Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
The ebook industry in India is still an emerging market but feels like it’s about to grow – it’s like a storm brewing in the distance. It continues to swirl and swirl, yet it’s not certain when it will unleash in full force. As founder and managing editor of e-Books India, India’s largest online magazine for writers, writing tips, self-publishing and industry insights, I took a look at key developments that continue to occur within the sector, including digitization efforts, the potential of regional ebooks, and insights into the delivery and retail of ebooks across the country to get a better idea of when the storm will hit.
Market for English Ebooks and Regional Languages
According to The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, more than half of all titles published in India are in Hindi and English; those in Hindi making up 26%, followed by English at 24%. As such, all the major publishers in India, such as Penguin Books India, Hachette India, and Westland, have digitized their English-language back-lists.
Much progress has also been made in the area of regional ebooks, according to Rüdiger Wischenbart’s 2014 global ebook report on Indian publishers. These include DC Books of Kottayam digitizing titles in Malayalam, and Mehta Publishing House of Pune doing the same with Marathi titles. The multilingual nature of the country gives Indian writers ample opportunity to publish ebooks in regional languages for a large and diverse market, even if it is still small. Currently, ebooks account for approximately 2% of the overall book market annually, which is about $2 billion – that’s about $40 million.
With up to 25 major regional languages being spoken across India, publishing for profit in a local language here can be challenging. But the challenge of each language also offers an opportunity for writers outside of the country to make further inroads into the Indian market through getting their works translated. This will be more difficult to do for those authors who are traditionally published, as their publishers own the foreign language rights to their works. However, for those who are self-published and are open to forming partnerships with translation companies, translating ebooks into regional languages is certainly a possibility. Examples of translation organizations in India include Language No Bar based in New Delhi and TranslationPanacea of Pune. However, translation can be costly.
Delivery and Retail of Ebooks
In India, e-readers may not do as well as devices like tablets and smartphones when it comes to digital reading.
Amazon released the Kindle in India in 2012. Amazon was quickly followed by Kobo in 2013. Consumers in India have access to devices that in the West are synonymous with ebooks. However, whether they will ever be as popular as they are in North America and Europe is questionable. Perception of value for devices will have a big impact as the Indian e-reading market evolves. Indian consumers like to see value in the products they buy, and e-readers may need to demonstrate they do more than just offer a platform to read ebooks. A tablet like the new Nook Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 from Barnes & Noble Nook might do well in India because it is reading-focused but can do many other things as well. Samsung remains the most popular tablet brand in India, followed by the domestic Micromax and Apple’s iPad, which comes in at third. Incidentally, iPad’s were first launched in India in 2011.
Companies which are India-based, such as Flipkart, have a deep understanding of how Indians like to consume digital content (mostly through multi-function devices) and have responded accordingly by introducing e-reading apps onto tablets and phones. These provide tools that Indian consumers can use to read ebooks on devices they are most familiar with.
Companies like Handygo’s Rockstand and Ver Se Innovation’s NewsHunt have seen opportunities in areas outside of India’s major metro areas. These companies are reaching readers in smaller cities by selling ebooks through popular magazine reading apps, which are installed on smartphones. In rural parts of India, 70% of the population accesses the Internet from mobile phones, often in regional languages.
The competition between providers of ebook reading apps is heating up, as companies look to increase the number of titles they have available through their online stores. The monetization plan is simple and doesn’t rely on incremental billing: forge partnerships with mobile providers such as Airtel and Vodafone. Such a set up enables buyers to download ebooks straight onto the apps, and pay from the balance remaining on their phones. Rockstand recently completed a deal with Diamond Publications, Nirali Prakashan and Nachiket Prakashan to increase its list of both trade and academic ebooks available on its app.