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Myanmar's new e-book app cracks unopened market

Top telecom MPT sees opportunity in country's bookstore shortage

MPT Books is a new e-book app from Myanmar's top mobile carrier. (Photo by Yuichi Nitta)

YANGON -- Myanmar's biggest wireless carrier has started an e-book business in a country with high literacy but few bookstores, even in major cities.

State-run Myanma Posts and Telecommunications aims to reach 1 million users in the first year. Its MPT Books app is supposed to offer 5,000 titles by that time, including magazines, in partnership with two local publication wholesalers.

Available on smartphones, tablets and personal computers, the e-books cost only about one-quarter as much as printed versions.

Mobile operators in Myanmar are competing to expand value-added services such as gaming, but MPT is the first to offer e-books.

Despite a national literacy rate of 90%, bookstores are scarce in the Southeast Asian nation, even in Yangon, the commercial capital and biggest city with a population of around 5 million. Most of the booksellers in business offer little in the way of new reading material.

Bookstores rarely are commercially viable in Myanmar, according to one wholesaler, because few people buy books. E-book apps represent a way to reach new readers. MPT set its prices low to attract people who consider printed books too expensive.

E-books sell for about 500 kyat to 800 kyat (31 cents to 50 cents) each. Users may borrow e-books for up to two days at 15% of the purchase price. They also can receive unlimited access to magazines at a fixed monthly rate of 1,999 kyat.

MPT's alliance with Japanese telecom company KDDI provides an advantage, allowing it to draw on the partner's experience in content management and other aspects of the business.

"We want to add Japanese manga to the lineup in the future," an MPT official said.

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