Thursday, December 17, 2009

Article in The Hindu on Kindle

Virtually yours

It's not just for those in the business of publishing, ordinary readers too can gain immensely from e-books

A certain Mr. Gutenberg may be turning in his grave because of it. Many conventional book lovers would rather be caught dead than use this devil. The publishing industry is biting its nails not knowing what shape this semi-explored genie will take. But one thing is for sure — e-book readers are here to stay. Rather — even at the cost of making preposterous predictions — let me say that e-book readers are here to rule.

I'll tell you why. The biggest challenge in the book business anywhere in the world is distribution. Whether an author rolls out a bestseller or not, he/she will always have the complaint against the publisher that not enough copies of his/her book have been made available at the x or y bookstores. Suppose we look at the scenario where people only read e-books, a book would never go out of stock. It can be downloaded to a hand-held gadget within seconds in any part of the world. Technology has the power to be a great leveller here and can rid the publishing industry of distribution hiccups, arguably one of the biggest headaches it suffers from.

Affordable pricing

Now, it's not just about people associated with publishing, book lovers too can gain immensely from this technological revolution.

Almost half of a book's cover price is what could be termed as ‘middlemen's margin'. Add to that the cost of production of the book, warehousing, transportation, wastage in the form of damaged copies and the cost of managing these operations. If you shift to e-books, the price, say of a book that costs Rs.100, can come down to Rs.30! What more could a book lover ask for — being saved from the disappointment of not finding the book he/she wants to read in the neighbourhood book shop and actually getting it at the click of a button from the convenience of her study at an absolutely affordable price. Add to this, the contribution e-books would make to our environment. According to statistics, more than 40 per cent of logged trees are used in making paper. Couple this with the air, water and sound pollution caused by the paper mills, the printing press, the vehicles used for transporting raw materials. Also, materials like inks, chemicals, rubber rollers and plastic get used regularly. The resultant collateral damage to the environment is colossal. A simple e-book reader can save our earth from all this, and it works well with coffee.


(The author is the publisher of Wisdom Tree, the first Indian publishing organisation to sell its books through Amazon Kindle.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The world is the market for e-book readers

Article on e-book readers published in The Economic Times, Khaleej Times etc

Shobit Arya

Last Updated: November 29,2009 11:36:39

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is a novelty, a fad. These were the words uttered famously by a president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer Horace Reckham not to invest in the Ford Motor Co. in 1903. Blame it on the Theory of Technological Evolution or call it the Survival of the Fastest (with due respects to Mr. Darwin) but for a majority of people, travelling in an automobile is as much a part of normal activity as may be bushing their teeth. The day also is not far, oh you lover-of-the-scent-of-paper, when e-book readers will fall in the same bracket.

Coming back to the story, Rackham ignored the advice and bought $5,000 worth of stock and eventually made a fortune by selling it for $12.5 million. The natural question here is: in whose position would you like to be? Horace Rackham's or the banker's? If that's not already easy to answer, let me make it easier for you.

Kindle, the popular e-book reader was the #1 bestselling, #1 most wished for and #1 most gifted item on Amazon. Nook, the brand new e-reader unveiled by Barnes & Noble (who claim it to be the world's most advanced e-book reader), is already out of stock because of unexpected demand.

This is when e-book readers today are priced a bit uncomfortably around $250 and are in a nascent stage in terms of features, much like the first Ford car, if I may carry forward the analogy. By the end of 2010, it is expected that 10 million people will be using e-readers. And if by any chance they break the $100 barrier, which I believe they will eventually, the floodgates will really open.

There are reports that we already have an enterprising Indian publishing industry representative planning to bring in an economical e-reader for the Indian market with Chinese collaboration. And Apple, of course, is rumoured to have a real ace up its sleeve. So, apparently, there is a lot waiting to happen in the near future which could turn things completely around for electronic reading.

This really brings us to the all-important question -- what's the whole song and dance about? We are pretty happy reading our books, why do we need an electronic reader?

For one, it weighs approximately the same as a paperback but can store about 1,500 books; so that's like your personal library moving around with you -- to the conference, on a flight, in the waiting lounge, just about everywhere.

And then, you don't have to desperately keep looking for that elusive copy of the book you have been looking forward to read because it's just a click away -- log on to a supporting website like and you have the book downloaded in less than a minute in almost any part of the world.

Mind you, there is no extra fee, apart from paying for the book. If that's not all, your e-book reader also remembers the last page read for each book and has a zoom feature with various levels of text size among a lot of other features like letting you take notes on a page and saving them, MP3 playback and basic browsing to check your e-mail (where available) as also working like a GPS.

Still not excited? All right, the biggest bonus is that an e-book already sells at a lower price than a physical book and soon we should see a dramatic lowering on that -- you can expect the price to be actually lower than half of what it is now.

Do I finally see your eyes lighting up?

Let me confess I am no techno-freak. Actually, I just about manage to use my phone for sending and receiving calls and messages. Also, I quite love the look and feel of a book. In fact, my wife perennially complains that she married someone who was already married -- to books. But at the same time, I can see that the future of reading is beckoning us and there is no use closing our eyes to it.

I am planning to switch sides. From a love marriage with books, I plan to get into an arranged marriage with an e-book reader. I am sure love will follow, because I could feel it at first sight.

Let me invite you to join the party too, unless you want to be in the company of the legendary Thomas J. Watson, the former president of IBM and one of the richest men of his times, who had famously remarked in 1943: 'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers'.

For the whole world is a market for e-book readers.

(Shobit Arya is the publisher of Wisdom Tree, first Indian publishing organisation to sell its books through Amazon Kindle, the popular e-book reader. He can be contacted at or