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Is The Indian Publishing Industry Feeling Threatened by e-books & Flipkart?

In an interview with Peter Griffing of Forbes India, Urvashi Butalia, co-founder of Kali For Women and founder of Zubaan Books, speaks about the future of books made of paper, the Indian publishing industry, the reliability of ISBN (International Standard Book Numbers) data, the impact of the merger between Penguin and Random House, the pricing of ebooks, what publishers can learn from the music industry, how the Indian readers are changing. An excerpt from The “Changing Face of Indian Publishing” article:

Peter Griffin: Is the Indian publishing industry feeling threatened by the emergence of e-books?
Urvashi Butalia: Yes, and no, threatened and excited. See, in India, I think the paper book will be around longer than in many other countries. We are still, in terms of numbers, a country of book hunger. And electronic stuff is not so easily available or affordable, so we know that books will not disappear. But there is also the uncertainty of not knowing what exactly will happen.

PG: Even just a few years ago, publishers weren’t buying e-book rights. Now, we’re seeing houses like Aleph releasing e-books along with the print books for all of their catalogue. Penguin has said that they’ll be bringing out ebooks of all releases. Would you be able to give us a picture of what the other houses are doing?
UB: I think pretty much everyone is trying to do two things: turn their backlist and out of print books into e-books, and ensure that every new book is simultaneously released as an e book. This has become possible now with new software and programming, so that you can do PDFs for printing and then move into doing epub files for ebooks. No one wants to be left behind here, some may be slower than others but everyone wants to be there.

PG: From what we see, e-books are being priced the same as print books, even though paper and distribution costs have been eliminated. Why do you think this is happening? Is it fair to the reader?
UB: There are still costs of conversion—turning a traditional book into an e book, for those books that come from the pre-PDF days (and anything older than say six years or eight years will be in this category) —you have to spend on scanning, proofing, turning the book into a PDF and then into an e-book. Then, e-book formats are different for different providers. For example, for Amazon you have to do one format, for the Apple store a different one. All this costs money. And no, distribution costs are not eliminated. See, you can sell e-books on your own website, but if you sell them through Amazon or Flipkart, they charge. At the moment, the charges may be fair, but wait just a bit and they will begin squeezing publishers just like distributors do. Traditional distributors charge anything between 50 to 60 percent discount (e-books may be a bit less, but not for long). Also, for all publishers, the e-book market is a mystery, so at the moment they want to play safe. No one really knows how to price, and the best thing, therefore, is to go with the price you know. Plus, and this is a major concern, no matter how much DRM (digital rights management) you do, e-books are and can be accessed for free, so there are genuine copyright issues. Many publishers feel they will be giving away stuff, so they want to charge while they can. Most hackers can break even the best DRM.

Read the entire interview here. Some interesting comments there too about Flipkart changing practices for small publishers.

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(c) Forbes India. Reproduced at MediaNama, with permission from Forbes India.

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