March 4, 2013

Germany launches an Amazon competitor


The Tolino launch.

On Friday, three of Germany’s biggest booksellers, along with its biggest media company and its biggest telecom company, debuted an e-book distribution platform and an e-reader intended to compete with Amazon, Apple, and other e-reader hardware and content providers like Kobo. The various parties involved are: the bookstore chains Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel (not a German doughnut, despite the way the name sounds), Deutsche Telekom, and a little operation called Bertelsmann. The platform site, at, launched with 300,000 titles, which is more than double the number of e-books available in German through’s Kindle store. Users of the site are given the option to buy books from any of the participating booksellers, so that it functions more as a portal to the individual sites than as a new one-stop-shopping source.

The accompanying device, the Tolino Shine, is a 6-inch e-ink reader that will be sold for €99.99 (approx. $128) online and in the bookstores. It runs on the Android operating system and supports Adobe DRM.

It’s an unusual step for long-time competitors to take, but then these are unusual times, and the challenge of confronting Amazon has united this particularly powerful bunch of players. From Laura Hazard Owen‘s article on the launch, on Gigaom:

The companies involved in the deal suggest that, while Amazon is too large a competitor for any one of them to go up against, by banding together they have a better chance. In the press release, Thalia CEO Michael Busch describes such a partnership as “unseen before” and says: “Every company has to consider its strategic approach and interests and choose the partners that will serve these interests best in order to compete with the mighty U.S. online retailer giants.”

“The aim of the partnership is to create a competitive, single internet platform for digital products, especially for digital reading,” Weltbild’s Carol Haff told German book trade publication Buchreport.

Amanda DeMarco, founder of the Berlin-based English-language website Readux, reports that German Twitter reactions to the news were largely skeptical — about the DRM, about the wisdom of investing in yet another e-reader when that market may be slowing down, about the lack of openness of the partners to indies. There’s a feeling that Tolino — with its imitation-Kindle reader and its ungainly yoking together of competitors — may be an idea whose time has past.

But, at the very least, it demonstrates that German publishing is trying out a number of different routes into a fuller, more developed e-book market, and the concerted resistance to a sense of “inevitable domination” by foreign giants that DeMarco points to as a feature of German publishing culture in this Publishing Perspectives article is a heartening thing to be reminded about.



Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.