Will e-Book be the print-slayer?

Delhi Book Fair (DBF) gravitated to adulthood this year, so no wonder the focus shifted from conventional printed books to the new Gen-X, tech savvy e-Books. This year’s DBF which kicked off from 1 September at Pragati Maidan, contrary to the doomsday predictions, was well-attended by book lovers.

13 Oct 2012 | By Rahul Kumar

Along with the printed books, the DBF had good numbers of e-Books and web-based applications on display. And these new stalls were visited not only by the Youngistan but by parents. In fact, the main theme of the DBF had a digital edge. During the book fair a unique film festival where movies based on Indian novels played in the Shakuntalam auditorium.

Mudit Mohini, director, Vishv Books, a Delhi-based publishing house, says, “Recently, we launched various applications created for iPads and Android tablets. These applications have been developed for 10 books in the children's segment.  We are trying to make books as interactive as possible. The innovation will help parents read out stories to children from Android phones. We are mulling the addition of a new feature where the parent can record his/her voice to narrate the story.”

What's crucial is, e-Book distributors were seen networking with publishers. Newsbeats.in quotes, Johanna Brinton, business development executive (Europe and Asia), Over-Drive saying that “the number of Indian publishers moving to digitised versions has grown four times. But it is still modest compared to other countries.”

Not just DBF, but the last held World Book Fair had a fair share of e-Book publishers. In fact, Reado, an audio book publishing company had several takers. One of the prime reasons for the greater acceptance of e-Books in India is that the publishers have now been offering features beyond the old PDF versions of books.

Nevertheless, Apurv Garg of Brijbasi Art Press feels e-Books market will take time to be a prominent technology in India. “The e-Book market is currently affecting the fiction and non-fiction book market. I think in India this is governed by publishers such as Penguin and Rupa, which are already geared up for this new trend. At the same time, in the children’s book segment, I don’t see a major trend shifting to e-Books as yet; needless to say we are gearing up for it specially for encyclopaedias and story books. Till the next decade, there won’t be much impact of e-Books on Indian printing industry. However, if the educational school books market switches to e-Books, the scenario will change drastically.”

Adi Jain, senior manager, business development, Paras Offset echoes Gupta’s views, “Tablets have a marginal presence in India and smartphones are approximately 10% of the phone carrying population.  In the absence of a solid e-Book ecosystem — device makers, e-Book aggregators, and to a lesser extent, modern payment gateways —the consumer will have to cross an adoption hurdle to use e-Books.”

The introduction of the affordable tablets Akash from UbiSlate was predicted to cut across the ‘affordability’ hurdles. However, Himanshu Gupta of S Chand publishers, in an interview to PrintWeek Indiaearlier this year, had rebuffed the claims of e-Books eating into the profits of publishers who still relied on the print books. “It is still too early to suggest how successful a project Aakash would be. We feel that we need not feel threatened by the tablet and e-Book evolution,” he says.

Then why is it that at almost every book show, there is at least one printer or publisher who sweats with trepidation at the thought of e-Book penetration?

To understand the pros-and-cons, Adi Jain feels that the Indian e-Book market needs to be analysed from the perspective of academic and non-academic publishers.  “For non-academic publishers (single colour trade and speciality books) market is not yet fully ready for e-Books and it will take the next 2-3 years before e-Books become an important revenue opportunity for publishers. For the school based (K-12) academic publishers, e-Books are a non-threat.  There has been only marginal adoption in the K-12 space even in Western Europe and the Americas.  This space may get disrupted, as a large number of stakeholders like schools, parents, students, and teachers need to come on board.  Moreover, the device prices for tablets need to come down and platforms such as Inkling and Kno need to come in India for things to start moving,” Jain says.

More than the cost factor that still lingers as a major pain point his major criticism for the e-Books is the inability to transform itself from linear to non-linear reading habits. “Among all publishing segments, this will get more popular as the reading experience on e-Books is still very linear.  Readers go from chapter 1 to 2 to 3 ... whereas for academic books, students like to underline pages, bookmark them, take notes etc.  It is very convenient to use e-Books for linear reading but for non-linear reading, e-Books are not there as yet.”

He also adds that the threat in this space is less from e-Books than complete tablet based eLearning modules by technology companies such as Educomp and HCL.

This means that e-Book adoption in higher-education will be much faster as the Indian market is predominantly a single colour market and stakeholders in this segment-college going students and their teachers-would be more likely to adopt a new technology.  Moreover, students in higher-education are already heavy users of online reference texts, photocopied notes etc., so the willingness to jump to the e-Book bandwagon will be higher. So the major impact of e-Books will be highest for printers working with trade publishers, higher education, and reference publishers. 

“Four-colour printers targeting the K-12 segment will not be dramatically impacted in the medium term.  Moreover, Indian printing and books are extremely cheap as compared to anywhere else in the world, so the cost differential for a consumer between an e-Book and a printed book will be lower in India than say, Western Europe or the Americas.  This significantly decreases the willingness of students and parents to adopt a new form of delivering content,” Jain adds.

“For instance, a higher-end book in the USA can cost anywhere from $50-$150, a price that would be an order of magnitude higher than a similar book in India,” Adi Jain adds.

Gupta does not disagree with the view. He adds, “e-Books will never kick off in India as books are priced very cheap. Educational book segment has no threat from e-Books as for students it is mandatory to buy those books. At the same time, the leisure reading market will undergo a change with different devices.”

It’s there but not yet ‘there’ is how you can sum this whole debate. However, e-Book donning the role of ‘print-slayer’ is something that was equivocally put down by the printing and publishing industry. The only difference is that while printers are yet not open to explore this new market, publishers have been slowly rooting for the content 4.0 model.

Check out the next column by Rahul Kumar on Content 4.0 model, and how this "perceived threat" could be an opportunity.