Why do e-book readers fail to sell in India?


The bounty of free e-books has captured readers worldwide, but they are yet to break through the Indian market.  Why is it that a country almost obsessed with mobiles and smart phones shows no interest in e-readers?

India has more than 200 million Internet users. Around 500 million people will be online by 2018, with 5 million new Internet users adding up every month (as per Rajan Anandan, Managing Director of Google India).  The e-commerce sector is on fire with Indians getting comfortable with online buying. Given this, it is surprising that this rise in online shopping and consumerism does not translate into comfort when it comes to paying for e-books and e-readers online.

Is it because e-books are available for free that Indian take them for granted? Could the common perception that “free means ‘cheap and worthless’” be the reason Indians are not fond of e-books? Do they vote for the free wave similar to free OS, online music, free movies and other freeware available online?

Perhaps it is because the 5” mobile device is the primary computer of a majority of Indians instead of an iPad or a Kindle.  This size may not necessarily be more convenient or appealing than the old cultural habits of reading a physical book.  Besides, physical books are available through rampant piracy in the foreign book market (you can get cheap pirated books of leading authors on street corners).

Or is it a lack of knowledge about e-books and e-readers ( Amazon’s Kindle is popular in India but nothing  as compared to its popularity in the US). A new report says that US publishers’ revenue from e-book sales was $3 billion last year. (Source: the Bookstats Project).

Amazon’s Kindle  has entered the Indian market recently to make its presence felt but it has not been successful despite its attractive online deals on e-readers. It is yet to break-through the conventional print-book market in India. A study by Bookboon says that the most traditional readers with the highest amount of printed and the lowest amount of eBooks are found in India (29.2%). One of the reasons for the low popularity of e-readers could be the network support, as e-readers essentially fall into two types: one that uses wireless 3G connectivity and one that does not. Wireless 3G connectivity is more convenient for it allows a   user to browse and download books anywhere while for USB-based readers, one needs to connect to a PC to download e-books to read.

One of the reasons for low popularity (despite the catchy TV ads & a bounty of free e-books available with e-readers in India) could be that the Kindle uses the wi-fi network to download e-books. 3G wi-fi connections are not so common in India (boadband being more popular) and it is yet to become a household network as the mobile device is handheld.

I believe some of these innovative internet and mobile connection providers in India could use this as an opportunity and come up with attractive wi-fi connection plans with free e-readers and e-books in India. I see a chance for internet service providers to gain by collaborating with e-reader manufacturers and promoting a line of e-reading products (tablets, apps, e-readers) that fit the pocket of different segments in India.

The free gift is sure to catch up the attention of Indian households and give e-readers a much needed boost in India.

Do you think e-books have a long way to go in India? Write to me.

Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.

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