China's popular microblogging website Sina Weibo reported on May 31 (local time) that in recent times, a series of "re-sellers" of Amazon Kindle books have appeared on the country's Taobao Marketplace, an online shopping site that is similar to eBay in the West.
These "re-sellers" claim they can provide customers with any Amazon Kindle books at extremely low prices. For example, all those ebooks priced at 4.99 RMB (US$0.81) or below can be purchased at only 1 RMB (US$0.16), while those priced at 4.99-9.99 RMB (US$0.81-1.62) can be purchased at only 2 RMB (US$0.33).
The report gives a specific example of local writer Chai Jing's novel Seen [Kanjian], which is available at 14.99 RMB (US$2.44) on Amazon's Kindle store in China. The Chinese ebook is currently sold by the abovementioned "re-sellers" for only 4 RMB (US$0.65).
Many of these Chinese "re-sellers" provide not only local Chinese ebooks, but "any English-language books available on Amazon sites around the world". One of them says: "We re-sell ebooks from Amazon's official Kindle store in China, in their original mobi and azw3 formats. As long as an ebook is sold by Amazon, we can provide it in formats such as azw3, epub and mobi. Kindly notify us if other formats are required. You can then read these ebooks on platforms such as Kindle, Nook, PC, android, iOS and Mac, without opening any accounts."
Specifically, according to the "re-seller", those English-language ebooks available at US$10 or less on Amazon Kindle store can be provided for only 5 RMB (US$0.81). Those priced at US$10-20 are provided for only 10 RMB (US$1.63). A customer commented: "This is a great deal. They're fast, and their pricing is fair, and they're offering the original ebooks!" He (or she) went on to say, "I once bought a proper ebook from Amazon, Sophie's World, which cost me as much as US$8. I complained about this on the Internet, and learned that I could buy this ebook from the 're-sellers' for 8 RMB [US$1.30] only."
China's industry insiders have pointed out that because Amazon does not encrypt its ebooks, they are "easy to crack". This is an open secret. "At this stage, Amazon Kindle is not having any success in China in terms of copyright protection," the report quotes Tao Shi, vice president of JD.com, a popular e-commerce website in China that also sells ebooks, as saying. "Amazon Kindle takes the most direct approach, encrypting only its gadget or format, but not its content. Take mobi as an example. These days there are at least hundreds of software providers who can crack this format," Shi said.
According to Shi, Amazon uses its mobi format worldwide and chooses not to encrypt it, because it is meant to only be read by Kindle (hardware or software). However, this format is very easy to crack. "In other countries you can use the law to stop piracy, so no one dares to pirate anything," Shi said. As a result, dealers of ebook rights in China always protect the copyright holders by encrypting their content.
"Overseas ebook suppliers, such as Penguin, are very serious in their protection of copyright. They care a lot about ebook encryption technologies and have conducted plenty of tests in this regard," Shi said. "Obviously we can still be hacked, but it will be difficult. The encryption itself will also have some negative impact on user experiences. But I think we should still enforce encryption because it is the right thing to do, to protect the content."
According to Shi , it will be extremely difficult for Amazon Kindle store in China to solve the piracy problem. "Amazon cannot enforce encryption on the content because its hardware doesn't support it. Besides, it most likely will not do this simply for one market, i.e. China," he said. As Amazon Kindle gadgets will soon land in China, supposedly in July, Shi is concerned that they will be doomed from the start. "If Kindle gadgets arrive in China, and if readers don't purchase content from Amazon, but from the pirates who have cracked the content, then it will be a disaster to the Chinese publishing industry."
The report's author claims that he (or she) has contacted the person in charge at Amazon Kindle store in China. The Amazon representatives reply was: "Amazon has always cared a lot about copyright protection." When asked about issues of possible encryption, the person responded, "We do not comment on technical details."
The report also quoted Zhang Hongbo, secretary -general of the Chinese Copyright Association, who said in the association's Weibo microblog that it is the responsibility of Taobao Marketplace as an online shopping site to check the qualifications of its sellers. As all published content in China can be sold only with government-issued permits, Taobao may be accused by publishers as having violated copyright laws by allowing some of its sellers to sell pirated content.
But how about Amazon? It cannot have gone into the Chinese market naively. While it may be seen as a victim, some Chinese industry insiders claim that Amazon should do its job and protect its content much better. Others claim that Amazon is not concerned about piracy because as a technical problem alone, it is unsolvable. More importantly, Amazon does not make profits only from the selling of ebooks -- the advertising function included in its Kindle gadgets can also bring in lots of money. If this claim is true, then it is unlikely that Amazon will pay much attention to the encryption issue, even in China. As a result, authors and publishers will be left to fend for themselves -- ultimately, they are the ones who really care about the protection of their content via various DRM (Digital Rights Management) technologies.
Image thanks to www.TechNewsWorld.com.