October 2010
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E-readers : Getting down to Content

Home-grown manufacturers are luring consumers with an enviable content library to market the hardware.

E-books are gaining momentum worldwide. But Indians are yet to join the wave — all things connected to this new world of authors and the Internet.

However, that has not come as a damper to home-grown manufacturers of e-readers. They are focusing on content to lure people to the world of digital reading.

Sample this: Bangalore-based digital publisher EC Media gave access to an enviable content library when it launched its Wi-Fi (wireless connectivity) and 3G-enabled Wink e-reader models, competitively priced at Rs 11,490 and Rs 14,990.

“Selling hardware is not the only way of doing business for EC Media,” said Ravi Deecee, CEO of EC Media. Wink e-readers will provide users access to e-book content from publishers like Penguin, Roli, Oxford University Press, Harper Collins and Permanent Black.

“We are also launching an online content store, www.thewinkstore.com, which will provide access to about 200,000 titles to readers along with newspapers and magazines,” said Deecee. The company is also working to launch WinkWire — an independent news service in partnership with IANS. EC Media is also adding major national and international publishers to its e-book library.

The Wink e-reader has set a sales target of 10,000 units in the first year. This is much higher than what Amazon’s Kindle has garnered. Estimates suggest that Kindle has sold around 2,500 units so far since its launch last November. Wink not only aspires to carve out a niche for itself but also expand beyond the Indian shores.

E-readers or electronic book readers have been around for several years but gained critical mass in late 2007, when Amazon introduced Kindle. The others are Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader and Sony e-reader.

Another domestic player, Infibeam, that introduced low-cost e-readers — the Pi, priced at around Rs10,000 — is expanding its e-book content before launching an aggressive marketing for the hardware. Infibeam has two Pi models — one using Google’s Android-based operating system and the other the Windows OS. The android-based version comes with a hi-definition video player.

The companies seem to have realised that the Indian market is not spoilt for choice when it comes to the device. “Instead, it is all about getting a share of the consumer’s time. There is a lot of free or low-cost digital content available — web browsing, TV, movies, books, magazines and games. Decisions on what device to purchase will be driven by the availability of the consumer’s preferred content and digital leisure activities from that device,” notes Vishal Mehta, CEO of Infibeam. The company has 200,000 e-books on its online store www.infibeam.com. Mehta is hopeful of growing the content to 500,000 titles by next year.

Infibeam has launched a self-publishing tool for independent authors that allows them to publish e-books directly to the company’s online book store. “Indians like to read regional fiction and we now have 4,000 authors who publish their works directly as e-books on Infibeam,” said Mehta.

The next popular category, according to Infibeam, is digital versions of text books. “Think of it this way, on an e-reader a 3,000-page text book can easily be searched for keywords, the pages can be bookmarked for reference and the content can be viewed on a PC, mobile phone and the e-reader,” said Mehta. Ever since Infibeam started retailing e-book versions of medical and college text books on its site, the sales have hit the roof. Last month, Infibeam sold 100 books an hour with e-books making up to five per cent of the total book sales.

EC Media has big plans for India. Although Wink is manufactured in China with design specifications provided by the company, Pradeep Palazhi, COO, EC Media said the company is considering setting up a manufacturing unit in India. Moreover, a 3G-enabled version of Wink is expected to be launched around October and the company is already in talks with service providers like Airtel and Tata Teleservices, among others.

Infibeam has also launched a touch-screen e-reader called Phi, with in-built Wi-Fi. “We will introduce a new 3G enabled version of Phi next one month and another version of original Pi, which is an e-ink based device for heavy users,” said Mehta.

Research firm Gartner claims that the future is bright for e-readers and even advises publishers to be bullish in the digital distribution of e-books, newspapers and magazines. “It’s the perfect time for a trial and to establish relationships with others in the value-chain — service providers and digital warehouses — that can be positioned to assist in a rapid deployment if the market takes off earlier than anticipated,” Gartner said in a report.


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