Cellcom Launching Digital Bookstore

"Amos Oz is on the phone for you!"

Cellcom is hoping customers will soon be reading more than just text messages. Within a month the cell phone firm will be opening a digital online shop for electronic books in conjunction with publisher Kinneret Zmora Bitan, which is owned by bookstore chain Tzomet Sfarim. Cellcom is also trying to expand its joint offerings to other publishers.

Cellcom's new e-book reader platform will be based on a new tablet computer that Cellcom will only begin selling next week: Samsung's Galaxy. Cellcom and Samsung's Israeli office have been working together to adapt the computer for the Israeli market.

Samsung Galaxy - Courtesy of Samsung - October 11 2010
Courtesy of Samsung

The Galaxy is intended as an entertainment platform with a touch screen, similar to Apple's iPad - but slightly smaller.

The new tablet computer is suited for reading e-mail, watching videos and other content such as reading magazines and newspapers - and now books.

In the first stage, Cellcom will offer its customers e-books only for the Galaxy, but the company is developing applications for the iPad and other similar devices too.

The brand name of Cellcom and Tzomet Sfarim's new venture will be "The Library (Hasifria )." The two companies are planning a large campaign to roll out the service, with both of them footing the bill.

The initial offering of books is expected to number about 500 titles.

Price may deter customers

But the project's Achilles' heel will be the price: Between NIS 40 to NIS 60 per book, similar to the retail price of the physical, paper book. In general, digital books elsewhere in the world are priced lower than their print counterparts to spur sales. The companies are considering selling bundles of books in the future, bringing down the price per book.

The big competitor - for now - is expected to be Steimatzky, Israel's biggest bookseller. Six months ago the chain launched its own digital e-reader, Ivrit (Hebrew ), in conjunction with Yeditoth Aharonoth and Newpan - but without a cellular company.

Tzomet Sfarim conducted talks with U.S. bookstore giant Barnes and Noble before hooking up with Cellcom. Tzomet Sfarim was interested in bringing Barnes and Noble's Nook e-book reader to Israel. Cellcom and Tzomet Sfarim declined to comment.

Sources in the publishing industry say the two firms have been working hard on the project for over a year.

At first, the companies will offer fiction and other books without many pictures. Sources say the target market will be those willing to pay the high price for the convenience of having many titles at their fingertips. "Someone flying overseas won't take 10 printed books with them," said one person close to the project.

Tzomet Sfarim hopes the new e-books will not harm its overall book sales, said a source, and that printed books will continue to be its major product for quite a while, along with other publishing services.

Partner and Pelephone are both working on rival products, but they are much farther from launch.

Partner declined to comment. Pelephone said it will soon launch its own digital bookstore.