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What’s an eBook? 70% of Brazilians Don’t Know

Kobo, Amazon, and Apple are all interested in the Brazilian ebook market, but it looks like they have their work cut out for them. A several month old survey shows that hardly anyone in Brazil knows what an ebook is, and an even tinier number have even read them.

The Instituto Pró-Livro, a pro-literacy organization in Brazil, conducts a survey every year in Brazil on how and what the public is reading. The latest survey results were actually released in late March, but even though they are 4 months out of date I do not expect them to be off by too much (they’re so bad that even a large shift will still be bad).

The Instituto  reported in their Retratos daf Leitura that when asked, a full 70% of respondents indicated that they didn’t know what an ebook was. In a national population of nearly 200 million that’s a startlingly large number of people who had never heard of the idea that you might read a book on a screen.

Of the 30% who did read ebooks, you might want to sit down before learning how many bought ebooks.

It was only 13% (of those who knew about ebooks). If you considered it as a part of the total population it would be around 4%. Damn.  And of the ones who aren’t buying ebooks most are simply downloading for free online and about a third reported pirating their ebooks.

BTW, this is also far lower than the numbers Bowker released earlier this year; they found that 18% of Brazilians had bought ebooks. But other than that Bowker’s survey data showed a similar ebook buyer profile: 52% were women and most had a college degree. But the local survey did show the 18-24 age group dominating, not the 25-34 age group that Bowker identified. I’m at a loss to explain the difference.

As scary as these numbers are, it’s actually good news for whichever major ebookstore launches first. With so few people even knowing about them, Brazil is a virgin market for ebooks. Once the publishers get moving in the right direction and once local devices get cheap enough there’s no reason Brazil won’t see a surge in the growth of the ebook market.

Still, success is not guaranteed; Amazon and Kobo still have to overcome what’s likely the cause of the piracy: there aren’t very many ebooks to buy.Right now there are under 20 thousand local titles available in the Brazilian ebook market, and until that increases (drastically) the ebook market will stay small.


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Kelvin Paul August 1, 2012 um 2:42 pm

Here in Brazil we say "a book is expensive because nobody reads, and nobody reads because books are expensive…". It’s a commercial joke but reality won’t deny it.
And it’s curios to see that an ebook has almost the [expensive] price of the physical version, so yes, most people won’t see any diference between buying a book or an ebook.
If Amazon, Apple and Kobo want to do business here, first they should try to reduce the abusive price of academic ebooks, when and if there is such digital version. I’m pretty sure the best market for ebooks is inside the universities, it’s just a question of low price ereaders/tablets and many versions of academic books.

Afrânio August 1, 2012 um 5:58 pm

Brazilian publishers are not different from the publishers of any other country. I’m really looking for Amazon and Kobo to arrive here and start the change. It will be difficult because the publishers here play dirty. But like you said, the ebook market here is open just because the publishers decided to ignore it. They think that things won’t change here. But they are wrong.

What’s an eBook? 70% of Brazilians Don’t Know | The Passive Voice August 2, 2012 um 12:04 pm

[…] downloading for free online and about a third reported pirating their ebooks.Link to the rest at The Digital ReaderClick to Tweet/Email/Share This Post wpa2a.script_load(); Ebook/Ereader Growth, Ebooks, […]

Doris August 2, 2012 um 12:22 pm

Interesting article, but this poll misses the point: There are two few books for so many million people – who speak Portuguese and not English! – to even get a realistic result.

Unless they get $0.99 – 2.99 ebooks soon in Portuguese – they won’t buy eReaders and eBooks. Why should they?
Same is in Europe and Japan: who bother, when you can buy a paper book for almost the same price?

Anon August 2, 2012 um 5:46 pm

So many typos! Two in the first sentence: "Kobo Amazon, and Apple" should be "Kobo, Amazon and Apple", "they’re" should be "their".

"pro-literacy organization n Brazil" should be "pro-literacy organization in Brazil"

"had nevr heard of the idea" should be "had never heard of the idea"

"before find out how many" should be "before finding out how many" or "before you find out how many"

Please proof-read, and use a spell-checker.

antares August 2, 2012 um 9:16 pm

Two decades have passed since I was last in Brazil, but my last trip there may shed some light on why most Brazilians don’t know what an electronic book is.

I flew to Sao Paulo. A Brazilian friend asked me to carry a couple of items to his father: a telephone answering machine and a VCR. Together, they totaled about $650 retail. The entry limit then was $700, but I had nothing to declare, so the total did not bother me. He showed me the items — still in the shrinkwrap — and packed them into a separate box. So as not to inconvenience me, he accompanied me to the airport and carried the box.

Unfortunately, these items put me over my weight limit. My friend paid the $100 weight-penalty, and I boarded my flight.

14 hours later I deplaned at Guarulhos International Airport and took a taxi to my residencia. I telephoned my friend’s father. He and his son flew in from Belo Horizonte the next day to collect the items and flew home that night.

All expenses totaled — the retail price of the items in the US, the weight penalty, and two round-trip domestic airfares — were LESS than the purchase price of the same items in Brazil.

Electronics were prohibitively expensive in Brazil. I doubt this has changed.

I suspect that most Brazilians don’t know what an eBook is because most Brazilians cannot afford to buy an eBook reader.

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