• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [+]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [—]India (11)
    • [+]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)


Stores that sell electronic publications. The emergence of digital ecosystems

Let’s look now at some of the sites that have made inroads into the distribution of digital books and magazines.

The virtual bookstore Odyssey360, for example, offers freely downloadable e-books in PDF through a link received by email. The texts are on subjects related to marketing, computing, health and self-help.

In addition to almost 14,000 paper books, BookGanga, which presents itself as an “online bookstore of Indian literature” offers 139 e-books[1] and 54 e-magazines,[2] mostly in Marathi. These publications, rarely costing more than 2 dollars, can be read on both Windows and Apple devices, for which purpose BookGanga has developed its own reading software.[3] Users can leaf through the opening pages of the texts thanks to another of the company’s own systems, based on Flash. It should be clarified that BookGanga is one more link in the chain of MyVishwa, an IT company with offices in India, the US and Australia, which has built a veritable ecosystem of web applications – from videogames and music to emails and blogs. Another fundamental component of MyVishwa is ePaper, a system designed for reading Web versions of printed newspapers. According to its website, MyVishwa

… creates time for you to develop a relaxed, organized and balanced core within yourself that will radiate all your positive energy to everyone in Seven Circles, that is MyVishwa – the entire Universe.[4]

Another e-bookstore that started up in January 2008 is India Ebooks, owned by the software company ESource, based in Delhi and Toronto. The prices of its e-books – mainly from Indian publishers – range from under one dollar[5] to over 30 dollars.[6] ESource has developed its own DRM and offers a reading application for texts in PDF version.

Founded in the US in the mid-1990s by Shinu Gupta, A1Books began by selling books through the Web, at a time when Amazon had barely been heard of. In December 2007, the company inaugurated A1Books India, on the conviction that this market concealed enormous potential for e-commerce.[7] The firm recently presented its own platform selling e-books, most of which come from international publishers and are sold in ePub, PDF, LIT and Mobi formats. These publications – supplied by the US aggregator Overdrive – are considerably more expensive than those offered by BookGanga. Indeed, the visitor may come across e-books in PDF that cost 120 dollars or even more.[8] When asked about the main challenges of an online store in India, Gupta replied:

Branding and traffic to the site are the biggest challenges. Building quality content is yet another big challenge in the Indian market where the online business is just evolving. Customers are too demanding and computer savvy, whereas the sellers are yet to catch up with the pace to the needed levels.[9]

Among the e-commerce platforms that have experimented with e-books, the one most often cited is, perhaps, Infibeam. Created in 2007 by another former Amazon employee – Vishal Mehta –, this store based in Ahmedabad emulates its US peer in aspects ranging from aesthetic features – like the logo and webpage layout – to commercial ones. Infibeam claims to have around 10 million titles in its backlist of physical books, which makes it the biggest bookstore in India. In January 2010, Infibeam captured the attention of the local and international media when it announced the launch of Pi, its own e-reader with electronic ink and touch screen, at an initial price of 220 dollars. In addition to the relatively accessible cost and its long-life battery, Pi offered another considerable advantage over the Kindle: it made it possible to read in Hindi, Sanskrit and 13 other Indian languages. The e-books and electronic magazines – in ePub, PDF and LIT formats – that users used to be able to find on Infibeam’s website were mostly international publications that cost between 12 and 24 dollars, that is to say, quite a lot more than the average printed book.[10] According to Sachin Oswal, the company’s vice-president, this was due to the fact that publishers in India still hadn’t begun to digitize their content, which forced the site to make use of international aggregators.[11] For this reason, in May 2010 the company inaugurated its InDigi service, a platform that enables authors and publishers to upload works and market them through Infibeam’s e-books portal.[12] As a result, we now find texts from local publishers at much more competitive prices, with some costing just 1 dollar.

As well as the e-books acquired through Infibeam, the Pi device allows users to read their personal documents without any technical obstacles or additional costs. For this and other reasons, Oswal stresses the impact a device like Pi could have on schools in India:

Its battery, that works for a week, enables about four to five students to share a single Pi. This is particularly effective in rural areas where there is a shortage of resources and electricity.[13]

It is hard not to associate these comments with the attempts to introduce Kindles into Ghana, as we described in the chapter on sub-Saharan Africa. However, we must admit that in the case of the Pi device, the project is being carried out by a local company that is fully familiar with the concrete problems of the country. And ultimately, native ventures may be able to prevail where Amazon and other firms from the North have failed. Indeed, Amazon would be hard pushed to design as many Kindles as there are linguistic regions in India, and it would be even less able to reduce shipping costs in such a way that its device could compete with others designed in situ. In any case, what is under discussion here is who imposes the hardware standard so as to then retain control over the sale of content: Amazon has understood this perfectly, which is why it has reduced the price of the Kindle to a level close to the manufacturing cost.[14] Whoever imposes the standard will have more chances not only of obtaining control of the B2C market but also of winning public biddings. In January 2010, the Indian State approved a plan to reduce the digital gap in different schools in the country, with an investment in software, hardware and electronic content of over 1.5 billion dollars – a figure that gives a clear idea of just what is at stake.[15] With the race to control hardware and content in mind, in July 2010, Infibeam – which has started working with Indian educational institutions –[16] presented its own Android tablet – called Phi – to compete with the iPad. A few months later, it introduced the second version of the e-reader Pi, this time equipped with WiFi connectivity and more memory, among other improvements on the first model.[17]

In addition to Infibeam, there is another interesting project in India that integrates an online platform with a reading device: DC Books / EC Media. In 1974, the writer and Keralite activist Dominic Chacko Kizhakemuri – nicknamed “DC” – inaugurated the bookstore DC Books, which over time was to become a formidable conglomerate – the DC Group –, with activities as varied as publishing, computing, radio and even hotels. DC Books now has a backlist of around 10,000 titles, particularly in Malayalam, and has published various books by Vargas Llosa as well as the Harry Potter saga in that language. The significant point is that the group controls 60% of EC Media,[18] a company founded in 2009 in Bangalore whose explicit goal is to distribute affordable e-readers and content in the Indian market, in both English and regional languages.[19] EC’s portal welcomes users with this quote from the American writer Ralph Lombreglia:

The proper artistic response to digital technology is to embrace it as a new window on everything that’s eternally human, and to use it with passion, wisdom, fearlessness and joy.

In August 2010, EC Media presented the Wink, an e-reader with electronic ink, an analogue keyboard and an interface designed to operate in English and 15 Indian languages.[20] In February 2011, the standard 6 inch model now costs around 200 dollars, while the 5 inch XLite version, launched in December 2010, sells for 180 dollars. EC Media’s marketing strategy has been to build a veritable ecosystem around the device. To begin with, at WinkStore users can find over 200,000 e-books and digital magazines, in ePub and PDF format with DRM. Some of these publications can be downloaded free of charge, while others can cost up to 200 dollars.[21] The store already offers titles in Hindi,[22] Marathi,[23] Malayalam[24] and Kannada,[25] among other languages. In the words of Ravi DC, the CEO of EC Media:

With its rich cultural heritage, India has a plethora of languages so it was essential that we introduce a product that befits that rich heritage and vast history and literature available to us. The idea is to make national and international content, including those that are rare, out of print and hitherto paperback editions accessible to readers on the digital platform.[26]

In the medium term, EC Media plans to construct five other main pillars around the Wink: WinkWire – a personalizable electronic newspaper –; Winkeractive – a social network for book recommendations –; WinkPublish – a new publishing house that will publish around 10 titles a months –; MagsonWink – an application for mobile devices –; and My Wink, My Words – a literary competition for young authors.[27] The directors of EC Media are fully aware of the fact that they cannot base their business on selling devices alone, as Pradeep Palazhi, the head of the company’s operations explains:

Content is the king. Any revenue model that focuses on the e-reader device won’t be sustainable. Revenue models that focus on content revenues, CLV (customer lifetime value), communities and added value will thrive.[28]

  1. Cf. “eBooks”, BookGanga.
  2. Ibidem.
  3. Cf. “To read eBooks, download the latest version of eBook Reader”, BookGanga and “BookGanga Reader”, iTunes Preview.
  4. Cf. “Our Philosophy”, MyVishwa.
  5. See for example: Changing Image of India.
  6. See for example: Encyclopaedia of Mathematics.
  7. Cf. “Times Internet (Indiatimes) acquires 50% stake in online book marketplace A1Books”, Alootechie, 31st July, 2008.
  8. Cf. For example: “Game Theory and Business Applications [eBook]”, A1Books India.
  9. Cf. “Interview of the week: Shinu Gupta, CEO, A1Books”, Webnewswire, 30th November, 2009.
  10. For example, the title In Pursuit of Ecstasy, by Sujata Parashar, sells in the printed version for just $1.50; in addition, shipping within India is free.
  11. Cf. Chaturvedi, Pooja: “E-book reader for Indian languages”, Livemint, 30th May, 2010.
  12. Cf. “Infibeam.com Extends eBooks Platform with Digitization, Distribution and Print On Demand”, India PR Line, 5th July, 2010.
  13. Cf. Chaturvedi, Pooja: op. cit.
  14. Cf. Gallagher, Dan: “Does Amazon Make Money on the Kindle?”, Digits. The Wall Street Journal Blogs, 28th January, 2011.
  15. Cf. Sibal, Kapil: “1 lakh govt schools to go ‘smart’”, The Times of India, 10th January, 2010.
  16. Cf. Chaturvedi, Pooja: op. cit.
  17. Cf. “Infibeam Announces Pi2 – An Upgraded Version of Pi with Touch and Connectivity”, Infibeam, 20th January, 2011.
  18. Cf. Lison, Joseph: “Two Indian e-readers set to hit market”, Livemint, 1st February, 2010.
  19. Cf. “About EC Media”, EC Media.
  20. The name Wink comes from “without ink”.
  21. Cf. Medicine, Magic and Religion: The FitzPatrick Lectures delivered before The Royal College of Physicians in London in 1915-1916, in Wink Store. Oddly, in Wink Store there are quite a few duplicated titles that are sold at different prices. The reader can find an alternate version of the abovementioned work by W. H. R. Rivers for just 14 dollars. Cf. Medicine, Magic and Religion, in Wink Store.
  22. Cf. Bansuri Samrat Hariprasad Chaurasia, in Wink Store.
  23. Cf. Truth About Making Smart Decisions, in Wink Store.
  24. Cf. Vilapalm, in Wink Store.
  25. Cf. Krushi Ssampada, in Wink Store.
  26. Cf. Tankha, Madhur: “A record 40,000 visit Delhi Book Fair”, The Hindu, 2nd January, 2011.
  27. Cf. Kurup, Deepa: “Digital publishing in regional languages”, The Hindu, 12th January, 2011.
  28. Cf. Murali, D.: “When eReaders nudge into bookshelves”, The Hindu, 8th October, 2010.

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