When Sanjana Sudhakar was a child, she loved going out with her parents to buy large, colourful books at a bookshop in Khan Market. Today, 25 years later, she still insists on inhaling the smell of new books — something that her five-year-old daughter Sania cannot understand. Sania prefers to read e-books instead on her father’s iPad, where stories come packaged with music and animation.
E-book, the downloadable format of any text, is read on portable tablet computers such as iPad, or dedicated e-book readers such as Kindle, Nook or Kobo. Hundreds of tomes can fit into the digital bookshelves of a tablet or an e-reader, so one can sift through Jean-Paul Sartre, Tintin or Fifty Shades of Grey among others any time of the day and at any place. “No more lugging around books on the metro,” says Ruchi Pushkarna, a 26-year-old dance instructor.
E-books were introduced in India around two years ago, and many readers are wondering if the era of physical books is drawing to a close. E-books, a popular concept in the West, has found supporters among young, tech-savvy bibliophiles in India. Vikram Khosla of Hookedonbook.com, an online library, says that in the US, more than one-fifth of the population read e-books last year. “I think, we will soon see a similar trend here,” he adds. The recent Delhi Book Fair had e-books as its main theme, with online publishers and publications, programmes and applications participating from all over the world.
Most major publishing houses in India are releasing or planning to release e-book versions of their titles. Kapil Kapoor, Director, Sales and Marketing, Roli Books, says, “The e-book market is nascent in India, but we have started publishing every new title as an e-book from last year.” Caroline Newbury, VP, marketing and publicity, Random House India, adds that though the e-books sales are small, the publishing house has found that they are complementing, rather than detracting, from printed book sales. Another publisher, Ananth Padmanabhan, VP, Sales, Penguin India, estimates that in the next three years, e-book sales will grow to “15 per cent of physical book sales”.
The business of e-books is not as simple as downloading free reading material off the Net. “The first job for any e-book publisher is to ensure that the copy is secure. Though piracy is rampant, both in physical books as well as soft copies, e-books are more vulnerable,” says Padmanabhan.
The rising popularity of e-books inevitably raises sighs of nostalgia — can anything replace the joys of curling up with a paperback or a hardcover volume — and sarcasm — doesn’t the concept of coffee and an e-book sound absolutely romantic? But, Tanya Menon, 20, a student of Delhi University, has a point when she says, “I need scores of new books every semester, and it is impossible for me to carry them around.”
Thomas Abraham, MD, Hachette India, agrees. “If you get past the tactile-olfactory experience of paper, an e-book benefits the older generation as well. You can carry multiple books in a slim device, you can magnify the text and, with linked-in browsers devices, you can look up the references right there,” he says. Padmanabhan says that out-of-print books, works by little-known authors and commercial fiction are the popular categories in e-book sales.