Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Evolution of e-publishing: Why India has lagged behind in adapting eBooks

Despite its success the world over, India is yet to adapt to eBooks. Gargi Gupta dives into the narrow pool of e-publishing in the country to find out why it comes up short.

Rasana Atreya was an IT professional...and then she wrote a novel. It was good, too, for the manuscript made it to the shortlist of the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia prize for best unpublished novel by a writer unrepresented by a literary agent. Soon, a publisher offered a contract, but Atreya decided to do something adventurous — self-publish her book, using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service. Nearly a year after its publication, her eBook Tell A Thousand Lies gets around 1,000 downloads a month.

Of these, only a few are from India. “Mostly it is from the UK, US and, amazingly, Mexico, from where I get a lot of fan mail telling me that my book about two sisters in a small south-Indian village could have been set in their country,” says Atreya. With 70% royalties coming her way (print publishers pay their authors a fraction of this), Atreya today makes more money each month from the sales of her book than the entire advance that the print publisher had offered her. No wonder then that Atreya has resigned from her job to become a full-time writer and says her decision to self-publish was one of the best things she’s done.

Atreya’s is undoubtedly a success story, but it is the only significant success in the e-publishing/ebooks space in India. For unlike in the West, where as a recent PwC report reveals, ebooks have garnered 9% of the publishing market, and will grow to 22% by 2017, eBooks in India account for a paltry 1% or less. The main barrier, says Random House India spokesperson Caroline Newbury, is the lack of awareness in India about ebooks, how to download them and the ereader devices available. “But this is changing rapidly,” she says. If eBook sales are higher in the US or UK, Newbury feels it is because these places have had dedicated e-reading devices and eBooks for much longer.

So how close is India to this inflection point from where the local market for eBooks can be expected to really take off? Around 18-24 months, feels Santanu Chowdhury, CEO of Swiftboox, a store that specialises in ebooks in Indian regional languages. VK Karthika, publisher and chief editor, HarperCollins India, agrees: “When eBooks first started to come in, I had thought they would take 10 years to reach India; then last year, when we started working on our ebooks programme, I thought it would be five years. Now I think it will take about two years.”

That India has a lot of potential is something everyone in publishing  agrees upon. “India is the third largest market for English books,” says Amazon India’s spokesperson. “A high propensity for reading, coupled with growth in literacy, increasing Internet penetration, Internet-enabled devices and a rapid growth of middle class population with increasing disposable income make it a very promising market.” No wonder then that everyone — publishers, stores (both online and brick-and-mortar) and manufacturers of eBook reader devices and apps — is hurrying to grab an early-mover advantage in the eBooks space.

The last 12 months or so, especially, have seen a lot of new launches and activity. Swiftboox, for example, is tying up with small and medium publishers in Bengali, Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, etc and offering to digitise their backlists using a technology that works with Indian vernacular languages. In October this year, HarperCollins launched an e-imprint, Harper21, with a series of 21 e-singles by 21 authors at a “token cost” of Rs21 each. “We decided to introduce readers with a format that was not too long or complicated to read by known authors, and could be finished while travelling on the Metro, for instance. We are not really looking at it as a revenue earner now,” says Karthika. In the last year or so, leading English-language publishers such as HarperCollins, Random House and Aleph have started to release new titles in both print and eformats.

Regional language publishers, however, still remain largely out of the ebook revolution, says Chowdhury, of Swiftboox. The market is also being flooded with ereaders and ebook apps of late — GooglePlay Books launched in India in February this year; in June, Amazon launched its Kindle range of e-readers and the Kindle Store; Flipkart, the leading books retailer, came out with its eBooks app in August; and last month, Kobo, a popular brand of ebook readers globally, unveiled its range in India. Even brick-and-mortar stores like Landmark have jumped onto the bandwagon with online ebook stores.

Why, these days, even highend smartphones come preloaded with Blio, a free-to-download ereader software! Clearly, there’re all waiting for the eBook revolution to happen.

The top shelf describes electronic publishing as “the issuing of books and other material in machine-readable form rather than on paper”.

E-publishing, short for electronic publishing, refers to work published online, on a compact disk, emailed, or provided in a format compatible with handheld electronic readers. Amazon Kindle and Kobo are two eBook readers popular amongst bibliophiles.

Source | Daily News Analysis | 25 November 2013

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