Greater IT penetration coupled with easy accessibility and the sheer convenience of shopping online is driving the online book store market in India with players expecting the segment to receive a fillip with the onset of e-commerce and the digital book era.
The experience of dropping into a bookstore and looking for books, or quickly chatting up with the owner and booking for one's copy of the bestseller before it is sold out, may soon become passe with online bookstores and digital books inching their way forward in the market.
"The current size of the online bookmarket is estimated to be about Rs 70 crore (Rs 700 million) in annual sales and it is increasing at the rate of 50 per cent year on year", said Rahul Sethi, President-e-Commerce, ibibo web Private Limited, which launched TradusBooks.in, an online bookstore for India.
"The increasing Internet penetration, consumer confidence in online retail as a format is driving this growth. The convenience of shopping online and the wide choice and attractive prices available online are also growth drivers", said Sachin Bansal, CEO and co-founder, Flipkart.com.
"On an average 10,000-12,000 people shop for books everyday. Most are men within age-group of 25-35. Almost 50 per cent of the orders come from the top eight cities and the remaining come from B & C class towns, said Rahul.
"The online book market is steadily growing. We expect the industry to grow at around 15-20 per cent annually, with online sales doing better than physical transactions. We are Indias largest online bookstore with more than ten million titles and we sell around 1.5 lakh books a month and at the rate of four books per minute", said Bansal.
The convenience of selection in the comfort of a reader's home attractive prices, easily available updates on best sellers, new arrivals also make this it a very convenient platform for customers, said a book dealer.
The earlier hassle of making prior payment has given way to cash on delivery, making it a convenient option for those shopping for books of their choice, sitting at home.
"Moreover the purchase of books does not necessitate the need for the `feel and buy concept' like other products. The standardisation of the product makes it an ideal online product for the online platform", Rahul said.
The need of huge investments in terms of setting up large physical book stores is also eliminated. Distribution is the key in the book market and the online platform through its easy accessibility in terms or reach and placing orders makes it desirable, he said.
Finding books not necessarily on popularity charts and those related to niche subjects like extra-terrestial animals or those in some vernacular languages could be challenging in the physical bookstore formatbut not so on online, a reader said.
According to Rahul, customers also experience savings with discounts on MRP. Companies like theirs do not pass on the shipping charges to the customer but rather it is absorbed through various channels including advertisers and publishers.
The percentage of people stepping into a bookstore is diminishing due to paucity of time, he claimed.
In terms of online sales, it is the metros that do well with nearly 40-45 per cent business accruing from six top metros. Cities like Hyderabad, Kochi and Bangalore appear to have taken to the online bookstores more easily.
The mini metros or smaller cities also have taken to the concept, largely because it ensures access to books and titles not easily found in the smaller cities or towns, Rahul said.
"We feel smaller towns hold huge potential, we forsee a faster adoption of the concept" he said, citing the example of the sucess of online booking of railway tickets in these towns.
The buyers would seek out those familiar with online purchase and use their services, Rahul said.
The online book format would work out better for the vernacular publishers given the niche readers.
The logistics of receiving orders online and ensuring delivery would make better business sense in terms of cost and driving distribution efficiencies, said an online book dealer.
For authors who still had not made it to the big league and for those whose titles had not reached the best seller mark as yet, the e-book format and online format would eventually make better business sense.
The online format would be a great leveller in terms of reach and for those whose frugal budgets did not permit huge investments in distribution channels.
According to Rahul, Amazon.com was able to create a market for smaller titles and the same would be replicated here.
"The customer profile for us is more in the 18-35 age group with the ratio more skewed towards male" said Rahul, "70 to 80 percent happen to be younger men".
Going forward the biggest challenge in the online book store market would be to device strategies for new e-book formats, capturing payments, facilitating distribution, and building infrastructure to ensure end-delivery apart from coming out with new technology to deal with the growing market and demands of growing consumer base.
The growth of 3-G and adoption of new mobile devices would throw up new demands and challenges, including role of publishers and their rights and adoption of book formats to suit these new technology trends.