China Mobile, the world's largest mobile carrier by subscribers, will offer over 100,000 e-books for download on upcoming wireless e-readers, a maker of the devices said.
The carrier has reached deals with publishers to offer e-books in a range of genres, a Datang Telecom representative said at a Beijing trade show. The move would make China Mobile a major provider of e-books just as more Chinese companies look to copy the success of Amazon and the Kindle.
Datang, a telecom equipment vendor, will start selling an e-reader that supports China Mobile's 3G standard late this month, the representative said. The device has a 6-inch screen and can play music and receive news feeds in addition to displaying e-books. It will cost around 3,000 yuan (US$440), well above the $300 price tag on the Kindle.
But e-books from China Mobile will cost as little as a few yuan each, or around $0.50, the Datang representative said. E-books in China face competition from free, often pirated content that can be downloaded from many Web sites. Pirated paper books, like DVDs, are also widely sold on Chinese streets for around $1.
Local companies Hanwang Technology and Founder Technology also plan to sell e-readers for China Mobile's 3G standard, which was developed in the country and has strong government backing. When asked how users will download e-books for the Hanwang device, a company spokeswoman said China Mobile was taking the lead in providing content.
China Mobile did not reply to questions about its e-book service or how it will split revenue with publishers. E-readers will add to a list of other products including mobile phones and laptops embedded with 3G chips that the carrier has promoted to try to expand its small 3G subscriber base.
Many commuters in Chinese subways read e-books on their mobile phones, but e-readers remain a rare sight. Most sold in China so far have only supported downloads through a PC link. The designs and functions of the devices have been insufficient to attract many users, Chinese technology consultancy Analysys International said in a recent research note.
"No terminal as influential as the Kindle has yet come out," it said.
Datang plans to release a color e-reader in 2011 and may make other models targeted at groups such as students, a strategy used by rival Hanwang.