HomeInterviewFrom e-book business to Thailand’s largest digital-content ecosystem

From e-book business to Thailand’s largest digital-content ecosystem

Ookbee pushes back the boundaries of online entertainment

Ookbee came into existence as a start-up in 2012, initially selling e-books and online magazines, before diversifying. It now focuses on attracting large numbers of monthly users to its platforms, and at present there are about 10 million monthly active users on all of its platforms – as many as there are Twitter users in Thailand.

Ookbee has about 3 billion pageviews per month, and most of its customers are people from Gen Y and Gen Z – between the ages of five and 40 years – who enjoy reading cartoons and fiction.

Ookbee Co Ltd’s Chief Executive and co-founder Natavudh “Moo” Pungcharoenpong told The Story Thailand that his company had shifted its business from publishing content provided by printing houses to allowing readers to produce content for Ookbee’s platforms.

The content can be bought chapter by chapter, whereas in the past it was bought only as whole books. There is also a donation system and live streaming.

Ookbee has many business operations, such as the Fungjai application, which focuses on indie (independent) music and holding concerts; platforms dedicated to fiction, namely Tunwalai, Joylada and Fiction Log; 10 Facebook pages dedicated to entertainment, including C Channel, which has more than 12 million followers; and the A Duang application, which provides online fortune-telling services with online payment options.

Ookbee is also planning to produce five drama series based on famous novels, for distribution and viewing through such platforms as LINE TV and Viu. The company is also eyeing the China market.

“We are the largest digital-content ecosystem in Thailand. We are aware of global market trends related to professional user-generated content (PUGC). For example, YouTubers can make money by creating content. We needed to follow this trend, so that anyone with a smartphone and internet access can create their own content.”

Promoting user-generated content to create careers

Natavudh said a good platform developer had to help content creators to deliver their works to target groups, and this, in turn, could bring them regular income and become their occupation.

“There are now about 700,000 UGC authors, creating about 10,000 pieces of work every day. However, these people can’t call this their job.”

The platforms use algorithms to help readers find the content they want. When there are as many as 10,000 pieces of content every day, it cannot all be displayed for everyone. So, Ookbee’s back office has the task of sorting out the right content for different groups.

For instance, not all writing calling itself romantic fiction is the same, or even similar. Artificial intelligence (AI) is used to analyse content and recommend it to different readers.

Content creators begin to get paid when they develop a fan base. Ookbee expects them to use its platform first, before starting to write. “Then we will see how many viewers can be turned into authors,” Natavudh said. “For example, out of 100 YouTube viewers, there may be only one content creator. But out of 100 TikTok viewers, there may be 20 to 30 content creators.”

So, Ookbee has to make it easier and more convenient for its viewers to create content. When readers gain easier access to content, the authors can see faster results. At present, a “chat faction” feature is available; it is designed for easier creation of content. With easier access, Ookbee will attract more viewers, which in turn will inspire more content creators.

“At some point – when they have enough followers – content creators may decide to write in a way that is designed to make money. In this way, we can share some revenue with the authors,” Natavudh said.

Ookbee’s revenue comes from many channels – selling content, incorporating advertisements, advertising networks like Google, banner campaigns and premium memberships, in addition to holding events to sell products and souvenirs like books and dolls.

But the company’s main source of income is selling content. Readers support authors by paying in “coins”, and Ookbee gets a share.

“At present, users cannot use these ‘coins’ across the platforms. But we are developing for the future. We may request e-Wallet permission for authors to use ‘coins’ on their personal spending.”

Authors’ monthly revenue totals nearly Bt50 million

Natavudh said Ookbee had 10 million users who visited at least once a month.

During the COVID-19 crisis, new visitors were joining at a rate of about 10 to 20 per cent of the total each month.

However, increasing visitor numbers did not mean proportional revenue growth. Most of the company’s 700,000 authors did not write for multiple platforms, since each of the applications catered for a different group of customers.

The authors have a combined monthly revenue of almost Bt50 million, most of it coming from “coins”. The writers also make a small amount of income from advertisements. Now there are hundreds of writers who do it as a full-time job – some of them making as much as Bt100,000 a month.

“For writers who can do it as a regular job, income from ‘coins’ is more stable than ad revenue. If our authors can make stable incomes, our platforms will get stronger. We must try to increase their income so that the authors can survive without needing other jobs. This is one of the keys.”

Strategy of targeting the youth market

Natavudh said the world was gradually shifting towards real-time content. In the past, books were published as entire volumes. But today, they can be made available at one or two chapters a day. Authors get quick feedback to their works and they can chat with their readers. Also, readers exchange comments between them. Now, Ookbee has moved even closer to real-time by allowing its authors to live-stream their content.

All Ookbee platforms clock more than an hour for each user per day – translating into about six billion minutes a month.

“First, we need to realize that Gen Y and older people have money, but no time. Younger people have time, but no money.”

Ookbee attempts to employ people of the same age as their customers to become “Community Managers”. For the A Duang fortune-telling app, for example, the firm hires people with astrological backgrounds in the hope that they will understand the customers better.

C Channel is a Japanese company formed by former LINE executives. Natavudh met them during a Series B fund-raising event and persuaded them to launch their project in Thailand. The business model calls for as many videos as possible to be uploaded for Facebook views and ads. It also serves as a channel for promoting Ookbee’s activities.

Strengthening the ecosystem in Thailand: no plan to rush overseas

Natavudh said that revenue was created when an ecosystem was constructed in which writers gained strength and were able to create more content. As well, intellectual property rights could be used to create added value for authors. For example, certain works of fictions may be used to produce drama series, which may earn as much as Bt10 million a month and make Ookbee’s platforms better known.

Ookbee now finds itself wanting to identify a means of telling stories that is easier than writing and reading; whether it can use this method better than others, and whether it will generate revenue. This requires a lot of trial and error.

The company’s latest application is Beeber, a platform that allows people to tell fictional stories verbally, as podcasts and live streaming, similar to the “radio dramas” of days gone by.

Ookbee now has about 700,000 customers in Indonesia, but this is still a rather new market. Thailand has a far smaller population than Indonesia, but Thai customers pay more for this kind of content. The company has another 100,000 customers in Vietnam.

Ookbee is still capable of increasing the number of viewers in Thailand who can not only afford to pay, but also pay an increased amount per viewer. As there are many young customers, the company is also mindful of businesses other than entertainment, such as education for children, but not on an educational technology (EdTech) platform.

Ookbee has made a profit, although it is not a sizeable profit. However, Ookbee U, which offers business-oriented user-generated content, has seen fast growth and has generated substantial revenue. But it has opened so many new communities that the company is still suffering some losses as it builds the service up.

“We are restructuring and raising funds for further expansion,” Natavudh said. “We expect to complete the Series C round within this year. After the fund-raising, we will look for investment opportunities. We will give up projects that do not work because we don’t want to make a loss, which may discourage prospective investors.”



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