For the previous decade, three corporations have been constructing full-fledged e book ecosystems with units, apps and digital bookstores all working completely collectively — Amazon, Rakuten and a tiny firm known as Vivlio.
Whereas Amazon’s Kindle is the clear chief and Rakuten’s Kobo the plain challenger, Vivlio has been constructing an open European various to those two tech giants. And it proves that you would be able to compete with tech giants with a workforce of 35 so long as you could have a definite technique with completely different targets.
Vivlio was included in 2011, only a yr after Kobo launched its first e book reader. At first, Vivlio was a facet mission from Decitre, a bookstore chain from the Lyon space. Similar to Barnes & Noble within the U.S., Decitre wished to begin promoting ebooks in order that it could handle all of your studying wants.
However Vivlio selected a unique path because it instantly determined that it wished to construct a bookstore-agnostic e book platform. Cultura, one of many largest booksellers in France, turned a shareholder.
“The thought was to create a European coalition — effectively, French at first, however we’re making an attempt to make it European now — a coalition of corporations with comparable pursuits, booksellers and retailers of cultural items, round a French after which European resolution,” Vivlio CEO David Dupré informed me.
Turning bookshops into e book sellers
Bookshops existed lengthy earlier than the inception of Amazon. However Amazon didn’t companion with present bookstores to ship books to your property. Whereas Amazon has managed to seize a big market share of e book gross sales, bookshops nonetheless exist.
In some international locations, together with many European international locations, fastened e book costs have even helped unbiased bookstores stay in enterprise. That’s why the e book trade continues to be a extremely fragmented trade in Europe with giant e-commerce retailers, massive chain bookstores and unbiased outlets.
From the very starting, Vivlio wager that the e book trade would stay fragmented — constructing yet-another-Amazon wouldn’t be a successful transfer. Vivlio signed a handful of partnerships with small and large chain bookstores in order that it might run their e book shops for them.
In France, along with Decitre and Cultura, Vivlio has additionally partnered with Decitre’s sister firm Furet du Nord and Leclerc. Vivlio can be working with the main chain bookstores in Belgium and Spain, Standaard Boekhandel/Membership and Casa del Libro respectively. So in the event you’ve purchased an e-book on a kind of web sites, Vivlio dealt with that transaction on behalf of these retailers.
“The elemental precept of the Vivlio mannequin, which actually units us aside from Kobo, for instance, which has a partnership with Fnac, is that we assure two issues to our companions. First, the shopper stays their buyer. Which means the shopper account is a bookseller’s buyer account, not a Vivlio buyer account,” Dupré mentioned.
“Second, a really giant portion of the gross sales generated by the Vivlio ecosystem go to the bookseller. In different phrases, we go away many of the margin to the reseller . . . That’s the contractual, authorized and operational promise,” he added.
Whereas Vivlio solely takes a small minimize on every e book sale, it nonetheless represents the vast majority of the corporate’s income. However promoting ebooks is one factor. It’s important to present methods to learn these ebooks after that.
The French firm rapidly understood that it wanted to promote its personal e book readers in order that patrons might obtain and skim their books on a devoted machine. As soon as once more, as an alternative of designing an e book reader from scratch, Vivlio partnered with an present producer, PocketBook — extra on that later.
Promoting ebooks has additionally represented a technical problem for the corporate. The dominant file format for ebooks is known as epub — even current Kindle units now help epub books. So naturally Vivlio is promoting epub recordsdata.
However e book publishers usually require a safety technique (a DRM) to ensure that ebooks don’t find yourself on the web just some days after the official launch. Whereas Amazon, Rakuten, Apple and Google have all designed their very own DRM layer, most third-party e book sellers depend on Adobe’s DRM system.
However Adobe’s DRM hasn’t developed in years. It’s clunky, hostile to the tip consumer and Adobe takes a minimize on every transaction. “The corporate actually nearly died due to [Adobe’s DRM] as we have been having main issues. It accounted for 80% of our buyer help requests,” Dupré mentioned.
Vivlio contributed to Readium LCP, an open-source DRM resolution that doesn’t require an Adobe account (or any third-party account). Many corporations and public establishments have embraced LCP lately. Adobe’s DRM continues to be the main safety system, however this technical transfer contributes to the open ecosystem philosophy behind Vivlio.
Including e book readers to the ecosystem
Vivlio companions with PocketBook for its e book readers. However these units aren’t simply rebranded PocketBook units as the corporate provides a software program layer in order that they work with all the Vivlio ecosystem. As an example, you’ll be able to log in to your bookstore account straight in your Vivlio e-reader. All of your purchases are routinely synchronized along with your machine and Vivlio’s cloud storage.
Vivlio at present has three e book readers in its product lineup. There’s the entry-level Vivlio Gentle e-reader with a 6-inch show and a color-adjustable frontlight. There’s the improved model of that reader, the Vivlio Gentle HD. And there’s an even bigger e-reader known as the Vivlio InkPad 4. This one has a 7.8-inch show.
I’ve been testing the Vivlio Gentle HD for the previous few weeks, and it’s precisely what you’d anticipate from an e-reader in 2023. With a 300dpi display screen, the textual content is sharp and extremely readable. The battery lasts a number of weeks, even once you use the frontlight. There’s a USB-C port for charging, built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and a ton of customization choices for the interface, gestures and typography.
It’s additionally price noting that there are tiny bodily buttons on the backside of the machine — bodily buttons are unusual with e-readers these day. Total, it’s a small studying machine that you would be able to carry with you in every single place you go.
There are different options, equivalent to an online browser, a calendar and a few easy video games like solitaire. However within the smartphone period, e-readers are good for one factor — studying. If you happen to’re an intense reader and don’t need to carry a pile of books with you in your subsequent trip, this machine works extraordinarily effectively.
A impartial participant
Vivlio positions itself as a impartial participant within the e book trade. Whereas Cultura is now the principle shareholder, it nonetheless has a handful of minority shareholders from the trade. As an example, Divibib is a current addition on Vivlio’s capitalization desk.
Divibib isn’t a bookstore, it’s an organization that works tightly with public libraries in Germany. As you could have guessed, you should utilize a Vivlio e-reader to borrow books from German libraries. As soon as once more, that’s as a result of digital lending is one other type of e book studying.
“The corporate isn’t going to be built-in into a gaggle. The thought is to create an alliance of European companions. The capital can be structured on this manner. It’s not open to everybody, however when now we have main companions, there could also be discussions so as to add them as shareholders,” Dupré mentioned.
Vivlio is effectively conscious that it’s by no means going to be as massive as Amazon or Rakuten. However the firm estimates that it has tons of of hundreds of energetic customers. It’s not an enormous quantity, however there are solely 35 folks working for the corporate.
Extra importantly, there’s a whole lot of room for development. As folks begin taking a look at ebooks as a strategy to complement their studying habits, Vivlio supplies a number of entry factors into its ecosystem. It’s an attention-grabbing enterprise case that illustrates differentiated positioning.