Users of tablets and e-readers such as Kindle will agree, what they miss on these devices are books by Indian authors. Publishers in India had so far ignored this distribution channel because the volumes did not make it worthwhile for them to spend time and money on the effort. But with tablets taking off in India, publishers think the market is ready for it now.
Penguin India has already put on sale digital editions of 240 of their latest books on Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google. By the end of the year, 800 titles will be digitised, and from next year, the print and digital editions will be launched simultaneously. “We have spent the last 12-18 months digitising our books, and taking necessary permissions for electronic distribution of all our books,” said Ananth Padmanabhan, vice-president, sales, Penguin India.
Penguin is not alone. Indian publishing house Rupa said they would put out 200 ebooks by September, and by the end of the year another 1,500 titles would be added. “ebooks give us a chance to reach out to global readers, who are difficult to reach through traditional distribution channels. You could tie up with retailers in the US, but the shipping cost and time taken for delivery dissuades many consumers from buying our books. On digital platforms they will be able to download our books in a matter of minutes,” said Kapish Mehra, managing director, Rupa.
One would expect ebooks to be cheaper than print editions because publishers save on costs to print books, store them in warehouses, and display them at retail outlets.
However, Penguin India has decided to price their ebooks at the same level as their hardback or paperback versions. This is surprising because in the US, ebooks published by Penguin are priced lower than their print editions. “The US is a 4-5 year old market (for ebooks), where the competition is higher, and so the prices are lower,” said Padmanabhan.
Competition in India is likely to increase quickly though, given how price sensitive Indian consumers are. Other publishers entering the digital space plan to price their ebooks lower than their print versions. “We haven’t finalised on the pricing, but so far it looks like our ebooks will be cheaper,” said Mehra.
Apart from providing global reach, ebooks will also solve the problem of distribution within the country. “There aren’t enough bookstores in India, especially in small towns. e-commerce websites like Flipkart solved the problem to an extent because books could be ordered online and couriered to the buyer’s location. But digital books can be delivered immediately,” pointed out Amish Tripathi, author of the Shiva Trilogy.
Tripathi’s first two books, The Immortals Of Meluha and The Secret Of The Nagas, which were published by Westland, are already available in ebook format but this was at Tripathi’s initiative.
So far it has been up to authors like Tripathi to push their publishers to put their books in the digital space. But if publishing ebooks becomes the norm, it will benefit authors in a big way, especially the ones who are yet to make a mark.
“In a physical retail store, the top-selling books by popular authors are given a lot of display and shelf space. As a result, many good books by lesser known authors die out. But on the digital store they are available for readers to see for a much longer duration,” said graphic novelist Samit Basu, whose three books with Penguin India are now available in ebook format.
Sales of digital books may also give writers a higher royalty on their books, again because the cost of production of ebooks is lower and therefore the profit margin higher. While no one was ready to reveal the specifics of how royalty from sales of ebooks would be calculated, publishers as well as authors said the amount would be higher.
These are still early days, however, for the ebook market in India.
“Sales of my ebooks aren’t very significant at the moment,” said Tripathi. “In India, ebooks will start making a difference in the next 2-3 years when tablets become really popular. But it’s a good thing that publishers are seeding the market. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Publishers will make money only if people buy books digitally. And people will buy ebooks only if there are enough of them available.”