Is India on the Brink of an 'eBook Sales' explosion?

9th Aug 2012
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The idea of reading an "Electronic Book" is a touchy issue. Pedantic bibliophiles cling on to the idea of a paperback while modernists have embraced technology and have befriended Kindle's and the likes. The debate is an unending one but technology, as  it has everywhere is starting to tilt the balance in its favour. Very recently, Amazon UK said that sale of digital books has crossed the sales numbers of print books. For every 100 printed copies being sold, 114 digital books are sold in the UK. This change is massive and has happened in a very short span of time. And this is despite the fact that the digital books in UK are 70% costlier than their US counterparts!

Are the eBook readers (devices) so convenient? The trend has really caught up in the west but has it permeated to India? I doubt. There have not been many factors to promote this trend. The major reasons why people in India remain oblivious to buying ebooks are:

  • High price of devices: A mid category iPad will cost around INR 30,000 and a Kindle Fire would cost anything between INR 10,000-15,000.
  • Rampant Piracy: When one can easily download the eBook, why would anyone buy it? This is the temperament and something similar to what happened in the music industry is happening.
  • Mindset: A huge section of people (online) haven't yet evolved to consume books in the digital format. Also, the habit is not developed from early on as most of the education is imparted via the hard copies. Students do read from eBooks but this trend needs to go up drastically if consumption of eBooks needs to be increased.

But, do the numbers reflect this? On closer inspection, reports suggest that India and Brazil may be the best places for publishers to sell eBooks in the future! In what might come as a surprise, Australia and India along with the UK and the U.S., led the world in e-book adoption rates.

Research for Bowker’s Global e-book Monitor was conducted among the online population in 10 countries – Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. – in early 2012. More than 20 percent of respondents from India reported purchasing an eBook in the six months prior to the survey. Over 50 percent of respondents from India and Brazil said that they are likely to buy an eBook in the next six months (The minimum respondents from each country was 1000).

Asking entrepreneurs and other folk, the fact comes as a surprise. Most of the respondents don't believe this claim and have never themselves bought an eBook. An entrepreneur informed that he tried a product related to selling eBooks but it failed miserably. Bowker is one of the leading provider of bibliographic information management solutions designed to help publishers, booksellers, and libraries better serve their customers and the survey consisted of the population having internet access in India. Only 2% of Indians and 7% of Brazilians have purchased an e-book, but both countries have relatively large populations and so those numbers represent significant opportunity for publishers.

According to Bowker, there were nearly 25 million Indian e-book buyers in February 2012 and nearly 15 million Brazilian e-book buyers, making them the second- and third-largest e-book markets in the world behind the U.S. at nearly 60 million e-book buyers.

The numbers are starkling and also a view-changer. eBooks might indeed be a huge market that can be explored and looked upon as an opportunity to open up revenue streams.

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