Ebooks in India - lukewarm response till now

With more than 15,000 publishing houses generating content in more than 24 regional languages, experts feel India has huge potential for ebooks, specially post the IT boom but lack of cheap ereaders and technological awareness among the people is hampering their growth here.

"People need to be educated about ebooks in India. Its a new concept here which is already popular in the West. The present situation is growing and I feel future of ebooks is bright," says Vishal Mehta, CEO and founder of Infibeam which has launched its own version of ereaders.

"As more and more publishers digitalise their content, things will change and the cost of ereaders will also com down. Ebooks never go out of stock and its supply chain is very efficient," says Mehta.

An ebook is an electronic book digitally readable on computer, laptop or on devices called ebook readers. A report by market research company Forrester indicates that the US will lead the demand for eBooks content with sales over USD 500 million and for eText books through 2010 but acknowledges that the dynamics for higher growths vests with consumer markets like India and China. Advantage India lies in its high quality and low cost of output.

At a time when publishers are slowly moving toward digitalising their books to tap the market, Pustak Mahal claims to be the first publisher to have fully digitalised all its books.

"Ebooks are here to stay but they will take time to penetrate Indian market. The best company is Amazon so far who has successfully taken care of its digital rights management till now," says Rohit Gupta, owner of Pustak Mehal.

Gupta says India needs a technological revolution to take ebooks to masses and if that happens, hardcover books will have a tough time. "Ebooks have a lot of advantages. If you do not want to take the full book, than pay only for the chapters you want. Once publishers start digitalising their content, ebooks will be very cheap," he says.

For a publisher, says Gupta, ebooks have eroded the geographical barrier and his company is doing good business in foreign countries.

"We could not sell our books earlier to US, UK and other countries as the cost of sending the books was three times the original price. But now, an ebook can be downloaded in any part of the world," says Gupta.

The demand for eBooks depends on factors such as increase in computer, Internet and mobile phone usage.

"Still in nascent stage, there is a general feel of lack of transparency in the pricing of an eBook. Unlike printed books which are tangible, prices verifiable and often can be availed at a discount from the store, eBooks offered for sale on a website does not instill that confidence," says Gupta.

Experts agree that ebooks have a bright future in India but they do not see the popularity of hardcover books nosediving due to them.

"Physical books will always have a market. Ebooks should not be seen as replacing them but should be seen as an added source of revenue through a new product line that caters to and targets a different set of audience," says Lipika Bhushan of Harper Collins.
Mehta feels ebooks will not fully replace hardcover books.

"The acceptance of an eBook depends upon the degree of convenience that the reader enjoys with the electronic medium and the vernacular in which the book is available. Hard cover and ebook compliment each other at the moment. At the best, ebooks can replace some hardcover books but  overall, physical books will remain popular," says Mehta. However, Rohit Gupta has a word of advice for Indian publishers.

"It is better to embrace technology and change and mould accordingly. It's an  opportunity to sell books to US, UK and Europe. Ebook is a win-win situation for both, author and the publisher," says Gupta.

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