Indian ebook stores vie for reader attention [DNA : Sunday]
(DNA : Sunday Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The debate over whether ebooks can ever be as good as paper books seems to be dying down. In markets like the US and UK, online retail giant Amazon sells more ebooks than paper ones. The story may be repeated in India with tablets flying off the shelves and owners of these devices discover just how convenient it is to buy, and read ebooks. With an eye on the future, Landmark and Flipkart, two of the biggest bookstores in the country, have set up ebook stores in the past few months. They will be competing against Amazon, which in August started displaying prices in rupees, which cushions Indian consumers from fluctuating exchange rates.
However, readers face a dilemma. When it comes to the real world, people prefer one book store to another on the basis of factors like the collection of titles, the store format and staff. In the virtual world, however, every store is a URL and it is possible to stock countless books that can be accessed through a quick search. So why should book lovers choose one ebook store over another
"I agree that everyone is trying to do more or less the same things, but it all depends on who gets it right," says Sameer Nigam, vice president, digital business, Flipkart.
That "getting it right" part is challenging and so far, the only player to have succeeded is Amazon. "Amazon remembers you from the moment you sign on. It knows what books you have bought in the past, and will recommend books accordingly," says Ananth Padmanabhan, vice president, sales, Penguin India. "The ebooks are comfortably priced and you can request a sample of the book before making a purchase. And you only have to enter payment details once. After that, the books can be bought in one click. Many have tried to replicate such an experience, but no one has done it better than Amazon."
For its part, Flipkart has replicated the one-click buy by introducing a pre-paid digital wallet. Landmark, on the other hand, still requires users to fill in credit card details or make the payment via net banking every time they buy an ebook. Both companies have Android apps to read the books bought from the store.
Apart from technology, Indian ebook stores are focusing on regional content. While multinational publishers like Penguin, or Harper Collins have the systems in place to digitise their portfolio, India's numerous independent publishing houses need hand-holding, which players like Flipkart and Landmark are more than willing to do.
"There was one Tamil award-winning book, which was selling in huge numbers. However, we couldn't locate the distributor or the author. After a lot of effort, we managed to track them down and were able to put it up on the ebook store. There is a demand for such books which is not being met," says Arun Naikar, business head, etail, Landmark.
Flipkart is concentrating on translating popular English titles to regional languages. The company also uses transliteration using which users can search for titles in a regional language.
good for Publishers
Having more ebook stores is also good news for Indian publishers. According to one representative of a leading publishing house, "Everyone wants to be on Amazon because it has a monopoly in the market. However, its processes are cumbersome and it takes a long time to get your ebook on to their store."
This representative said that publishers have to distribute ebooks on Amazon via a company called Mobipocket. The online giant doesn't allow publishers to directly upload ebooks either. That's why players like Flipkart, which have much simpler processes are welcome, he said.
These are still early days for the ebooks market. Ultimately, the store to come out front will be the one with the largest catalogue, and the technology which will deliver to users in the smoothest possible manner.
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