The New Era of Ebooks in India

The ebook market in India is at the cusp of a major revolution. By 2030, India will be amongst the youngest nations in the world, with nearly 140 million people in the college-going age group, as per a report by E&Y. India has become the second biggest smartphone market in terms of active unique smartphone users, crossing 220 million and surpassing the US market, according to a report by Counterpoint Research. Going by global analytics, these numbers will lead to interesting synergies for ebook publishers in India.

The “India Book Market Report” released by Nielsen at the Frankfurt Book Fair valued the print book market in India, including book imports, at $3.9 billion. India ranks third in English language publishing, after the US and UK. And although ebooks currently account for less than 10 percent of the topline of publishers in India, this figure is expected to grow to about 25 percent by 2020.

AC Nielsen conducted a survey of around of 2,000 adults in urban cities for their India Book Market Report 2015. Interestingly, 56 percent of the respondents bought at least one ebook. According to another global survey conducted by Nielsen, 54 percent use their smartphones to read books at least some of the time. This number is up from 24 percent in 2012. The survey, released in December, also suggests that the percentage of those reading mainly on e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle, dropped from 50 to 32 percent over the same period.

In a 10-country sample survey conducted in early 2012 by Bowker’s “Global E-Book Monitor,“ it is estimated that 2 percent of the Indian population has purchased an ebook during the period of the study. The study also revealed that the typical ebook buyer in India is a college graduate, working full time and living in a city.

Academic and Education
Ebooks have had almost a decade-old run in India. Before the Kindle came to India, ebooks were highly limited and mostly available through local online retailers like Infibeam and The Wink Store. Although most ebooks available at that time were import titles from international STM publishers with little exposure for trade, a majority of the ebook sales in India traditionally came from the likes of Springer, Taylor and Francis, Wiley, Elsevier, Sage, and Cambridge University Press, to name a few.

Moving forward, a large part of the growth in ebooks will continue to come from the K12, higher education and academic spaces. As per data released by MHRD, India has more than 650 universities and 30,000 colleges. This segment will be the major driver of growth in ebooks.

Moreover, strategic- and policy-level initiatives, like the National Mission on Education, through ICT from the government of India to promote digital literacy and provide access to digital content at schools and colleges, are likely to drive creation of more digital content in general and ebooks in particular.

Publishers have been responding to the demand for digital content through products like “MX Touch,” a tablet-based education solution for Indian schools designed by Pearson Education India. Similarly, Cambridge University Press has designed “Hot Maths,” a comprehensive blended mathematics learning system. Compliant with the school syllabus, these platforms give students access to rich digital content.

Furthermore, there have been interesting initiatives in the B2B ebook space. Multi-publisher ebook platforms like provide the latest collection of ebooks to institutions to enhance the online resources available in their libraries.

There has also been a flurry of activity in the trade ebook space over the last five years. India’s leading online retailer, Flipkart, forayed into this space with Flyte. Landmark, the country’s leading retailer of books, launched an ebooks app. Leading international publishers like Pearson started their own initiatives, too. In 2012, Penguin India, announced ebook editions for more than 200 of its titles. Hachette and Random House have also been experimenting with this market, as have Rupa and HarperCollins.

Companies like Rockstand and NewsHunt are also capturing this market and eyeing the customers in the Tier 2 and 3 cities through their smartphone apps and free ebooks in English and other regional languages. There have also been some really interesting developments in multilingual children’s book publishing. Tulika Publishers and Pratham Books have rolled out e-reader apps for smartphones to facilitate this trend.

Road Ahead
With ebooks pegged at less than 10 percent of publishers’ topline in India, the projection that bets on ebooks reaching a 25-percent market share sounds a little too optimistic. However, rapid development in the area of education infrastructure in India is likely to fuel growth in academic ebooks. This, coupled with the smartphone revolution and some devices likely to be available at less than 11 USD—a key driver for fiction and regional language ebooks—does make this figure achievable. It might not be an exaggeration to say that these trends are likely to usher in a new era in ebook publishing in India.


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