When eReaders nudge into bookshelves

It is a sunny afternoon, and Pradeep Palazhi the COO of Bangalore-based EC Media International P Ltd ( > is cheerful. Understandably so, because only a day ago his company’s Wink, the desi eReader, was out in New Delhi with a price tag of less than Rs 12,000.

“I foresee eReaders accelerating a larger trend towards electronic/ digital publishing,” he begins, without batting an eyelid, during our interaction in Business Line. “Digital media in publishing is not going to replace printed media. However, it is going to be growing in size and share of the publishing market. More and more content will be published in electronic and printed formats to start off and the balance will tilt towards electronic formats in the future.”

Another interesting aspect, in Pradeep’s view, is the way the whole eBook phenomenon is going to affect the traditional libraries. The jury is still out, but early trends indicate that the library model will have to undergo a significant makeover in the process, he avers.

A thought that Pradeep offers to the traditional bookshops is that they will have to come up with innovative models to adapt to the eBook revolution. “While eBooks are not going to replace printed books, they will definitely reduce their share of the market. Digital publishing or eBook publishing will result in increase of self-publishing market. It will be easier and cost effective for authors to publish their titles which may not be accepted by a traditional publisher. This market will see a huge growth over the next few years.”

If the whole eBook and eReader revolution improves the reading habit then we will all be better off, and there are indications in that direction, observes Pradeep. Our conversation continues over the email.

Excerpts from the interview.

What have been the significant milestones in the evolution of eReaders till now?

The significant milestones in the evolution of eReaders are noted below:

1) Launch of Project Gutenberg was probably the first digital reading/ digital content initiative.

2) First eBook reader (Rocket Reader) launched in 1998.

3) Sony’s first portable eReader launched in the US in 2006.

4) Launch of Amazon’s Kindle in November 2007 was really the start of the current eReader revolution.

5) Kindle became the bestselling gift item in Amazon in 2009.

6) Years 2009 and 2010 saw the availability of a number of good eReaders in the market

7) Sales of eBooks overtook hardcover sales on in 2010.

8) World eBook reader demand for 2010 is projected to be about 6 million units, roughly double the 2009 numbers.

Let us remember that eReaders started off as just another device. Makers of early eReaders like Sony focused on putting out another device in the market. The market didn’t start to pick up and mature until more and more content became available for the eReaders and the overall user experience of getting content for the eReaders started to improve.

Year 2009 was the big turning point in the history of eReaders. Later part of 2010 and early part of 2001 will be crucial; we will witness how eReaders shape up in the market as they compete for space and attention against multi-functional devices like iPad.

Can you list some of the top challenges that eReader designers grapple with?

There have been many design challenges in the past. Such as, how to maximise battery life, how to offer the best navigational capabilities etc. Another design consideration has been to determine the optimal screen size in order to provide a good reading experience while not reducing the ease of handling and not increasing the weight of the devices.

The current challenges include how to provide touch-screens without reducing the reading clarity and to bring colour to the eReaders in a cost-efficient manner.

Current and future challenges revolve around how to match some of the attractiveness of the user interfaces of tablet devices without compromising on the basics of an eReader and to provide dynamic display capabilities (e.g. support for video). One of the main design challenges will be to provide the additional functionality that consumers may desire without compromising on the core eReader functionalities.

There are already some promising models out in the market with touch-screen capabilities; and colour models will hit the market during the early part of 2011.

Yet another design and manufacturing challenge has been in bringing down the cost of eReaders. This has been primarily prevented by the monopoly of one manufacturer who controls pretty much the whole display side of the eReaders. This situation is likely to change in 2011 with more reliable choice of displays hitting the market.

Your take on the alternative revenue models that will sustain eReaders, in mature economies and the developing countries.

Content is the king. Any revenue model which focuses on the eReader device won’t be sustainable. Revenue models that focus on content revenues, CLV (customer lifetime value), communities, and value addition will thrive.

Content models that increase the CLV will thrive. Examples are newspapers, pushed news snippets, and serialised fiction. With some additional capabilities the eReader can function as a very good educational aid. Ability to better handle quizzes, tests etc, will take it a long way in to the educational space.

A growth area will be the rent-and-expire model. This is likely to become popular in 2011. Legal sharing of content also will thrive in countries such as India. B2B applications will grow significantly over the next few years. This will include corporate document management, database-based application and educational applications.

Would you like to speak about market research insights on consumer preferences in eReaders -- such as what they look for the most?

It will be a mistake to focus on eReader features. The eReader features will be a hygiene factor that people will expect from all the eReader devices and will soon be a commodity.

Consumers want a holistic user experience from eReaders. That means availability of good content at reasonable prices and ease of buying, maintaining and accessing them from multiple devices.

The eReader can position itself only as a reading and educational device. It can never compete effectively against tablets and other multifunctional devices in their market space.

Advantages of an eReader against multi-functional devices include low power consumption (long battery life), being easy on your eyes as against a backlist LCD screen, distraction-free reading (you are not bothered by an email or message), and light weight which enables carrying around and holding up like a book.

According to you, what are likely to be the key drivers of the growth of eReader market in India? And, the key hurdles?

Key drivers of growth:

1) The long tail: It is still difficult and expensive to get many books in many parts of India. The eBooks will make it easier to serve that segment of the market.

2) Cost: The eBooks are generally cheaper than printed books. This will be a boon for the growth of the market.

3) Device affordability: There is a growing upwardly mobile reading community that can afford to buy an eReader device.

4) Language: Regional language support will mean content not traditionally available in bookstores will drive the growth of the market.

5) Growing eco-conscious community: A large segment of the population is now conscious about the need to save trees. The eBooks help in that direction.

To these, you can add the education segment and Government initiatives as drivers that can spur the spread of eReaders.

Key hurdles:

1) The eReader prices are still high. The prices have to come down for this to be a mass market item.

2) Connectivity challenges will slow down the growth.

3) Of the overall commerce, eCommerce is still a very low percentage.

4) Publishers are slow to bring out content in digital formats.

Going forward, how do you see eReaders shaping up?

The eReader will have its own space in the overall device market. It may take new forms and shapes including having more advanced capabilities such as colour and support for video.

There will also be a sustained focus on improving the overall user experience of using eReaders. You will see lighter, faster and more capable devices in the market.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 9:58:05 PM |

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