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Books still rule over digital media

Source: PTI
February 02, 2006 13:22 IST
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Dismissing suggestions that the interest in books is on wane, the publishing industry has taken the 'digital' challenge in its stride and turned technology into an additional stream of revenue-generation.

"Books have been around for 600 years. You can't expect it to be replaced with a decade old phenomena. Can you take a computer to bed? " questions Tejeshwar Singh, CEO of Sage India, which incidentally turns 25 this year.

"There are now books based on TV and the Internet -- from reality shows to beginners guide on how to use a computer."

Adds Gautam Sen a former professor at the London School of Economics, "Oprah promotes a book on TV and it becomes a best-seller." Sen says that unconventional subjects like tigers, food, wine, health and coffee table books are doing well.

Sage, a leading player in the educational book space expects books on health, entertainment, management and professional fields to drive the business.

"We are also creating greater space for contemporary issues like terrorism, fundamentalism and issues concerning the Islamic world." Samit Basu, the author of 'The Simoqin Prophecies' and 'The Manticore's Secret says that technology "provides more marketing opportunities and greater visibility to books."

Sen asserts that while technology will affect " small players" who have high fixed costs. "Many players are already publishing books only after the order is placed and this makes it low risk and cost-efficient."  Also technology will make it possible to send "individual content or parts of whole." Sen says.

Recently for instance, Oxford Bookstore realising the potential of the Internet medium came up with the concept of e-author, where budding authors are provided with a platform to show-off their skills.

"I think the e-mail is a great way to connect authors across the country and get them on a common platform," says Mona Sengupta of Oxford.

However Sara Miller McCune, chairperson of Sage, who has been in the business for over 40 years asserts, "The Internet is a great tool for research for academics and scholars, but books will always have a place. A lot of archival material is not available on the web."

Technology will have a limited impact on the business of books. "Audio books are great for my grandchildren, perhaps even a fiction format," she insists.

"Perhaps they are a useful aid for learning language. Audio books in India are not dramatised. They don't quite hold the interest," says Yogesh Sharma, GM of Penguin.

Even the concept of e-books and digital books has not caught on " They are difficult to read," says  McCune. Adds Kapish Mehra " People like to feel, hold and possess books." Sharma cites the lack of Internet availability and access as a potential hurdle.

Elucidating the point Singh cites the instance of Britannica " which hasn't met with too much success for its digital version "people are still willing to pay a good price for a good book."

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