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Craze for ebooks yet to catch on in India

July 22, 2010 10:07 IST

E-booksGlobally, on Amazon.com, the sales of ebooks may have outstripped the sales of hardcover books over the past three months.

However, this does not appear to be the case in India.

Amazon's Kindle, for instance, was launched in India in October last year. It was priced at around Rs 18,000.

Yet, say analysts and industry sources, Amazon has not managed to sell more than 2,000 units in country.

"In India, I don't see ebooks finding a mass uptake before five years. While enthusiasts are buying ebooks on their devices, it has not yet reached the scale to send publishers running to convert physical copies into digital formats," says V K Karthika, publisher and chief editor, Harper Collins (India).

"Kindle users are limited to ebooks (books in a digital form that can be read on devices like the Kindle or iPad) and similar multimedia content available from the Amazon store.

This not only hinders user uptake but also limits distribution," concurs Vishal Mehta, CEO and founder of Infibeam.com.

Infibeam.com has launched its own version of an ereader at Rs 9,999. Mehta, who claims to have sold 'several thousand' Pi ereaders, adds the market in India for such devices is estimated to be around 50,000 units annually.

"That (the rise in numbers) doesn't have to mean that revenues have increased," reasons Mehta, who is already seeing ebooks sales contribute up to five per cent of total sales on Infibeam.com.

The entertainment retailer has announced that for every 100 hardcover books sold on Amazon.com in the last month, it has sold 180 ebooks for its Kindle ebook reader.

The Kindle store in the US has a catalogue of 630,000 books and over 1.8 million free, pre-1923 books also available to read on Kindle.

However, there are tonnes of self-published ebooks that sell for free or as low as $0.99 (Rs 46).

Hence the rise in numbers could be misleading.

Alok Kejriwal, CEO and co-founder, Games2win, agrees. He says: "As far as the ebook impact on India goes, it seems insignificant because the hardware (the iPad costs more than Rs 30,000 if sourced from outside of India) and also the biggest problem is lack of availability of wi-fi."

Nevertheless, that will not kill his new-found love for ebooks. Kejriwal says he is a die-hard Apple iPad fan: "I spend at least one hour on iPad reading newspapers like the Financial Times and New York Times but the juiciest bit is the ability to buy iBooks and read them on the go on the device."

The best part of the iPad is the Kindle app, using which Kejriwal buys three ebooks every month.

"The more devices running the Kindle app, the better the eBook sales for Amazon and as mobile devices continue to play an important role in modern day life, it looks like eBook numbers will climb even higher," says an analyst.

Kindle and Kindle DX are portable ereaders from Amazon that wirelessly download books and personal documents to a high-resolution electronic ink display that looks and reads like real paper.

Meanwhile, ahead of the launch of Apple iPad in September, a touchscreen-based netbook that is also an ereader, Infibeam, has announced the launch of a coloured ereader labelled 'Phi' that is priced at just Rs 14,999.

Priyanka Joshi in New Delhi
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