New Delhi: After the US and the UK, India is the third largest book market in the world with a total size of $2 billion. Books worth about $230 million are imported from the US and the UK annually, of which about $5 million worth come from online books vendor Amazon.com.
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A1books.com is a new entrant in the world of Indian online bookstores and it now hopes to break into Amazon’s marketshare. ”Our entire US database of books is available in India, and we offer more payment methods. Amazon.com charges $11 for shipping. We are charging 50 rupees, which is about $1.50, says Shinu Gupta, Founder and CEO of A1books.
A1books has been in the online books business for 12 years in the US. Its competitors in India are Rediff Books and Indiatimes. But it says it has over a million titles and the largest selection of US books.
With so many online players, the competitive edge makes a difference. And in order to stay competitive, Indian websites have some work to do, like reducing the time taken to process payments and adhering to delivery schedules. “We want to be prepared to compete with Amazon when they launch in Asia”, says Amit Vig, Head of Retail Operations, Om Books.
Some web sites have made online buying easier for the Indian consumer, by accepting cheques and demand drafts. Others are now starting to add features like images of books, descriptions and reviews. Some are even providing low cost shipping for imported books.
Om Books has seen its online store sales increase by 50% a year, but that’s still less than 10% of its total sales. ”Forty percent of our online sales come from foreigners interested in Bollywood and Indian mythology,” says Vig.
Most Indian online bookstores have books in different languages on offer. However, books in English dominate sales. Vig says hardly 10% of Om Books’ sales are in Hindi books.
With readership increasing at 35% annually, a number of bookstores are opening across metros. Om Books plans to open a bookstore every year because of increasing demand and sees a large inventory in warehouses as an advantage for its online business.
But for some rising real estate costs make online book selling a more viable business, enabling them to offer lower prices. A1books, for example, maintains no inventory. Publishers and distributors ship directly to the customer from the website. ”Three hundred and fifty Indian publishers have physically signed up with us”, says A1books’ Gupta.
Another reason why online bookstores are bullish on the India story.