Bookmate, Russian subscription-based digital library

March 13, 2014
Bookmate, Russian subscription-based digital library If a reader will not go to a bookstore, a publisher must go to a reader; or at least follow them to the place where they can be found. So much has already been said about social networks and their usage in promoting reading. A combination of a social network with a subscription-based online library has welded into the book club called Bookmate. Bookmate was established in Russia in 2010 as one of the first subscription-based reading platforms in the world and is a truly digital “companion to hardback and paperback”.

“Bookmate was created by IT-people who were fond of reading”, said Maxim Balabin, Creative Director at Dream Industries. In addition to Bookmate, DI owns an online licensed digital music service ‘Zvooq' and an offline learning centre called ‘Theory and Practice’. “At some point we realized that in our ever rapidly changing times it is only a blink of the eye in front of a computer or from a mobile device that we have the opportunity to read.”

“Subscription model makes reading an affordable entertainment for people in countries where people cannot spend more than $ 10 to purchase a book”, said Balabin. A monthly subscription rate of 150 Roubles (around $ 4) and good customer service have proved to be beneficial. By the end of 2013 Bookmate enjoyed more than a million readers, thus making it an attractive platform for publishers.

It has taken Bookmate three years to overcome the initial publisher’s caution to the idea of giving unlimited access to the entire catalogue of their books for a modest subscription price. Today Bookmate works with all major Russian publishers and the biggest Russian aggregator LitRes. Thus the collection of more than 250 000 titles has made Bookmate the largest collection of digital books in Russian language. That includes literary classics, contemporary fiction and non-fiction. Bookmate is compatible with iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and any web browser. Books are synced automatically and can be read offline.

Currently Book mate is focused on developing services for publishers and readers. Marketing tools for publishers include analytics and statistics on readers’ behaviour. That not only includes book rankings but also gives an insight into the average time spend on reading, the speed and pattern of reading, what time of day people read, geographical location of the readers, and even what texts are quoted the most. This analytics provides publishers with a valuable tool whilst developing their respective portfolios.

In Russia today, and especially so in the regions, people read a lot on traditional PCs. Many Bookmate readers come from other countries as well. For some of the 60 million Russians scatted all over the world digital format might be the only opportunity to read books in their mother tongue. 

To some extent Bookmate’s functionality combines Scribd and Goodreads. Readers can create their personalized bookshelves, unload their own books and share their favourites with friends. Bookmate has also many features especially designed for publishers and authors to promote their books. Reading groups help to draw attention to a particular title, whilst thoroughly curated book lists on different subjects and book reviews guide readers to their next best read. Publishers can use the Bookmate platform to add author’s profile, to publicize upcoming events or to advertise their books.

Through social interaction readers can discuss and share their favourite books and recent reads with their friends.

“We are continuously improving readers experience on Bookmate. A lot of ideas come from ‘Zvooq', an online music service that is also owned by our company. As the music industry is ahead of the book industry in developing its digital presence, it helps us to understand what tools are available in marketing and which ones are effective”, said Balabin.

Bookmate is not a competitor to traditional trade; on the contrary, it helps to sustain reading in a declining market. According to the Book Industry by the end of 2013 the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores in Russia dropped by 12% to the year before sliding to just under 3000. That means one bookstore per 50 000-55 000 people (one store per 5 000-6 000 people in Europe), which is far from enough considering Russia’s vast territory.

Moreover, Bookmate operates not only in Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia but in all the territories of the former Soviet Union, where its competition is piracy.