any book (both print and digital), at any price they like, removing one of the big competitive advantages that self-publishers have.

For now though, Amazon are stuck with the current restrictions, and self-publishers retain their pricing advantage in all markets.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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38 Responses to Amazon Launches In Spain, Kindle Store By Year End

  1. Dave, thanks for another interesting article. “The biggest prizes of all may go to writers like Bob Mayer and Scott Nicholson, who are already working on Spanish language editions of their books.” The big issue for me is translation.

    • It’s not cheap, and I wouldn’t recommend investing in it unless that title has already been successful enough in English to warrant the splurge (unless you have some particular compelling reason for translation).

      Most indies aren’t selling that well in Germany – I think I sell a couple a month. But once Kindle Stores open in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, The Netherlands, and Scandinavia (where a huge percentage of the population read in English), then all these dribs and drabs will start to add up – and will only increase as the markets grow.

      Publishers don’t make their money from having their books in one busy store. They make it from selling a copy every now and then in thousands of stores.

      • Neil says:

        India.

        Long term, I think the future (next year IIRC) Amazon store in India will be the next big breakthrough for English language books. A smaller market than the UK (due to economic distribution), but still a large market.

        Neil

  2. Leaving aside the cost of translation itself, there is the issue of royalty collection.

    There is a huge potential English-reading market out there in the non-English speaking nations, not to mention the Engish-as-official-language nations like India, Pakistan, Nigeria, etc. The problem here is realistic access to distribution outlets and viable income receipt.

    We’re currently in discussion with a number of major international e-book retailers to get our clients (and our) English-language ebooks in their stores. Uploading does not present insurmountable problems, but few have the facility to cost-effectively transfer to us the royalties that might accrue. Unless values are substantial any benefit will be eaten away by transfer fees and accounting costs, so hardly worthwhile for lone authors, and little better for small-scale e-publishers like us.

    As and when Amazon roll out their international Kindle stores they will hold the key, giving us the ability to upload from, and receive royalties in, our home country.

    Meanwhile we look on enviously as numerous new e-stores open and / or expand across the globe, and can only hope they might look at international royalty payment transfer options for the future, perhaps taking advantage of Paypal or Google Check-Out.

  3. josephine wade says:

    Hey Dave,
    I glad there will be a viable marketplace for Spanish speaking/reading people. I was thinking about what you said about translation above and I was wondering if certain types of books were more popular in Europe and South America? I know genre fiction does well here (in the US). I didn’t know if literature and certain types of non-fiction books which are not as popular here are doing well elsewhere or maybe pure entertainment value type fictions are always going to outstrip other works.
    I don’t know if this type of information is available and it was just a thought for those writing more serious type works.

    • I know that translated works perform better in every other country than the US. I would imagine that literary fiction performs better in Europe and South America. Poetry too. But the stereotype of all French people reading Proust can be dismissed with a quick look at their bestseller charts which are regularly topped by Stephen King, John Grisham and so on.

      Crime novels are huge here in Scandinavia, and every bookstore seems to be packed with all the usual thriller writers. In short, there are differences, but perhaps not as profound as made out.

  4. I have not put anything out on Amazon since late May (though I’m intending to change that this month). Is the 70% royalty still restricted to the US, UK, and Germany? And if so, is anyone asking/looking into when that might change?

    • It’s restricted to countries with an official Kindle Store. I believe Canada officially comes within the orbit of the US Kindle Store and we receive 70% for sales there too. Similarly, for sales in Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechenstein (which are part of the German store) we get 70%.

      I would imagine that Spanish sales will get us 70% once that store launches, and so on as stores launch.

  5. I have translators in about six countries now–don’t play the “traditional game.” Help a creative entrepreneur somewhere else–pay a royalty. It is not easy to find them, because the formal translator societies are as hidebound as traditional publishers are, but new eras require innovation. A translator earning a royalty for life should be much better than a one-time flat fee.

    There’s a huge opening for this type of matchmaking service if anyone out there is excited about it enough to start a business.

    • Let me see – German, Spanish, French, I think I remember you saying something about Chinese…Italian? Dutch? Japanese? Nice work!

      A fantastic idea, but I guess you would require some track record in terms of sales before you could attract any translator worth the title.

      And the matchmaking service could do great too.

    • Cora says:

      I think the best place for indie publishers to find literary translators would be targeting English and translation students right out of university who are passionate about literature and looking to break into literary translation, because established literary translators are often bound to traditional publishers and unwilling to take a chance on an indie writer, particularly if they don’t know if the indie will pay. All translators have horror stories about clients refusing to pay.

      The royalty idea should actually be a draw for literary translators, since this is what e.g. the German literary translators’ association has been fighting for for years now. Though considering the amount of work involved in translating a full length novel, many may prefer a flat fee.

      I like your matchmaking business idea, especially considering that the website of the German literary translators’ association is so god-awful for non-Germans looking for a translator. That’s definitely something to think about. Full disclosure: I am a German-English translator, though not specializing in fiction.

      For anybody thinking of translating their indie books: You need a native speaker of the target language or at least someone who is bilingual. Someone who just studied the language at highschool or college won’t do, because grasping all the nuances of a language well enough to translate fiction is very difficult. A tech or legal translator won’t necessarily do either, because many of them have a tin ear with regards to fiction. Most tech or legal or business translators I know wouldn’t take a fiction job anyway. And for heaven’s sake, don’t go via a translation agency. Translation agencies charge high fees and underpay their translators. The quality is often poor as well, since they only look at the bottom line.

      • Hi Cora,

        That’s very interesting. Assuming you could overcome the hurdles of the fear of the client not paying, how would the fee structure change if some royalties were thrown into the mix (for non-fiction English to German translation)?

        Dave

      • Cora says:

        For some reason, I can reply to my own comment, but not to yours, so the answer to your question is here:

        Basically, literary translators are paid a flat fee per page. Until fairly recently, a translator had no claim to any payment beyond the initial flat fee, even if the books becomes a bestseller or various subrights are sold, etc… However, there was a series of court cases and the so-called bestseller clause became law. The bestseller clause states that the translator is entitled to a royalty of 0.8 percent of the list price per hardcover and 0.4 percent per paperback in addition to the initial flat fee for any book that sells more than 5000 copies, i.e. becomes a bestseller. I had to look up the figures (like I said, I’m not a literary translator) and was shocked by how low it was. So Scott Nicholson’s 15% look fabulous compared to what the bestseller clause demands. BTW, for any indie author who is looking to have their books translated into German and doesn’t want to pay royalties to their translator, I’d specifically put a clause in the contract excluding royalties even in the case the book becomes a bestseller or subrights are sold. This way you avoid legal hassles, because the bestseller clause is German law and has been upheld in court.

        What is more, nonfiction is not necessarily translated by literary translators, depending on the subject. Memoirs, biographies and big ticket popular nonfiction is usually handled by literary translators. However, reference books, textbooks and all sorts of specialist books are often handled by translators specializing in whatever the subject of the book is. And while nonfiction translators normally ask for a higher page/word fee than fiction translators, they rarely ask for royalties, because the bestseller clause doesn’t apply to most nonfiction.

  6. prue batten says:

    Watching my own sales through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com compared with Amazon.de, it’s obvious translation is a major issue. As you say, to have it done well so that a novel’s nuances are retained, is a very expensive exercise, so anything other than an English language store is of little use to indies like myself. But for those who can manage the German and Spanish translations, well done and best of luck.
    One question, I wonder if there are national preferences for genres?

    • Even if your books are only in English, these international sales will eventually add up as the markets grow and new Kindle Stores open.

    • Cora says:

      Actually, the low sales most indies are experiencing at Amazon DE are as much due to the low e-reader penetration in Germany (around 0.5 percent of the market last year, though it may be up to one or even two percent by now) as to translation issues. All younger Germans, i.e. the demography most likely to own an e-reader, speak reasonable English and a number is willing to read in English as well. They just don’t much care for e-books.

      I am German and I have never sold a book on Amazon DE, because the friend and family that might buy them don’t own e-readers and have no plans of buying any. As for myself, I mainly read print books as well and only by indies with no print edition as e-books.

  7. Jim Bronyaur says:

    I’m all for expansion. And Amazon usually does it right. The translation thing is a concern, but again, like you said David, the couple sales here and there do help and add up.

    I like Scott’s concept of finding someone to work via royalty, but that would require some heavy contracts, no? I mean, as the translator, what’s the pricing issue if (1) the book never sells and (2) the author pulls the book and quits.

    BUt again, the key note here is options. Amazon isn’t stopping, and neither should any of us. Get the best books out we can and expand in due time. Remember, the US population is what – over 300 million people alone… that’s a heck of a market to start with, right??? haha!

    -Jim

  8. Edwin Stark says:

    Suits me fine… I write BOTH in English and Spanish… this might open markets to the original Spanish version of Eco Station One that I got moldering in my trunk… and get some jobs offeing cheap translations😛

    • Jim Bronyaur says:

      Hey Edwin! SO, uh, you can translate…. let’s talk. 😉

      haha!

      Darn me for not paying attention in high school! I was more interesting in playing guitar and chasing girls then showing up to the my languages classes. haha!

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  12. Great news! Apolo Drakuvich is being translated into Spanish and will be out early next month! Woo Hoo…..good timing!

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  18. Mony Dojeiji says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this information, David. It’s very enlightening.

    I currently have a book published with Booklocker, who I’m very pleased with. Our book is in the Ingram catalogue and the major online retailers, with the exception of amazon.es. I’m investingating why.

    In the meantine, we’re translating our book into Castillian Spanish (my husband and co-writer is Spanish) and are looking to self-publish in Spain, and make the book available to that market first, and of course to the Spanish-speaking market in the US and Latin America. Who do you recommend for POD and distribution in Spain? Booklocker has a printer in the UK, but my concern is shipping costs to Spain. Their printer in the US can handle the US Latino market, but I don’t even want to think about shipping costs to South America from the US!

    Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks,
    Mony

  19. Mony Dojeiji says:

    Thanks Dave! I’ll check out Casa del Libro and see what they have to offer.

    All the best,
    Mony

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  22. hi David. i’ve been getting your advice and i follow your blog daily. I own a Kindle touch and so far is awesome. I’m always looking for new books and stuff.
    Amazon recently opened in Brazil and Japan. More opportunities there.

    If you allow me I’d like to share a site I found to be really useful, it notifies you everytime there’s a free spanish kindle book available: http://kindleton.com/

    Hope it helps!

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