When Flipkart started as an online bookseller in 2007, book aficionados’ habit of buying books from brick-and-mortar stores took a beating, but sparsely. In fact, even after e-site becoming one of the better platforms to buy books from, the retail stores selling books didn’t have much to complain. The future of books, or reading to be more precise, was seen getting shifted from the physical to electronic in parts such as the US, Europe, but in India, the power got shifted to “reading” itself. Although there could be some retail book stores facing the brunt of this shift towards “convenient” reading on mobiles, tablets and laptops, it would be wrong to consider their presence obsolete.
A lot has happened after digitisation of content; from ordering and buying books online to reading them on phones, to downloading dedicated apps on smart-phones to having access to magazines, newspapers, books on-the-go et al. People are reading all kinds of content on every available digital device today.
Electronic: A Threat to Book Retailers?
Electronic platforms today help penetrate the habit of reading more than it affects the sales at retail book outlets. Praveen Rajpal, founder of Rockstand – a mobile reading app for eBooks, eMagazines and ePapers, which has more than a thousand publishers and a vast library with over one and a half lakh titles across genres – says, “eReading should not be seen as a threat to physical sales because reading itself is slowly picking up even in the remotest parts of the world. But even established publishing industries in other parts are cozying up to reading material online.
“Driven by the fact that an eBook can reach where a physical book cannot is blurring geographical and geopolitical boundaries. There are active conflict zones and several restricted areas on the map where certain literature is prohibited. It can be easily accessed in these zones and the readers can be connected to the world.” The predicament is shared by book retailers and publishers alike. They, too, believe that while eReading is picking up, people are buying off shelves of books at a retailer’s. “The smarter and more innovative retailers are trying to enhance a buyer’s experience within their store by events like author meets, book readings and book clubs. Enriching the buyer’s experience is the way that brick-and-mortar retailers will be able to compete, since they will find it difficult to compete on the convenience of home delivery and discounts that online retailers offer,” says Pranav Johri, Marketing Director, Rajpal Sons and Co.
Publishers and Retailers are Joining the Bandwagon
The growth in digital media has ensured a growth in online reading, via mobiles, tabs, or laptops. The publishers and book retailers know that. In fact, they are fast catching up by introducing eBooks and tying up with mobile apps to make their titles available online. Ajay Mago, Publisher, Om Books International, whose selected titles can be downloaded from online retailing platforms, says, “Mythological and historical fiction, crime thrillers, murder mysteries, love stories, diet books, self-help titles and cookbooks are still top sellers today since they are by and large easy reads, packaged as page-turners.”
Agrees Rajpal, whose app Rockstand has collaborated with various book retailers and publishers, and shares the latest trends and the consumption patterns of electronic, or more specifically mobile reading, “The most popular bestselling books are of authors like Chetan Bhagat, Vir Sanghvi and Khushwant Singh. Some of the popular books are The 3 Mistakes of my Life, Men of Steel, Pakistan Mail, I’ll Do It My Way, Bhagvad Gita, and Vogue, GQ, Outlook, Forbes for magazines. Newspaper reading is picking up for people travelling in the metro trains.”
Future Application and Challenges that Lie Ahead
Since reading on mobiles and tablets is easy and can be accessed on any location, the times are exciting and opportunities to be tapped are many. Samir D. Khandwala, Founder and CEO, iMusti.com, puts things into perspective: “Traditional bookstores and retailers will be impacted with strong emergence of eBooks. Customers will no longer go to a bookstore to purchase the required reading material. Most of them are already affected because of eCommerce, almost all titles are available on large online retailers like Amazon and Flipkart. Customers have all necessary information about millions of books and they can order online. Books are delivered to their homes within a few days and thereby customers do not have to visit traditional bookstores.” So, with more people taking to eReading, one can expect more retailers to tie up with m- and e-commerce players to make their content available online?
Mago differs, “Those who love printed books will not stop visiting bookstores. They do not mind driving down to a store, scouting around for parking space, spending a couple of hours in a store exploring books, feeling the covers, reading through extracts, and buying a copy that is perhaps a bit more expensive than the eBook.”