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E-books have started to gain popularity especially with several design manufacturers launching their e-Readers over the last 12 months. Consumers in India have started reading e-books over the past decade. Indian consumers are unable to define an e-book accurately, they seem to be cognizant of e-books and their standard formats, with the majority of consumers already reading them for varying amounts of time.
Consumers are preferring e-books due to several reasons like accessibility, availability, price (as of now for free/pirated), ability to search/find and physical space they consume. Most of the consumers feel that with the advent of e-books they now have instantaneous access to a wealth of information which can be accessed instantaneously. The other strong theme that has emerged is that users are reading and skimming e-books and are discarding them if they do not like the book and are buying their paper counterparts if they like the book.
Does this mean the e-Reader market in India is going to take off? Are the users familiar and comfortable with the devices and e-books? This research paper tries to answer these questions and tries to understand the perceptions of Indian consumers towards e-books.
As electronic publishing matures, research and academic libraries are beginning to supplement their print holdings with electronic publications; various companies worldwide are coming out with innovative models of e-Readers. These changes couple with users accepting the technology in India might lead to the increase penetration of e-books in the near future. But determining the timeline for this usage is a key challenge yet to be answered.
The earliest printed book was the Bible, printed by Gutenberg in 1454. Before then, knowledge was imparted through illuminated manuscripts that were painstakingly written and made copy-by-copy by monks and often took months to decades to produce. The public had no access to these manuscripts which were owned by the King and the Church. The early books, products of the Gutenberg printing press, strove to emulate these manuscripts in type style and design and make them available to the public. They were met with derision and scorn and in comparison to the illuminated scrolls, were viewed as inferior and possibly even dangerous. But they slowly and ultimately led to the gradual democratization of books, knowledge and in turn, society.
Today, we see a similar parallel in e-books that have failed to live up to the early over-hyped and excited predictions of their sales and usage. And yet, we cannot ignore their increasing importance and advances in the last ten years.
The recent US demand for global rights in e-books along with e-reader device launches and Google's ambitious plan to build a database that contains every book ever printed in the world (Google Books Partner Program, 2005) has made the issues surrounding e-books extremely important. Amazon's Kindle, launched in USA, November 2007and now shipping the international edition to UK, boasts that the Kindle has become the #1 selling item not only in the electronics store, but across all product categories. Barnes and Noble have also entered the eBook race by launching their own eBook reader, the GSM-connected Nook with a colour touch screen complimenting its eInk black and white display.
As publishers are increasingly concerned with their long-term business strategy in an era of fast-paced technological advances, it behoves them all to give serious and immediate thought to e-publishing and issues of copyright infringement, availability of technology and infrastructure, pricing and unrestricted access.
For India, poised at the edge of globalisation, these issues- compounded with others caused by its sheer diversity in language, literature and culture- take on greater significance. For the 7th largest democracy in the world, e-books or e-libraries might be yet another means of providing the Indian people unlimited access to education, knowledge and maybe even eradicating illiteracy among its masses once and for all time. The Indian consumer is growing younger, more ambitious and more aware of the world around him. He wants information and he wants it easily and immediately. Commercially, with the Internet and the publishing industry growing by leaps and bounds every year, e-publishing is extremely lucrative and there are immense profits to be made. Therefore it is essential for publishers to attempt to understand the motivations of the e-book reader in India and endeavour to predict his attitudes towards e-books and the expectations he has of them.
This study will attempt to identify the reasons for consumption of the e-books and highlight the different pros and cons, the readers reap from e-books. The process of research will ascertain various patterns in reading, expectations formed by the readers, their relation to the publishing industry and in the process, discover trends in reading e-books. The research study will contribute in understanding of consumer behaviour which will further help Indian publishers to formulate future strategies.
3. Literature Review
3.1. E-books- Origin of the electronic dream
Since the early 1970s, experts have been propagating a vision of the near future- a dramatic stage where almost all printed material-books, periodicals, and newspapers-will be published electronically. This, at a time before personal computers even became available to the mass public. While the first e-book might have been created by Alan Kay, a student of Utah University in 1968, called Dynabook, the term "e-book or electronic book" was first coined by Andries Van Dam about in 1980.
In 1971, e-books first became widely popular when Michael S Hart initiated the Project Gutenberg with an electronic version of the Declaration of Independence and then proceeded to disseminate it across various networks. Since 1971, the Project Gutenberg team has been responsible for loading nearly 2,100 Public Domain Editions, primarily "Light Literature" (Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Peter Pan, Aesop's Fables), "Heavy Literature" (the Bible and other religious documents, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Paradise Lost), and "References" (Roget's Thesaurus, almanacs, encyclopaedias, dictionaries).
There are several formats available with each format having its own advantages and disadvantages. The myriad of e-book formats is sometimes referred to as the "Tower of e-Babel". As we entered the 21st century, we have witnessed many more advances in the e-books industry, development of advanced software reading formats (Adobe PDFs, Microsoft Reader), enhanced design in terms of hardware required to support the various formats (Amazon's Kindle and Sony's e-book device), superior digital marketing and business models etc.
Clashes about copyright infringements, pricing, availability and access to books apart, E-publishers have a long way to go before they completely satisfy print book lovers who continue to insist that "there is nothing like the feel of running his finger down a printed page; there is nothing like hearing the sound of the pages turning; there is nothing like seeing how the author originally intended his words to be recorded and displayed."
E-books also failed to live up to early projections due to considerable confusion in the market regarding multiple interfaces, usage, devices, and formats, all of which stymied wider adoption. Digital Rights Management (DRM), generally insisted on by publishers, has been largely rejected by consumers. There has been a relationship between a lack of a wide variety of titles, and the marketability of e-books- without sales to support their investment, publishers have been unwilling to digitize all of their titles, and without a wide variety of titles many consumers have seen little incentive to commit to e-book devices or platforms. Another challenge in title selection is due to the uncertainty faced by many publishers regarding older material with author contracts that do not address electronic rights.
One of the most successful early markets for e-books has been the library, particularly among academic libraries. ebrary's 2007 Global eBook Survey, a survey of librarians and information professionals at approximately 2,600 institutions (of which 21 percent responded to the survey), found that 85 percent own or subscribe to e-books and 45 percent have access to more than 10,000 e-books. According to ISI Emerging Markets, there are an increasing number of youngsters who prefer downloading free e-books and avoid visiting libraries. The reasons for this are many: E-books are more inexpensive and available in a good readable format; they are easy to search for and download from a number of online libraries and databases, not to mention peer-to-peer networks such as Limewire and Torrent.
3.2. Book Publishing industry in India
The Indian book publishing industry has evolved slowly from an unorganised cottage industry during the British Raj times into a strategy-driven organised sector today, a force to reckon with. With the industry currently "worth Rs.80 billion and growing by over 15 percent every year", it is now enjoying tremendous expansion at a speed previously unparalleled.
And yet, trying to understand what ticks in the Indian Book Market is a huge challenge. To Chad W Post, University of Rochestor and Curator of Three Percent, a successful blog on international literature, the Indian publishing industry seems "insanely diverse" and "almost incomprehensible". India is the sixth largest book publishing country in the world and third among English language publishing nations. The Indian Publishing industry is booming, showing a growth rate of 10-30% year and that's another problem. Instead of contracting and consolidating, the bookselling/distribution is continuing to grow with over 16,000 publishers.
With the enactment of Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, several American Publishers like Penguin, HarperCollins had entered into agreements with Indian businessmen and led to the development and growth of literature in Indian languages and by Indian authors. HarperCollins says 90% of their list is from Indian authors and 15 percent of their books are published in Hindi. The size of the Indian market, the vibrant books scene and the elimination of the FERA Act has now led to a resurgence of a large number of players like Random House, Pearson Education and even Harvard Business Publishing. E-publishing first entered India through foreign publishing houses in the late 20th century.
3.3. Recent trends in Indian E-publishing
In 2006, in a study conducted by Chennupati K Ramiah, Director of Centre for Information Science, Mahatma Gandhi National Institute of Research and Social
Action, Hyderabad, he attempted to analyse trends in e-publishing industry in India and then tried to identify the challenges, opportunities and problem areas faced by the publishing industry in Asia.
He noted that following the IT boom in India, many publishing companies set up branches and started publishing electronically in India. A number of e-publishing service providers (Tata Infomedia, Mumbai; Dx Technologies, Pune; eMacmillan, Bangalore ) are involved in the production of e-publications and offer e-publishing-related services (such as online copy-editing, disk conversion, book production, graphic design, content writing, web publishing, website development, website maintenance, interactive e-learning content, e-book conversion, etc.) to the rest of the world, particularly to the developed countries.
While the growth rate of the industry is heartening, there are still many obstacles to the growth and success of e-books in India. The publishing industry is heavily fragmented and as a result, even approximate figures and statistics on the Indian book market are hard to get hold of. There are almost 15,000 publishers registered in India, between them publishing 70,000 titles annually in 24 languages, 18 of which are more prominent and highly developed and used by millions of people. Even the breakup of publications according to language is highly debatable.
In such a scenario, to foster partnerships between publishers and establish common libraries to facilitate exchange of content between them, thereby adopting a common e-book format, pricing and download structure is mindboggling difficult, if not impossible. Plus, the only way to make legacy documents in Indian languages available on the web is by scanning them, which is a tedious, time and labour consuming process.
And yet with all these problems and the challenges of rupee appreciation, talent crunch and emergence of newer media, the Indian e-publishing industry is estimated to grow annually by 35 percent and offer a $1.46 billion outsourcing opportunity by 2010, according to a report by Value-Notes Database. The present total publishing outsourcing revenue of the Indian industry is estimated to be about US$ 200 million, whereas the global opportunity for publishing outsourcing is estimated at US$ 8.1 billion.
A large part of this is due to the increase in access to Internet in India and continued technological innovations in terms of infrastructure in the last decade. The growth rate of Internet users in India is increasing at the rate of 684%, and has reached 3.6% of the total Indian population. Emerging technologies like WiMAX, WiBro and 3G will enable BWA (Broadband Wireless Access) at much higher speed anywhere and anytime.
There definitely exists a need to observe the different reading patterns and identify the different views the Indian consumer has towards electronic books. The existing studies are outdated and fail to take reading habits and preferences of the Indian consumer into consideration. The relevance of my study increases in light of the recent developments in access to eBooks platforms, eBook technologies and IT infrastructure.
The rationale of picking up this topic is to understand the perceptions that the average Indian consumer has about electronic books. My study would give a better understanding of the target audience and therefore, help in the development of future strategies of this form of the print media in India.
5. Research Proposal
5.1 Research Statement
To focus on the Indian consumer of e-books and recognize the different opinions and perceptions they possess, their consumption patterns, their expectations and motivations for using e-books.
5.2 Research Objectives
To identify consumption patterns among e-books readers and define the different benefits Indian readers derive and their future expectations of e-books.
To determine opportunities for Indian publishers to cater to the readers and thus tap the potential of the Indian e-books market.
5.3 Research questions and information areas
From the Indian reader's perspective:
How aware is the Indian reader about recent eBook developments in hardware, software and management technology?
Why do the readers start reading e-books?
What are the expectations of the readers from the books?
What do the readers like most about these books?
What do the readers dislike most about these books?
What are the genres/categories that most e-book readers frequent?
Are the books instrumental in shaping/affecting the thought process of the readers?
Are the books depicting the change in the psyche of online readers or are they instrumental in bringing about change?
What reasons do readers think are responsible for the slow growth in online book sales?
How much of a future do Indian readers think eBooks will have in India?
Will Indian culture play a role in affecting the growth of eBooks in India?
6. Research Design and Methodology
6.1. Research Design
Qualitative mechanism of in-depth interviews would be employed to conduct the research. A total of 20 respondents will be interviewed. These respondents will be selected from 5 metros spread across India; therefore there will be 4 respondents from each centre.
These respondents will be divided into two groups: paper book readers and eBook readers.
6.2. Sampling Plan
The sampling plan, involving three different groups of respondents, is as depicted below:
The centres taken are 5 metros: Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi respectively. In order to be able to access electronic books, access to basic infrastructure such as electricity, PCs and the Internet as well as a certain high level of computer literacy and English is necessary. This phenomenon has also guided the selection of the centres.
For readers and non-readers of e-books, I will be mostly focusing on respondents between age group of 16-40 years as the adoption of new technologies and services is high among the younger generation.
For the purpose of my study, I shall be interviewing only people who are enthusiastic readers (of at least paper books) as opposed to people who are not avid readers as they are not relevant to my study.
6.3. Data Collection and Analysis
The data collected would be analyzed predominantly taking the Indian readers' responses into mind. This analysis would clearly bring put the relevance of the books to the consumers, the benefits and comfort factor the consumer enjoys with e-books and finally, predict the future features that these consumers expect e-books to develop. Furthermore, by trying out to find out what genres or categories of e-books appeal more to consumers, publishers can target these consumers and cater to their needs/desires more effectively.
7. Expected contribution:
The study would contribute in better comprehension of the changes in the consumption pattern of e-books readers in India and understand the reasons behind them. The study will also delve deep into the psyche of the consumers which would help in better understanding of the different benefits sought by Indian readers and their future expectations of e-books.
This knowledge will contribute to promote publisher-consumer interaction and make Indian publishers sensitive to the need of the readers. The knowledge gathered by the study will also help determine the attitude of Indian consumers towards e-books and e-publishing and enable Indian publishers to develop more innovative uses for e-books and cater to the Indian eBook reader's expectations accordingly.
8. Limitations of the research study:
A major issue I would face would be the lack of sufficient literature and research with particular emphasis on India. Accurate statistical data will be hard to find owing the sheer size of the industry and its fragmented nature.
Another problem I would face is that respondents might not be very honest, forthcoming or communicative about their opinions, perceptions and attitudes towards emerging technologies.
Another issue that I might face is the e-publishing industry is a rapidly changing one with new technological advances happening overnight and a lot of new players and projects entering the market. Certain aspects of the research study might prove redundant by the time it's completed.
9. Cost and Budget:
Most of the expenses will be incurred through travel and accommodation and the budget required for each is given below:
Flight tickets from UK to Ahmedabad and return: Rs 40,000
Travel by train (Ahmedabad- Mumbai- Chennai- Hyderabad- New Delhi- Ahmedabad): The cost of a 3rd class AC ticket will be an average of Rs 800 and so total cost will come around Rs 4000.
Local transport: Rs 2000
Two days will be spent by the researcher at each metro in interviewing the respondents. Overnight stay will be at student guesthouses/hostels that cost Rs 600 a night for 5 nights bringing the total cost to Rs 3000
Food expenses: Rs 5000
Telephone expenses: Approximately Rs 5000
Total cost of project:
In GBP (INR/72.88)
10. Gantt chart:
(To be completed by...)
Last week of May
Last week of July
Qualitative Research (Depth Interviews)
Last week of August
Analysis of Data and Insights
Third week of September
Compilation of Final Report
Last week of September