E-books & India

The reason for my new-found interest in e-books should be obvious. My first one is up on Smashwords and I am happy that I have been a relatively early entrant from India in this space. “He Sees Everything & Other Short Stories” is my first offering as an e-book. It’s an anthology of seven short stories set in contemporary India.Which brings me to a point that’s engaging the minds of many, especially in my country. Will e-books sell in India? I am convinced they will. Like it happened in the US, there will soon be a time when e-book sales will explode in India. In due course of time, even in India, they will overtake physical books. I was happy to see that my optimism is not entirely unfounded. Here’s an article by Alex Hippsley-Cox which speaks of e-book reading coming of age in India.

My case for the not-so- revolutionary-as -it may- seem- now- prediction rests on the following points:

  • Demographics:  India has a teeming population of youth. Some thing like 65 % of our 1.2 billion population are below 35 years of age. Admittedly, all of them are not avid readers. In fact some of them can’t read at all, but the good news is that those among them who can are  more in number than the entire populations of many countries!  Which brings me to the next point.
  • Youth to the fore: Like in any other part of the world, trends are fashioned largely by fresh ideas and new ways of thinking. They are generally espoused by the youth. India is no exception. It will be the youth of the country that will usher in the revolution in e-books, including the way they read and connect with their favourite authors and friends with common interests.
  • Yesterday’s new is today’s old:  Remember that old VCR? That ugly TV set with a bulging backside which weighed a tonne? The older among us remember another revolutionary product for its times, the transistor radio. At one time they were new and trendy. They were the ” in” thing. Today they have vanished like the dinosaurs did, to be replaced by a series of smarter products. Change is inevitable. Progress involves some amount of struggling to cope with newer technologies, like we did when we first used laptops or Walkmans before that. But we got used to the new- fangled products, didn’t we?
  • Globalisation: The average person in urban India has truly been touched by globalisation. In my experience, I have found that most are far more aware of global trends than many in the so-called advanced countries like the US or the UK. Many have personal experience of international travel, many others have interacted with people from outside of India much, much more than their parents ever did. They are fast adopting life styles earlier only associated with the West. By the way, many of these were not considered appropriate for a largely socialist India.
  • Connectivity: We now have in India far better connectivity than ever before. As a kid growing up here, we didn’t have cell phones, there was no internet and many years ago, placing a long-distance telephone call to another part of India was a major achievement in itself. With increasing levels of connectivity, people are considerably more internet and tech savvy than before and quick to take to new technologies and products associated with them.
  • Language: If Google can now be available in Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and other languages, why not e-books? Each book is directed towards a particular segment. My writing, only by way of example, is geared towards the urban English-speaking ( and reading) Indian. Others will have their own target audience. So when someone asked me the other day ” But how will the person in Dhanushkodi, or Satna, in Surat or Asansol read your e-book?” I replied, ” Where he is from scarcely matters. It depends on who you are talking about. If he knows English, he is a potential reader. If he doesn’t, he isn’t. It’s as simple as that!”  I expect the urban internet savvy English-speaking reader in the Metros and the Tier 2 & 3 cities and towns to be potential customers for my e-book.
So there you have it. I predict a day will come when all the arguments we now use for not embracing the e-book will vanish. They will go out of the window in the same way similar arguments against embracing other trends did in the past.
These are exciting times ahead for writers and readers in India. You can take that from me. I would be interested in hearing your views.

6 thoughts on “E-books & India

  1. yes i broadly agree with your views on the possibilities of ebooks, specially in India. But one thing is baffling and that is the typically indian mindset of absorbing technology slowly with certain amount of apprehension. Another thing on the technological penetration, are we all indians getting the same knowldge based education with more or less similar technological support? is technological support available to all indians, across the board? My observation is that barring tv and cell phones, other technological gadgets failed to penetrate deep…even computers are still a dream in many parts of india…it is sad but true…
    So reading books which by itself has become an obscure thing with number of libraries dwindling, ebooks making a great penetration in our country, is a distant thing. However, to one section, it will surely be very popular and easy way to read and access information, knowledge or wisdom.

    1. Good points, Moinak. I am of the view that reading as a habit in future will be driven by internet rather than by libraries.Those who are exposed to both, are that much more fortunate.

  2. Prem, I cannot disagree with you on any point. You have marshalled your arguments like a lawyer, the only difference being that you are offering proof, whereas lawyers offer evasions in disguise.

    If I may add a comment to your point # 2( about youth), even print publishers are taking notice of the young: Penguin has brought out Metro reads, Shristi and Grey Oak publish fast reads for youth

    E-books are a boon for both readers and writers

    1. Right, Murli. I see that the preference to read on/via the net is strong , not only among the youth but also in those who travel extensively. I guess it’s a matter of getting used to something! Good point regarding publishers having fast reads for youth. I may add that most of the authors, unlike old fellows like me, are very young, in India. This makes me think they will take to e-books in a big way.

  3. Well, I feel that there is a huge scope in India as far as ebooks are concerned but somehow I feel that its not correct, though ebooks are profitable from all the aspects(Money and Knowledge) to everbody associated with books and its industry but the charm, feel and touch of the papers are really something different. I personally do not like reading ebooks on tab/any other device as such, and even the technology is so advanced that one can also read ebooks on PC but still not acceptable..Lying on the bed with pillow one side and a good book in hand is something “REAL” and these ebooks seems to be so fake when experience is concerned,, I have my thumbs down for ebooks though i know that hardly 1 year and the scenario will be on the verge of a CHANGE..

    1. You do make a good point, Abhishek. Like in everything else, there is always that aspect of individual choice and preference. It’s just that as a trend, ebooks are likely to come in, in a big way.

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