Thailand’s Ookbee transitions from ebook store to digital lifestyle platform

Ookbee has come – and gone – a long way since its emergence as Thailand’s primary ebook store in 2011.

Today Ookbee’s growing empire spreads across five countries in SE Asia, and after a brief but unsuccessful foray into physical goods with a partnership with Japan’s Transcosmos, Ookbee is now comfortably focused doing what it does best, handling digital content.

With China’s Tencent on board since 2016 to help Ookbee U, the “self-publishing” arm of Ookbee, to reach new heights, and Ookbee’s Channel C Thailand just this week getting fresh funding from Beacon VC, Ookbee is no longer just an ebook and digital magazine retailer with some fancy trimmings.

Okbee is a digital lifestyle platform.

The influx of cash from Kbank’s venture capital arm, Beacon VC, is intended to build out Ookbee’s C Channel Thailand VDO fashion venture, begun in partnership with C Channel Japan last year, and attracting over 250 million monthly views and over 150,000 average views per clip.

Thanapong Na Ranong, Managing Director of Beacon VC, said Ookbee

has successfully redefined the digital publication landscape for the Southeast Asian market.

Ookbee itself, now operating in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, claims to be the leading digital lifestyle platform in Southeast Asia.

According to the Ookbee website it has five million users and is attracting 5,000 new users per day, with 90% market share in Thailand and the market leader in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

UGC (user-generated content) is at the heart of Ookbee’s evolving strategy, and while still happy to embrace mainstream content from bigger players the company has expanded the opportunities for smaller content providers to engage.

Which is where Tencent comes in, to create the Oookbee arm Ookbee U.

Founded at the end of 2016 with a $19 million cash injection from Tencent, Ookbee U is currently Thailand focussed with expansion into Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, but not yet Singapore.

It’s too early yet to say just how this is unfolding, but early indications are Ookbee is shifting focus from the Amazon-model of fixed format ebook content sold at a distance, to (perhaps not surprisingly) the Tencent model of active user engagement and content delivered in multiple formats, where Ookbee will mentor new talent and deal with content providers in broad IP terms.

Ookbee CEO Natavudh Pungcharoenpong’s vision is to

create an ecosystem where users themselves can create and share content of their choices. The format can be anything, More than just books: music, comics, and experimenting with video.

Touring the 2018 Ookbee site is an experience in itself, and a demonstration of just how far Ookbee has evolved from its clunky origins as Thailand’s answer to the Kindle store.

  • The Ookbee app is the portal to SE Asia’s largest ebook, audiobook and e-magazine store
  • Ookbee Comics, unsurprisingly, is Thailand’s biggest comic store
  • Tunwala is a community app for lovers of novels of all genres
  • C Channel Thailand is the fashion and lifestyle VDO Beacon VC is throwing money into
  • Fungjai is for music lovers
  • Fiction Log is an alternative to the main ebook store, where authors can submit and sell their content chapter by chapter
  • Storylog is a peer-group blogging platforms where authors can connect and exchange views
  • Joylada is Ookbee’s very own chat novel app, for those intrigued by telling stories through text messages
  • A duang is a horoscope app, and sin similarly fun vein there is
  • Kidmook, for user-generated jokes and relared gag-sharing

More seriously, one way Ookbee is able to make progress in SE Asia is its ability to engage with payment processors of all sorts, so buyers can pay, for example, via carrier billing (mobile phone credit), and cash payment at convenience stores.

For Tencent, this is not the first venture into Thailand. It had previously acquired Thailand’s biggest online portal, Sanook.

A visit to Sanook will quickly find Joox, Tencent’s free music app, which already has twenty million registered users in Thailand.

Tencent is also of course the power behind China Literature, the biggest online reading player in China, and the potential synergies between Ookbee U and Tencent’s Joox and China Literature platforms hardly needs explaining.

Into which mix we must throw Wattpad, following Tencent’s investment in Wattpad last year.

Tencent moves on Wattpad as Wattpad hits 60 million users. Could Nook be next?

Although based in Canada, Wattpad is a major player in SE Asia, and especially the Philippines, and clearly Tencent and Ookbee, working together in the region and beyond, is going to be interesting to watch as we wind down this decade.

SE Asia is an exciting region for publishers, as I’ve explored in past posts here at TNPS.

S.E. Asia online economy growing faster than predicted. $200bn by 2025. Will publishers rise to the opportunity?


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