Business & Industrial
The New Day of Ookbee and UGC the Business of the Future
Published Date : 2 Feb 2018
Resource : Creative Thailand
Ookbee is likely one of the first Thai startups in most people’s minds. Its success turns Ookbee into a model that other startups wish to follow. However, in this fast-moving world, the biggest digital bookshop application in Southeast Asia seems to have reached a dead-end. But Natavudh Pungcharoenpong, founder and CEO of Ookbee, has a different perspective. For him, this is simply the beginning of a new chapter of a more challenging journey.
When Ookbee no longer means only ebook
With the name “Ookbee”, the company obviously runs ebook business. Founded in 2012, Ookbee started by focusing on converting magazines for online reading. Its product met the needs of on-screen readers at that time as Apple just launched new products such as iPad. “Ookbee received a good response during our first years. Most of our ebook customers were paper magazine readers. Many preferred ebooks which they found to be better, faster and cheaper. But when people use smartphones more, most of them turn into daily content on social media such as Facebook which is faster and can be commented, liked or shared. That is because ebooks are actually just paper magazines in a different format. The layout and content remain the same and you can’t share or comment on it like on social media.”
Besides the prevalence of social media, another critical change factor is that many magazines have closed or no longer published a print edition and become digital-only. “What happened was, firstly, Ookbee must depend on content from magazine publishers. In the worst case scenario, if every magazine ceases publication, we would certainly be affected if we kept running the same business. Secondly, we found that Ookbee had no under-30 reader group. Our ebook customers are those who used to read paper magazines, while the new generation who grew up with social media never even thinks of ebooks or paper magazines. For example, when they want some good pictures, they won’t buy House and Garden but search for them on Google. There is therefore no chance to gain new ebook customers. We have over a million members but regular users are much fewer because some of them just give it a try and go back to social media.”
Turning Readers into Writers
When ebooks no longer met market demand, Ookbee gradually stepped back from its old business model which relied on Professional Generated Content (PGC). Today, its ebook business value counts for less than 20% of the company’s total business.
The key strategy in Ookbee’s business pivot is an expansion of its online content empire by creating new platforms for User-Generated Content (UGC): starting from Ookbee Comics, an online community for comic lovers; Fungjai, Thai music community; and online novel and blog platforms Tunwalai, Storylog, and Fictionlog; to Joylada, a fiction application that is popular among teens. Furthermore, the company also partners with C Channel, a lifestyle video site from Japan, to expand their business in Thailand together.
“Many might wonder, “Why UGC?”. One demonstrative answer is that 2 out of 3 online contents today are created by users.” That led Natavudh to believe that the power to direct future internet trend belongs to the users who will become both “creator” and “consumer” at the same time.
As its business model depends on turning content “reader” into “creator”, the platform’s ease of use becomes the determining factor in how much content will be posted by users. “Instagram is a good example because you just pick up a phone to take one photo and that’s it. But to write a novel is more difficult so there will be fewer users. And drawing a long comic is even more difficult. So our job is to analyse how to make our platform easiest to use. That’s where Joylada came from. We thought that drawing comics or writing novels are not easy, but how about writing a novel in a chat format. That might be easier for the younger generation.”
His expectation was well met. Within 12 weeks after launch, Joylada’s users grew quickly and surpassed all other Ookbee’s UGC platforms. It becomes a leading community where users post 15,000 new novels a day. Moreover, Ookbee recently experimented with publishing a paper version of a top Joylada novel titled “Ku Cherry” and selling it by online pre-order. The book has earned the company almost 1 million baht and the writer received a six-figure royalty.
A bigger classroom
In addition to designing the platform to be easy to use and suit the lifestyle of its users, the company also needs to create other types of motivation for content creators. “Today most of our content is free to read. For the other 20% content that is more popular, we might charge a 3 baht reading fee per chapter which is up to each writer’s decision, or the reader must watch some advertisement. The fee will be split with the writer which is one of the motivations because those who produce good works get more compensation. But even without any income, people are still willing to post because Joylada and our other platforms allows others to like, comment or share your writing. It goes beyond your personal circle like when you post on social media, but this means the public is interested in your work.
“Beyond motivation,” Natavudh explained, “What happens is we are building a learning society. Seeing that a good writers gain millions of followers, it makes people learn fast. For instance, if we look back at our own Instagram feed during the first year and compare to our latest post, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way. Now the images on our feed are all good, like everyone is a professional photographer. This is how we learn from examples by others, with comments or likes as our motivation.”
UGC, free and valuable content
In early 2017, Ookbee announced a partnership with Tencent, a giant internet company from China, with an investment of 19 million US dollar (approximately 681 million baht). A joint venture company would be formed under the name Ookbee U to run Ookbee’s UGC platforms. We believe that this fundraising success will give Ookbee a powerful impetus to embark on its new journey.
While it is looking to develop a new platform that targets more adults, Ookbee also plans to create value from the UGC on their platforms by converting it for other media. “If we look at it in terms of intellectual property, most of the popular movies or series are not original stories but adapted from books or cartoons. The writers who post on our platforms today might not do it for money, but their works become valuable once there are readers. And when they are on online platforms, we can easily measure their popularity. Therefore, creating value from the content should happen easier in the future. Normally, the content copyright belongs to the writer. Ookbee serves only as a platform. So we had an idea that this year we will adapt the content into series. We might also become an investor in the future if there is an interest in adapting any stories for other media. During this phase, we don’t expect profit from the IP business. We are still studying what to do next.”
From the starting goal of opening a digital bookshop, today Ookbee’s head said that they have come further than expected. “We think that this is just the first step because we are no longer selling ebooks against paper books, but it is our chance to create new products. Our target now must be measured by “time”: how long people stay with us. That is because we must compete with everything. If people used to read our novels every day, but one day they go watch series, that means less time spent with us. Making C Channel videos takes 3-4 hours, but we must cut them into just 1 minute. That shows how hard it is to find time to do something in this digital age. Content makers must adjust to the change but we still need to compete with quality.”
Story: Natanit Tanmanasiri
Image: Chanon Boonrueng