E-publishing is going to change publishing and change always evokes excitement in some and worry in others. There are challenges to it being successful in India, but its adoption will happen, primarily due to the growing popularity of smartphone and other electronic platforms. To illustrate it I would first like to share some anecdotes.
One: A well-known TV journalist and blogger has been writing miniature stories within the 420 character spaces allowed by Facebook wall posts. His stories are serialised. Every time he posts a new episode in the story on his wall, it is lifted as is and published in Hindi dailies around the country. He is then sent a cheque by the newspaper for having printed his story. Although the payment is minuscule, it is a continuous and steady relationship, illustrating how a social media space can be monetised effectively.
Two: A school principal from a small town on the outskirts of the capital, Delhi, told me recently how excited she was at the introduction of smart classes. They get regular visits from the vendors insisting on how well these models work in delivering the “latest” content relevant to the syllabi. (It is immaterial whether it is accurate or the content is legitimately gained.)
Three: At the last World Book Fair held in February 2013 in Delhi, a publisher told me they get visits every hour from a new e-books vendor introducing themselves and soliciting business. Then the publisher laughed and said, “Who knows this market? It is set to grow but for the moment it is not an easy terrain, the infrastructure is poor and it is impossible to discern the correct price point.”
The e-publishing milieu in India is a mixed bag. A senior production person with over 20 years of experience in the industry mentioned in a conversation recently that electronic publishing is growing exponentially in the metropolises of India and it will continue. With one-third of India’s population under the age of 30; 25 per cent of the youth read books. E-book sales comprise only 3-4 per cent of the Indian book sales, in sharp contrast to the US where e-books comprised 29.5 per cent of the total sales in one month (Feb 2011, Publishers Lunch).
Akash, Kindle, Google e-reader, and the 90+ odd platforms existing in India today are making it easier for the consumer to access content. (Though for the moment these continue to be purchased as a fashionable gadget, rather than as a book device.) Publishing houses such as Penguin Random House began to publish all of its titles simultaneously in e-book and physical format, and have been doing so since Amazon launched their Kindle store for India in 2012. They also retail their titles through online retailers such as Flipkart and Overdrive.
However, the other side of e-reading is that irrespective of much of this content being digital rights management (DRM) protected it is becoming easier for readers to share the books that they absolutely love. It is not uncommon to receive circular letters with the e-books attached, usually of the latest titles. An alarming fact is that at times it is easier to access a book by this method than getting it from a bookshop or even the publisher directly! (It is common knowledge that DRM is easily hacked into.) Perhaps this is the reason why Apple has not made books available through its iTune store in India. But this opens the Pandora Box of piracy and its related issues.
All though India does have a fair number of home-grown eplatforms, it is probably the entry of the “branded” devices like Amazon’s Kindle that reading patterns are going to be transformed in India, at least in English. For the other languages, it is as yet not very clear if the Indic scripts are to be introduced in the ereaders. In October 2013, Kobo announced a collaboration with Crossword Bookstores, again a partnership that will introduce a range of ebooks into the Indian market.
The book market in India is growing. There is no doubt about it. It is happening across languages and genres, though the adoption of plastic money as a mode of purchasing the books still remains a challenge. Indians, culturally, prefer to see the product before buying it, and many prefer to make a transaction in cash. A challenge, but is being addressed by online retailers and vendors like Flipkart (the Indian answer to Amazon).
Of the ebook genres that are popular there is no doubt that it is romance for adults and horror for young adults that holds sway. Earlier this year a new website was launched that focuses only on romances for people from the Indian subcontinent, spread across the world. It was launched by Naheed Hassan. A familiar and popular YA writer is Mainak Dhar. He self-published titles like Alice in Deadland, Through the Killing Glass, Herogiri, Vimana and Zombiestan as ebooks on Amazon. It was later that he was noticed by traditional publishers such as Duckbill, Puffin Books and Random House India. He's extremely popular as his sales on Amazon show. He ousted his hero Stephen King as 'Most Popular Author' in the horror genre on Amazon, for a few hours on 20th March 2013. Sonar Entertainment has licensed rights to the Alice in Deadland series of dystopian novels, which it plans to adapt for television.US-based Sonar picked up rights to the books from Barcelona-based Pontas Literary & Film Agency. For the younger age group of readers—toddlers and early learners, Mango Reader created picture books with audio for children and it is slowly establishing itself in the local market and internationally.
There is definitely a growing market for ebooks in India, much of it also being fuelled by self-published books. It is seen as being “easier” than the traditional route of publishing, especially from the point of view of waiting for editors to accept manuscripts. Also with it being convenient to open social media accounts and service providers offering Twitter and Facebook browsing free on smartphones, adoption for these platforms will grow exponentially. It will be easier to exchange information, at an affordable cost. (Indians, traditionally, are particular about price points and are always searching for the best deal.) Inevitably it is those books that are promoted by word-of-mouth or by instant messenger chats or Facebook status updates that are bought first. Given that 40% of India’s population is below 35 years old, even a small handful of them—internet savvy, English-speaking, comfortable using plastic money—would make up a substantial size of the market. But to access them requires more than creating book trailers, Facebook pages or writing reviews on websites like Amazon since this a new generation of readers, who are also confident about their reading sensibilities and sharp about how to spend their money. They appreciate novels written in conversational English, have an appetite for commercial fiction, romance, horror and plenty of non-fiction titles too, but buy these books online only after assessing their worth. Confirmed orders for books that happen impulsively are still low. As corroborated by successful self-published authors such as Rasana Atreya, who say that most of their customers for ebooks reside abroad, whereas locally the preference is for printed books.
So yes there is a market for ebooks. Yes it is growing. How it is growing and how it can be accessed, only time will tell. For now it is best to enter it confidently and begin selling or watch.
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist. Her website is www.jayabhattacharjirose.com . Her blog which is on publishing and literature (http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/ ) has had over 4,20,000 visitors in 14 months.
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