The (online) future of books in India

by rohit on June 28, 2009

It would appear most media is moving digital, with music being just one of the first to be impacted. Consider books.
1. The emerging market for e-books.
There is a buzz around e-books. They will, it is said, be a key manner by which books are read. It may take a while for the format to succeeed, but succeed it will.
EReaders are convenient to carry and use devices that enable users to browse from an e-book catalog, and download quickly the chosen e-book over the air (preferably with 3G). The device acts as a personal library, enabling a large number of e-books to be stored. The reading display mimics that of a printed book.
Amazon’s Kindle, the most successful eReader, has energized the category. One of the biggest things going for it vis-a-vis it’s competitors is access to’s catalog : it currently offers over 300,000 e-books. The larger-format Kindle DX was also launched recently, it’s likely to suit newspapers and textbooks.
The Kindle costs $349 and is not available in India and even if it were, Amazon would need local partnerships for content,mobile,etc.
2. E-books may lead to a change in reading behaviours
E-books will lead to impulse buying (no need to visit the store or wait for and expand the market (number of titles read per year) for reading.
Here is one take on how e-books will change the way we read. Popular science writer Steven Johnson’s writes in an Op-ed in WSJ on how e-books will change the way we read and write . : E-books will change the “reading experience” i.e.. what it means to read a book, he says. For example :
– Since their content has been scanned, every word of these books will be searchable.
– While reading an e-book, the reader could jump to another book through hypertext. This will lead to impulse reading , impulse book buys and distractions in completing reading the book in hand.
– Booklogs (blogs on e-books) will appear, as also online global book clubs.
– Chapter I of a book will be free. Readers will have the option of paying by chapter.
Google has separately won the rights to sell e-books online.The above books corpus, possibly the world’s largest, will give them a lot of clout.
3. Proven success of mobile e-books

eReaders & e-books are available for phones too. There is (a Barnes & Noble venture) & Mobipocket for Blackberry, Palm, Windows Mobile & Symbian platforms, among others.

And iPhone has several ereader apps, they seem to be doing well. The most successful isStanza, with over a million downloads to date. iPhone also has ‘eReader’ and ‘Kindle for iPhones’ apps.
4. Google & Apple
Over the years, various organizations have sought to digitize books. The hottest project currently is Google’s Book Search. Google claimed in October 2008 to have digitized 7 million books. They are getting digitized books that are available in the public domain (chiefly old books for which copyright has expired and for which they have signed on libraries as partners); they have also made 20,000 publishers their partners for books in copyright.
This Book Search project aims to scan all known – an estimated – 10 million books available in the world’s libraries. Google plans to monetize book searches through ads as well as earn money through charging publishers for each “book preview”.
It’s also anticipated that by year-end Google will launch it’s own e-books business, competing with Amazon. Among the expected e-books entrants is also Apple : possibly via it’s iTablet.
The entry of such big players will further grow the market.
Here are highlights from a recent Forrester report on the eReader ecosystem.It says the market is coming out of it’s early adopter phase and that – long-term – China and India will play a key role in driving up volumes.
5. The Indian books market
India’s books market is not mature. Consider :
1. Book stores in India are few. Leading chains have at best 10-50 stores each. Crosswords has 52 stores, English Book Depot’s got 36 stores in 25 cities and premium store Landmark has 10 stores in 8 cities. Certainly not enough for a country of over 1100 million and over 5,000 towns.
2. While Landmark claims to stock just 100, 000 titles, the average corner bookstore has a much smaller collection.
3. Books are deemed expensive. Few get to any large circulation numbers.
4. There are virtually no public libraries.
5. One can order books from, but the shipment takes 3 weeks, not to mention the shipping cost.
6. Perhaps 70,000 – 80,000 books are published in the country each year, across 18 odd languages.
7. There is a large market for textbooks.
To conclude : Let’s get e-books into India
The introduction of e-books can help improve the low consumption and poor availability of books in India. It requires :
– the introduction of an eReader device or a mobile eReader led ecosystem
– content partnerships with the likes of an (for international titles) and key Indian publishers
– partnerships with mobile operators, ISPs, satellite TV players et al
A worthwhile project for a digital / new media company with vision and king-size ambition !

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