E-book technology in Vietnam has appeared and developed along with the increase in hi-tech devices, as in other countries. Reading books on laptops, smartphones, and tablet computers has become a new pastime of Vietnamese adolescents nowadays.
However, Vietnamese e-books have developed in a very different way. All kinds of e-books, both copyrighted and illegal ones in many fields, such as comics, literature, philosophy, and science, are being downloaded freely and without government control, from either websites like e-thuvien, tailieu.vn, and bookbooming, or e-book reader/device shops.
“A field trip”
For the last year, copyrighted e-books have been sold on Reader.vn and Alezaa, which have approximately 2,000 book titles, and in Phuong Nam bookseller’s, with about 200 book titles. Over this time period, the e-book market has developed significantly through the work of many Vietnamese bookshops and publishers.
Phuong Nam Cultural Joint Stock Corporation opened its first e-book store, which is also the first of its kind in Vietnam, in the Vincom Shopping Mall in District 1 this past April. This 500 square-meter e-book store provides customers with many book titles published by Phuong Nam, as well as a variety of modern reading devices like smartphones and tablet computers.
In May Tre Publishing House founded the Ybook Co and joined this new movement. They plan to present 5,000 book titles published by their own company and other publishing houses till September.
Dong Phuoc Vinh, deputy director of Ybook, said that they have increased the number of e-books available by 1,000 items every month by purchasing copyrighted works from many famous writers such as Nguyen Nhat Anh, Nguyen Ngoc Tu, and Nguyen Huy Thiep.
He added, “Ybook is planning to charge VND5,000-10,000 for each e-book that was already published for a while, and about 30 percent of the printed books’ price for each new item”.
Many publishing houses have changed their business strategy to profit from this new market by replacing book printing with e-book production. Amazon, a major American online marketplace and the company that created the Kindle, has sold twice as many e-books as paper books, for instance.
However, other companies are hesitating to join the e-book market because of the spread of illegal e-books and copyright infringement cases in Vietnam.
Hence, many have decided to cooperate together. Education Publishing House, for example, has been working with the Vietnam Television Corp (VTC) to produce e-books. Viettel and FPT mobile network have joined to produce e-books read on mobile phones. Lac Viet has digitized 5,000 book titles to read by its own programs because of the copyright protection.
Due to the fact that 81 percent of copyrighted software is infringed upon, and as a result USD359 million are lost every year in Vietnam, getting involved in the e-book market is risky.
Thanks to the development of scanning devices and image processing software by which images can be converted easily to text files, sharing free e-books on forums is becoming more popular and simple. Hence, thousands of illegal e-books have been downloaded without any government control.
Bich Ngan, writer and deputy director of the Art and Culture Publishing House, admitted that the large demand for e-books is a reality, but his company will do enter this new market only when the government enforces copyright protection laws.
“An e-book is a book and they should be fully protected by the same government copyright laws as printed ones”, Dong Phuoc Vinh said. “Copyright protection laws were implemented a few years ago, but authorities and the Vietnamese Intellectual Property Organization are doing nothing about this problem”, he added.
Several years ago the Kim Dong Publishing House, based in Hanoi, recognized the big profits that e-book technology could bring. However, they have not made any effort to enter the market because of difficulties in copyright protection and publishing.
Tran Viet Anh, deputy director of the Women Publishing House, said that “Many e-book websites have offered to buy copyright printed books from us, but we did not accept because there is little profit from this business and is not enough to pay for writers."
Furthermore, copyright infringement is becoming standard behavior.”
Moreover, the fact that the Phuong Nam e-book store’s main purpose is selling reading devices, not e-books, shows the company’s lack of faith in this new market.
Nguyen Minh Nhat, director of the Tre Publishing House, revealed their company’s solution: “We will combat illegal e-books by selling our copyrighted products at favorable prices, from VND1,000-10,000 each, to encourage customers to buy legal products and ostracize illegal ones”.
However, even at such low prices, illegal e-books still bring greater advantages and convenience to readers than legal ones. To get a copyrighted e-book, customers have to register an account on a publisher’s website and pay fees online via their bank or mobile phone.
On the other hand, people simply have to make a few clicks on their e- reader devices to get illegal e-books. Hence, copyrighted e-books have no chance to compete with their illegal counterparts.
In addition, profits that copyrighted e-books have brought back to publishers are too small, and as a result have created poor quality products and service. Hence, readers have yet another reason to choose illegal e-books over legal ones.
According to writer Chu Lai, 15 of his books were sold to Alezaa E-book for less than one million VND. He shared his disappointment, “That was all of my work. Some are bestselling books. I sold all and got back very little money. I don’t support e-book development for it is bringing back disadvantages for writers like poor profits and copyright infringement”
Moreover, according to Vietnamese lawyers, they have faced many difficulties in enforcing copyright protection laws due to the lack of legal e-books in the market. Thus, people have to look for illegal ones to satisfy their demand. The weakness in copyright management also means that readers cannot find out whom the copyright belongs to, the writer or the publisher.
Chu Van Hoa, director of publishing department under the Ministry of Information and Communications, shared that, “We need a new particular law for the e-book market. Many illegal e-books contain depraved and reactionary content. This is a serious social evil that needs to be eliminated through the cooperation of government, publishers and readers.”
Until the new law is approved, there will be no way for Vietnam’s e-book market to move forward unless publishers sacrifice their profits and provide cheap, high-quality e-books as well as simple payment methods. Furthermore, Vietnamese readers should change their behavior from using free and illegal e-books into paying for copyrighted ones with a proper price.