|Nature of the initiative||Public|
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Tolino is an alliance between the four major German Booksellers and Deutsche Telekom AG. As such it combines the market knowledge of the traditional booksellers and the technical competence of a Telco. Tolino represents an ecosystem at the same level as the major global platforms such as Amazon Kindle, Kobo and Barnes & Noble Nook. It features e-readers, Tablets (7” and 9”), applications for iOS and aOS for Tablet and Smartphones and a browser based HTML5 reader for PC. Furthermore it offers an integrated cloud service for users enabling them to read on any device and app as well as synchronize their e-books, including last read positions, bookmarks, notes etc. All this backed up by a content distribution platform with currently over 1.6 million e-books – and the largest available catalogue of German language books.
Yet Tolino is unique in its business proposition – it is a white-label offering. All other global platforms have a B2C approach and thus are designed for taking away digital customers from the traditional booksellers. Resulting in an overall drain, also in physical book sales.
With Tolino the bookseller is keeping his customers – he operates on his own account and simply uses the Tolino devices, apps, ecosystem and all as a white-label extension of his offering.
For readers of digital books the initial assumption of the project was that state-of-the art technology is actually a commodity and that the consumer simply expects this as a given thing. Simply offering a digital book from a website is not enough: in the digital space consumer expect devices, apps, cloud services and the complete content catalogue ecosystems. And, since this is usually the point of entry, the market is driven by gadgets. The e-readers and tablets on offer must be top of the range at competitive pricing.
A traditional bookseller, no matter how large he is, will not be able to justify the investment necessary for creating a consumer proposition in the range of Kindle, Kobo or Nook. But he is able to afford the Tolino white-label ecosystem. And then suddenly he is able to compete at the same level as the digital global players.
But Tolino is not only white-label, it is also an open platform. As such it is the better alternative for customers compared to 'walled garden' ecosystems. As soon as consumers want to break out, e.g. because with Tolino they have a more attractive offering, they will have to leave behind the content they bought. This cannot be in the interest of the consumers – and also not the publishers. Tolino is working with open standards, such as the EPUB format, and following the DRM demand of the publishers, uses Adobe DRM where necessary. It also allows purchases from other e-bookstores, the transfer in and out of the devices or apps and users can even directly upload their content from the devices or apps into the cloud.
The Tolino offering consists of three major elements:
- devices – such as the Tolino e-readers and tablets;
- apps – for smartphones, tablets and PC, featured for iOS, Android and HTML5 browser reading;
- the Ecosystem – including the content distribution platform and the cloud service
The webshop however remains with the bookseller. He keeps control of his own offering, billing system and customer relation. Users still sign up, log on and shop with him, just as usual. The whitel-label world of Tolino is integrated with clever and easy interfaces – and seamless for the customers.
Currently the Tolino e-book catalogue holds 1,6 million e-books, mainly in German and English language. The devices and apps support EPUB, PDF and TXT files, with or without DRM. The Telekom cloud provides users with unlimited storage for e-books purchased from the partners and additional storage for ebooks brought in via sideloading or direct download from other retailers. Tolino also allows to directly combine the accounts they have with different booksellers within the Tolino alliance. Users can simply link their accounts and then have all the e-books in one digital library and cloud.
The Tolino shine e-reader is a state of the art device featuring the latest technology: HD eInk Pearl display, frontlight, touchscreen, Wi-Fi, shopping on the device, cloud access, sideloading with Adobe DRM support, microSD extension, free dictionaries in 5 languages (English, German, Italian, French, Spanish) and so on. It has been awarded “best value for money device” in Germany by independent “Stiftung Warentest” against 16 other e-readers – including the Kindle, Kobo, Sony and Pocketbook devices.
The role of technology
There are three key elements in terms of new technologies deployed by Tolino: open technology standards, cloud storage, use of hotspots.
Tolino provides an open system where users can enjoy the freedom to move their content to other devices. In this case Tolino supports Adobe DRM system where needed – the currently de-facto market standard. But of course also unprotected e-books and social DRM like watermarking.
Within the Tolino ecosystem the content is protected during storage, transport through the internet and also on the e-reading devices – all of this in the background. The user is not bothered with this: he simply buys a books, automatically downloads it and can start reading it right away.
The cloud system features unique options: next to the storage and synch functions users are free to upload their own content into their personal clouds. No further registration is required, the service is for free and users can easily upload from the e-readers, tablets or apps.
German Tolino e-reader users can also enjoy free and automated Wi-Fi access through more than 15.000 public Hotspots from Deutsche Telekom. Practically in all public places, train stations and airports throughout the country users are online with their tolino e-reader.
The expectations were by far exceed: device sales top the forecasts by far and at the same time boost the e-book sales to unpredictable high level. Tolino is featured in every PoS of the major German booksellers and we see a massive and constantly increasing demand. We were chosen “Manufacturer of the year” by the most influential e-reading website in Germany (lessen.net) and received the “Good Design” award by the Chicago Museum of Architecture and Design. But the most important thing is: the consumer is happy with Tolino. Not only by sales, also the return rate of the Tolino e-reader is the lowest ever experienced by the booksellers for electronic devices.
The model is neither typical German nor bound on any national market. Tolino is also present in Austria and Switzerland. Discussions with other European booksellers are ongoing.