Tolino passes Kindle – or does it?

This Friday, the news dropped that the Tolino, an e-reader developed and marketed by an alliance of several German, Austrian, Swiss and soon Dutch booksellers, had passed Amazon’s Kindle with regard to market share. According to the report, Tolino now has a share of 45% of the (tiny) German e-book market, up from 38%. Amazon has 39%, down from 47%. The remaining 14% are split between Kobo, Apple and Sony. The figures are based on a consumer survey, since Amazon doesn’t release sales figures.

This is pretty big news, particularly considering the dominance of Amazon in the e-book market in most countries where they are operating. But then Amazon has lately been getting some bad press in Germany, most unjustified. Plus, the Tolino alliance is marketing its readers quite heavily and just recently introduced the first waterproof e-book reader. Plus, Tolino allows people who dislike shopping online to testdrive its e-readers in the very stores where they buy books.

However, the German e-reader news and review site Alles e-book took a closer look at the figures and noted that if you add the pre-alliance market shares of the various Tolino stores together, the growth of Tolino no longer looks quite so remarkable, since the overall Tolino market share matches that of the different Tolino partners. Plus, a new Tolino partner, Libri a.k.a. joined the alliance recently and the Tolino market share growth of 7% almost exactly matches Libri‘s marketshare.

I remember being quite stunned when I first saw the market share of Thalia, Weltbild, and other Tolino alliance stores in the German online book market, since I’ve been buying my books at Amazon for more than ten years now, longer than most of those stores even had an online presence (though BOL was around back in the early 2000s). Everybody I know buys books at Amazon as well, so where did all of those Weltbild and Thalia shoppers come from?

However, I’m hardly the usual German book buyer – for starters, because I buy mostly English language books. And readers of English language books along with academics and university students were early adopters of Amazon, because Amazon was the best and often only place to get foreign language books and obscure academic books. So I basically lived in a bubble of early Amazon adopters who’ve been using Amazon for more than ten years and thus never considered switching to any of the German stores. I have an account at Thalia and sometimes buy books there, but I’m still mainly an Amazon shopper.

However, the average German book buyer who wants popular fiction and non-fiction and doesn’t care for foreign language books switched to online shopping much later than the early adopters (online shopping only really took off in Germany in the past five years or so) and once they did, they went to buy books where they had gone to buy them before, at the online stores of the same brick and mortar stores they had been patronising before. Plus, the German stores offer some payment option such as payment against invoice that Amazon doesn’t offer to my knowledge.

Nonetheless, indie authors should take note of Tolino‘s success, because this is a part of the market that you won’t reach via Amazon. And though Tolino is currently very focussed on German language books and the range of English language books on offer is often pitiful, not to mention overpriced due to distributors of trad pub books taking a hefty cut, expect this to change in the future.

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4 Responses to Tolino passes Kindle – or does it?

  1. readingsff says:

    This really is interesting. Seems like I was living in the same bubble as you, only mine burst earlier. I was very surprised when my in-laws finally bought an e-reader a year or so ago and it turned out to be a Tolino. (I think, at the time, the Tolino was actually cheaper than the kindle. This might have been the deciding factor for them. They do not read English-language books.)

    • Cora says:

      I think for those of us who were either early adopters of online shopping or preferred to read in English (two demographics that often overlap), Amazon was the logical destination for online book shopping and also for e-books that we barely paid the German competitors any attention. I think Thalia’s online store only opened approx. 5 years ago and initially didn’t have most of the books I wanted either, so why bother?

      However, for someone who has only recently entered the world of online shopping and/or e-books, the logical destination is probably the store where they already buy physical books rather than “the great American satan Amazon” (and that’s pretty much how they have been portrayed in the media). Besides, you can test a Tolino in the participating stores and have a sales clerk explain it to you (I actually did that once. Dude was quite disappointed that I knew more about e-books than he did). By now you can actually buy Kindles at real and Media Markt/Saturn, but you probably won’t get the same level of explanation as at Thalia.

      Finally, the price is always a good argument as well, especially if you don’t want or need English language books anyway. Come to think of it, Weltbild’s pre-Tolino e-reader was always the cheapest model on the German market in the time it existed.

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