Online retailer Flipkart has set its eyes on the Indian market with regional books as a key focus area. It is replicating its music sales strategy.

Flyte, Flipkart's digital music store, turned one this week. As the Bangalore-based e-commerce player marks the occasion with a large promo overdrive, where it's giving away over 100 music albums for free, it's already made inroads into another untapped segment, e-books.

Like it's foray into MP3 music, where it broke fresh ground by creating a digital store that allowed users to download without DRM-like restrictions, it's focus on e-books for mobile devices too appears to be promising. They've got to a “decent start”, says Sameer Nigam, Flipkart's Vice-president, digital. Till date, barely two months since the launch, he says their Android application for mobile devices has crossed 50,000 downloads.

In the midst of “aggressive” expansion on the e-book catalogue front, Nigam says that right now the focus is fiction and non-fiction, and more importantly, academic content. Currently, its catalogue has over 1 lakh titles, and as we speak they're inking deals with book aggregators 65,000 books, Ingram and OverDrive. “So by early April, our catalogues will offer around 5 lakh books,” he says.

Flyte's USP for e-books, much like its music store, is that it's focussed on the Indian market. Nigam says that going ahead, regional books is it's “key focus area”.

They're already getting into the business of digitizing language content, given that many regional publishers haven't cross that bridge yet. These include magazines, comics, paperbacks and academic content in these regional languages.

“What we're learning from our existing offering is that the readership is the same – whatever be the mode of reading. They want a mix of comics, paperbacks, old classics, new thriller-type fiction.” Fragmented market The “real challenge” in getting the regional books bit right, he lets on, is that the regional publishing industry is by no means homogenous. “It's extremely fragmented, so what works in Chennai, may not work in Kolkata. Each language has its unique market and trends. It's also easier to do the other deals; for instance, one licensing process with Penguin we pick up 30-40,000 books, but with these we have to deal with smaller scale, so that's adds to the challenge,” says Nigam, well aware that it is getting this right that's going to differentiate their platform.

Mobility challenge

It isn't that there aren't ebooks already in the market. There are a dozen companies digitising Indian content, there are a few in the e-reader gadget space and many more digital stores that allow you to purchase books for your readers. Flyte's “big bet”, as Nigam puts it, is on mobility. And the focus of innovation for Flyte is on getting this aspect right, on fine-tuning the offering to offer the best user experience, he says.

“We're obviously betting big on mobility. We believe the first generation of people reading digital books are going to be on mobiles, and maybe Tablets – that's where the big numbers lie,” he says. Flyte's current readership numbers come from devices like the Samsung note. “And why not, you can sit in your car or in the train and buy the latest paperback, a Chetan Bhagat or a light book and read it comfortably,” he says.

Device compatibility

Reader comfort, he says, is at the core of all the tech work that Flyte's doing on its product. “The features that we've worked on that helps us differentiate ourselves is in terms of making sure that content naturally formats itself to the screen size really, really elegantly.”

A big part of the focus was to make sure that this experience in consistent, that is, you get the same smooth, comfortable experience using the Android app downloaded on your Samsung Note as you do on Karbon or Micromas devices.

“And that's a challenge that we've been able to meet. It isn't just lip service. Our books render well on the cheap phones, and in a market like India that's very important,' he says.

To back this claim, he says that of the top 10 devices that people are downloading the Flyte app on are a few devices that cost below Rs. 4,000. “For us this is fantastic. It validates two assumptions: that reading can be made fun across devices, and regardless of phone price points consumers are reading more.”

So, while expanding the catalogue is important, a focus area that's as crucial if not more is “making reading fun”. This is our prime tech innovation focus, he says. The ecosystem

Will a product like Flyte have a disruptive role to play in the digital content ecosystem? Can independent publishers look to this as a means to get their work out to more people?

“The self publishing scene is too small right now. The focus for us right now is to go after the readily available catalogues.

Once we start building some base, we'll find that as a platform we're more appealing to the independent publishers. Right now, even they can't build a business around our platform – we're not there yet, but we are hoping it will happen.”

Academic content

Nigam says that besides fiction and non-fiction, Flyte's got its eyes set on academic content as an area that will fuel its own growth. Flipkart's already in talks with original equipment manufacturers in this segment, like Aakash, for example.

“We're talking to them, because going ahead they're going to make a huge impact. If children are going to turn to these tablets to get their academic or course content, then we've got to be on those devices.”

We're discussing that very actively with the government, he adds, alluding to some announcements on this front that are on the anvil.

On research content, Nigam says they're currently focussed on the content aggregators.

“We're, of course, very interested in this spaceas it is a massive opportunity and the demand for academic books is large. But it's also a bit complicated. For instance, a lot of research content is published open source...so we're still trying to figure out what we can license or distribute, and how we can work with that.” Another large sub-set in this space, which is still unexplored, he says is the test-prep category.

Price points?

A casual look through Flyte's offering reveal a mixed bag: while for some, the prices are comparable to other e-book stores, the foreign titles are often priced exorbitantly.

Nigam says these are part of the store's teething troubles.” Flyte's USP, he emphasises, is that it is the “first e-book seller, selling at India specific price points”. What one can expect then, he explains, is that books will be price at 20-30 per cent lower that the cost of the physical book being sold on Flipkart.

“That's how we're pricing it. In the case of some titles, some of them are being indexed far higher as they're going by the overseas prices. We're just over 60 days in, so we're still in the process of cleaning up this back catalogue. When we finish with that, we're hoping all our books will be at a price point that's going to be very attractive, and surely much cheaper than what's on offer else where.”

So, music and e-books down. What's next for the digital media store? Movies, perhaps? Nigam laughs. There's more on the cards, he says, adding that Flyte will continue to be a space for journalists to look out for.

Currently, its catalogue has over 1 lakh titles, and as we speak they're inking deals with book aggregators such as Ingram and OverDrive.

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