July , 2020
Can e-books be the future?
11:44 am

Kuntala Sarkar


The lockdown has increased digital involvement that helped the online streaming apps and the audio book and e-book space to grow. Books are generally preferred in hard copies. But now it has become quite impossible for the sellers and publishers to deliver at readers’ doorsteps compelling them a shift towards e-books and PDFs, more profoundly than the pre-lockdown period.


The data site, Statista reports that the revenue from the e-book segment in India will reach to $211 million by 2020 with an approximate 8.8% annual growth rate. User penetration is also being pegged around 6.7% in 2020 against 5.7% last year. The concentration of readers in digital spaces in lockdown has helped this. However, a concern remains - can e-books be a viable option for the publishing market in post-lockdown?


Publishers going digital


The digital shift of online reading is closely related to the use of e-book supportive device. The use of smartphones and tablets has increased in India over the years. According to Statista, in 2019, smartphone users in India was 373.88 million, this will increase to around 401.74 million by the end of 2020. So, beside depending on kindle or computer/laptop, the reader-base has also augmented with smartphones. Additionally, e-books took a hit in the market because of its easy accessibility. Yet, the digital sales of books were estimated around a mere 3%-8% of total book sales in India. Suddenly the lockdown situation that denied physical access of new books to readers has pushed the market for improvement.


The National Book Trust (NBT), an autonomous agency under the Human Resource Development Ministry, has recently opened their online/digital library free for readers. With a new and larger digital collection, Amazon-Kindle is offering their books at discounted prices. Juggernaut Books (earlier known as Airtel Books) is also offering free e-books to strengthen the market for future. As the response is quite well, it might further interest other publishers as well.


In the list of significant spikes in sales, Roli Books has registered around 50% rise and Hachette India has reported to sell 80% more e-books during the three months long lockdown period. Rupa Publications and Penguin Random House India echoes the same tone as they were quite established in the e-book market previously.


While taking to BE, Author Arka Deb highlighted, “Our experience says, not everyone is comfortable with reading books digitally. But in the present situation, e-books will have to be the way out for the publishers. The pandemic will put limitations to many publication-oriented jobs in future. For PDFs, it will be easier to make and to deliver to the concerned readers while maintaining hygiene completely. But with better promotional activities, technologically well-maintained e-books should be the option. Otherwise, chances of piracy will increase in case of common PDFs.”


Readers’ corner


Readers, who are standing at the receiving end of the business, will decide the future of this digital turn. If books are classified into two segments like textbooks and non-textbooks, then students are considered more familiar with e-books. But Dr. Arijit Ghosh who recently completed the MBBS from Medical College, Kolkata, told BE, “We are working in a field that requires regular update concerning drugs and treatment methods in textbooks for higher studies. In e-books it can be easier for regular update. But as the volumes of our books are quite large, it might be quite problematic for us to read from PDFs. But foreign journals are accessible to us through e-books only.”


Talking about the affordability of e-books, Dr. Ghosh added, “Our textbooks are really costly; it ranges from `3000 to `10,000 approximately. So, if the learning process takes a shift towards digital mode, the books can be affordable considering the production cost for e-books are much lesser than physical books.”


E-books will be the future by compulsion for both publishers and readers. But for now, it is a small step, which is yet not ready to transform the overall publishing market trend. Moreover, as the e-books’ reader-base is not too large in today’s situation, its business outlook does not stand at a good position. Publishers are trying to have strong penetration in both physical and e-book market with continuous innovations. 

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