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eBook Gift Cards Now Taking Off in Germany

If you liked the ebook gift cards that Livrada is just beginning to sell in Target stores, you’ll love the recent expansion of a similar product in Germany.

For the past 4 months 7 booksellers in Germany have been testing a new way to sell ebooks. is a cooperative effort of EPIDU, ceebo and Umbreit (digital publishing startup, ebook platform, and book wholesaler, respectively).  The platform, which uses cards like the one at right, works much the same as the Livrada system.

Readers can buy the ebook gift card in bookstores (or even regular retail stores). Once they have it they can redeem the card by either scanning the QR code found on the card itself or by visiting and typing in a code.

At this point the process diverges slightly. Unlike Livrada, is set up to handle ebooks both with the more traditional Adobe DE DRM as well as ebooks that instead use watermarks for security. That lower level of security means that readers will be more easily transfer the ebook to their Kindle and other devices, and as always that is a plus. appears to be handling the transfer of the DRMed and watermarked ebooks itself, and the site promises that no registration is required. You do have to provide an email address, but that is likely used as a minimal level of security to prevent a code being passed around. has been in beta testing since April, and it benefits from its early start into this niche. The service currently offers 100 titles for booksellers to stock (compared to the 5 offered by Livrada) and enjoys the support of an extensive list of German publishers: Bastei Lübbe, Dryas Verlag, DuMont Verlag, EPIDU, Gmeiner Verlag, Carl Hanser Verlag, Karl May Verlag, Klett-Cotta Verlag, Verlagsgruppe Random House, Residenz Verlag, Schaeffer-Poeschel and Unsichtbar Verlag.

The service caught my attention this week with the news that it is now exiting the pilot phase. It’s now open to any publisher or retailer that wishes to sign up. It’s available via the website, and bookstores currently working with Umbreit can request the cards via the usual channels.

Interesting idea, isn’t it? I like it, but it has at least one issue which I think might hobble it in the long run. For example, Germany has laws to support fixed book prices. They’re designed to protect local bookstores, and that’s a good thing.

But the fixed prices are going to put booksellers in a position where they won’t be able to discount the ebook cards in order to gain more appeal.  And given that a publisher is likely to do both paper books and book cards, I don’t see them discounting the price of the ebook card any. If they did they would undercut the sales of print books.

Ask yourself this: assuming a pbook and an ebook card cost the same, which would have greater appeal? Is it the one which you can read right now or the one which you have to go home to download?

I’d get the ebook card, but I’m not sure everyone will. The immediacy of the pbook could win out.

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Tim July 25, 2012 um 6:42 pm

I imagine/hope the ebook cards will be priced as the regular ebooks (i.e. usually between 10-25% cheaper than pbooks). That might convince a few people to opt for the ebook.
If publishers however set the same price for the ebook card as the pbook it will in all likelyhood be a failure.

Peter July 25, 2012 um 8:59 pm

This is for tax purposes.

The German VAT is reduced for physical books to promote culture, or something, but ebooks need not apply.

Thus, make ebooks physical and maybe the tax break is applicable?

Nate Hoffelder July 25, 2012 um 9:01 pm

Okay, now that’s something I hadn’t thought of. Interesting!

Tim July 26, 2012 um 6:31 am

The higher VAT for ebooks (19% vs 7% for pbooks) is probably one of the reasons why ebooks are not cheaper.

I doubt however that selling an ebook using a gift card makes it possible to apply the reduced VAT. The reason why the the higher VAT for ebooks applies is after all that ebooks are considered as services and not goods under the applicable EU directive. I don’t see how that would change with the gift card. On the other hand it could work as long as nobody complains …

Are eBook Gift Cards on the Rise or Decline? ⋆ The Digital Reader December 15, 2014 um 11:33 am

[…] was launched in late 2011 as a collaboration between Epidu, ceebo and Umbreit (digital publishing startup, ebook platform, […]

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