New Delhi: Bharti Airtel Ltd, whose digital content includes music streaming app Wynk Music and video streaming app Airtel TV, will soon launch Airtel Books, featuring a collection of e-books for smartphone users.

The launch is aimed at upgrading Airtel’s subscribers to higher tariff plans and retaining them on its network in this hyper-competitive wireless services market where it battles rivals Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd and Vodafone Idea Ltd.

The digital content strategy of telcos has become crucial as cheap data tariffs have ceased to provide a meaningful competitive edge in the telecom industry. Airtel has 284.2 million paying subscribers on its network as of December-end. Wynk has 120 million users, while Airtel TV has 80 million users.

“In the past, we made good progress on the entertainment side and we were studying many categories apart from music and video. We realized e-books is a niche and strong category, especially as Airtel has high-quality customers on its network. Also, it’s an uncluttered space," said Sameer Batra, chief executive officer (CEO), content and apps, Bharti Airtel.

Rival Reliance Jio's apps include JioMags, a library of magazines, and JioNewsPaper, but not a curated offering for books.

Available to both Airtel and non-Airtel customers in iOS and Android, Airtel Books will initially offer more than 70,000 titles from leading Indian and international authors across genres, including crime, romance, business, history and politics, fitness, diet, spirituality, and classics.

In December 2017, Bharti Airtel had announced the acquisition of a strategic equity stake in digital publishing platform Juggernaut Books through its wholly owned subsidiary Nettle Infrastructure Investments Ltd. Juggernaut Books was co-founded by Durga Raghunath and Chiki Sarkar two years ago. It also has Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and former CEO of Infosys, on board as an investor.

Airtel will rely on the curation expertise of Juggernaut to grow this application.

All Airtel Books users will get a complimentary 30-day trial. The Readers Club subscription for six months is priced at 129 and 199 for 12 months.

Users can also pay for any single book title.

“As e-books is a niche category, we believe the propensity to pay will be higher compared to other kinds of content. We also plan to offer special benefits for Airtel subscribers and are exploring how to bundle the e-books offering with our rewards programme Airtel Thanks. If you are a high-paying Airtel subscriber, we may give some complimentary benefits also," Batra said.

Airtel Books has many English titles and few offerings in Hindi, but plans to diversify into other regional Indian languages as well, a strategy it has adapted for Wynk Music.

“We want to do regional content in books also and our team is also working on this. We also want to build a writers platform wherein people can write their own stories. We also want to experiment with audio books," Batra said.

Driving data usage through content is key for Airtel. The data usage per customer for Airtel almost doubled to 10,528 megabytes in the December quarter from a year earlier.

Airtel recorded an average revenue per user (Arpu) at 104 in the December quarter, which was a slight increase from 100 in the September quarter.

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