Chinese messaging app WeChat is planning to release an e-reader that features a 6-inch 300ppi E Ink screen with a front light and comes with 8 GB storage, as its online reading application WeChat Read—Weixin Dushu in Mandarin—gains more popularity, according to a WeChat post from MacTalk on Monday.
WeChat’s e-reader will be Android 10-powered, weighs only 150 grams, and stands out with a minimalistic design—one button for light-control and shutdown as well as one Type C port for charging. The release date and price haven’t been disclosed yet but the product will likely be officially launched during the Chinese Spring Festival. According to the MacTalk post, the e-reader is not yet in production at scale and will not be available on e-commerce platforms, but consumers will be able to pre-order it on the WeChat Read App, and the team will produce devices accordingly.
The move comes on the back of the popularity of WeChat Read, which runs as a mini program or standalone app. The application, launched in 2015, has reached 210 million registered users and 5 million daily active readers by the end of October 2019, the WeChat team revealed. It offers free and paid books, audible content, and membership programs, which allow users to buy a free pass, around RMB 30 (USD 4.64) per month without discounts. Based on the WeChat network and resources, the WeChat Read algorithm also recommends books that the reader’s WeChat contacts have chosen and curates articles from official WeChat accounts.
The e-reading market in China was estimated to reach RMB 20 billion (USD 3.09 billion) in 2020 with a userbase of over 500 million people, according to a report by New Times Securities. Tencent is a leading player in the market thanks to its subsidiary China Literature (HKG: 0772). TikTok-owner ByteDance also ventured into the field by consistently investing in online literature firms. It poured RMB 1.1 billion (USD 165.58 million) in Zhangyue Technology (SH:603533), which is also known as iReader Technology, in exchange for an 11.23% stake in the latter, KrASIA reported in November. Zhangyue, which also counts Baidu as a strategic investor, offers devices ranging from RMB 658 (USD 101.68) to RMB 3,299 (USD 509.78).
According to MacTalk, the WeChat team doesn’t have the ambition to compete with Kindle, but expects to give bookworms a better choice by providing said device as an “extension of a mobile phone.”