Mumbai: Following the buzz around electronic books, two Indian firms are set to launch e-readers—devices to read e-books—in the next two months.
E-commerce firm Infibeam.com said on 28 January that its e-reader, dubbed Pi, will start shipping from 22 February. EC Media, a firm started by Kerala-based publisher DC Books, has announced it will launch its e-reader by late March or early April.
Like popular e-readers, such as Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle or Sony Corp.’s Reader, e-readers developed in India will also use the so-called e-ink technology, which creates an experience similar to reading a regular book.
As foreign and indigenously developed e-readers become more accessible in India, two critical factors that determine their popularity will be pricing and availability of relevant digital content, an analyst said.
“Whether it (e-readers) will take off in a big way depends on the price, both of the reader and of content (e-books),” said Vivek Shenoy, who tracks the publishing industry at market research firm Valuenotes.
Pi is priced at Rs10,000, and its makers expect to ship at least 10,000 units in the first three months.
E-content: Overseas products include (from left) Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad and Sony’s Reader.
“The EC Media e-readers will be priced between Rs8,000 and Rs18,000,” said D.C. Ravi, chief executive of DC Books, which has a 60% stake in EC Media.
A Kindle costs around $400 (Rs18,520) in India.
Shenoy said that current prices for both e-books and e-readers had to come down before their use could be expected. “We expect it will be at least another two years before the creation and use of digital content will be of significant scale,” he said.
The international brands are not doing particularly well in India as they lack distribution partners in the country, according to Asheesh Raina, principal research analyst at the Indian arm of technology researcher firm Gartner Inc.
The Indian firms stand a better chance at market acceptance if they manage to put in place a wide sales network and ensure after-sales support, Raina said.
Infibeam’s Pi would be a no-frills product that focuses on reading e-books on a 6-inch screen. There’s no Internet access, so users will have to download e-books from Infibeam’s website or other content providers and transfer them to the e-reader using a data cable. They will, however, be able to play music on Pi.
Infibeam has an online database of 100,000 e-book titles. It plans to tie up with publishers to digitize more books and work with other content service providers who have their own databases of e-books.
“We will have our own rights-managed content repository to provide digitization services for Indian publishers,” said an Infibeam spokesperson. “We are also working with other e-distributors on revenue share economics.”
EC Media’s e-reader is more comparable with Kindle or Reader, according to Ravi. It will be available in 6- and 9-inch screen formats, with a basic and high-end version in both sizes.
“The initial plan was to launch the e-reader on 1 January, but it had to be delayed as we wanted to make it more feature-rich,” Ravi said. “Besides, we wanted to have our own database of e-books, with at least 500,000 titles, before the launch.”
The e-reader will have wireless Internet capability, allowing users to download e-books from EC Media’s online repository and also subscribe to digital versions of newspapers and magazines as well.
DC Books is one of India’s largest publishing houses and bookshop chains, with an estimated annual turnover of Rs60 crore. It has floated EC Media, along with a group of investors, as a dedicated firm to launch and manage the e-reader, and create and distribute e-content.
Chennai-based technology outsourcer California Software Co. Ltd will provide the technology support for its e-reader.
Independent content providers are also keeping pace with technology advancement. New Delhi-based publishing group Prakash Books India Pvt. Ltd is preparing an online e-book collection.
“Our site will be launched in a couple of weeks, and we will have a few million e-book titles available,” said Gaurav Sabharwal, a director at Prakash Books.
Besides buying paid content from Infibeam, EC Media or other e-publishers, users also have the option of downloading free e-books from Gutenberg.com, an community driven project to create the largest online repository of e-books. Currently, Gutenberg’s database has a collection of 30,000 titles.