What’s NextBigWhat for Flipkart’s E-Book Foray? To Launch Self Publishing Soon

“When will e-books overtake p-books? My guess would be closer to 24 months,” Mekin Maheshwari, ?Head – Digital Media & Payments at Flipkart.com.
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flipkart_ebook_appOnline retailer Flipkart launched its e-book app on three new platforms earlier today. The company is gearing up for a major push in the nascent e-book market.

“When will e-books overtake p-books? My guess would be closer to 24 months,” Mekin¬†Maheshwari, Head – Digital Media & Payments at Flipkart.com told NextBigWhat in an interview.

The company will not launch a Kindle like hardware device but will work on providing a lot of Indian content and launch a self publishing platform, he said.

Edited Excerpts.

Broadly, what is the e-Books strategy for Flipkart?

We launched e-books in November and we have been learning. It’s very early stages in the market itself. Number of people who read e-books in India is not very large. Like you guys have written, there is potential. People what to read wherever they are and on whatever devices they have. We don’t believe they will go get a separate device. Which is why you see us launching the iOS and the Windows app and the web reader.

The other large piece was that the speed of reading was important for people. We also learned about the Indian network. Flip Stream technology has enabled us to make it fairly rapid for users to read regardless of their network.

Going forward, what is it going to look like?

What we have done is that we have put out a good base version of product out there. A product really starts when you launch it. We are now going to see customer interaction and behaviour. A product has to learn from that and become a lot better. We will look at data on what customers consume and that’s how the product will evolve.

Will you launch a hardware device?

We are not going to try and get customers to one device. We will not look at hardware for people to read Flipkart e-books on. We want people to read on their devices. We have had clarity on the hardware device from the very beginning. In today’s age, I don’t believe there is a need for a specific device.

Indian Content?

We are going to go after a lot of Indian content in other languages. That market does not exist in physical books. There are other pieces too such as we want to grow the catalogue to 10 lakh from 2.5 lakh now.

Is there a lot of digital content in Indian publishing?

For popular Indian content that sells in the physical world, digital counterparts are available. But lot of regional content doesn’t exist in that format. The ecosystem is very nascent. We already have relationships that are much stronger than what they offer to others.

Self publishing?

We have plans around opening up a self publishing platform. I’d love to share more but it’s too early to share more on this. At a high level, we want customers to be able to decide what content they will be comfortable reading. What we see in India today is very different from what we have seen around the world and India earlier. That will be factored into what people want to read. That will be factored into our self publishing platform. In China and Japan for example, there is a lot of focus on shorter reads.

The Android app was launched in November last year. It’s been close to a year. Did you have second thoughts about the whole business? What took so long?

We were learning. All of this is hard work. Creating an application takes a few months of effort. It might not be visible. These are not like your standard content app. It has to have great reading experience, it has to be encrypted and DRM protected. There is a lot of effort to secure the content and app. we could have done this in shorter time frame but we really wanted to learn in what direction we wanted to go.

According to our survey, people were willing to buy E books if there are big discounts.

We have observed that as well. It is part of pricing strategy. E books have to be reasonably cheaper. whenever we have done promotions and experiments, price has played some role in driving up volumes.

What is the average difference between a physical book and an e-book on your site?

There are challenges of ensuring that the content is well tagged. You will see prices differences anywhere between 30-50%.

Does that make e-books a viable business?

It’s a long drawn process. Physical book pricing has been well understood by authors and publishers in India. But India pricing on digital books is something we have to educate and get publishers and authors. Some of this will happen as volumes pick up.

In 2011, e-book sales for Amazon crossed physical book sales. How long do you think such a thing could happen in India? Are we near the tipping point?

I think it will take a little while for awareness around e-books to get formed. I would still give it possibly this year to be able to get to a position where it can beat physical books.

This year?

Yeah.

That’s faster than one would imagine.

I was saying at least this year. There will be segments where this will happen faster.

Would it be fair to assume that it will happen in 12-18 months?

I’m not sure if e-books will beat physical books. But they will definitely start competing with physical books within the year. Anyone in the book ecosystem will have to create digital content. When will E-books overtake P-books? My guess would be closer to 24 months.

This is for Flipkart..

Obviously.

What portion of your revenues is from books?

I won’t be able to share that right now.

Can you compare the margins between Physical and E-books?

In a lot of cases, we have to work with the ecosystem. E books is a much healthier business in the long run.

Revenue share?

It depends on case to case basis. It depends on publishers, authors etc.

Payments on mobile, do you see challenges?

It is a challenge across the board. Not just on mobile. We have seen improvements like save card. On mobile, for example, we have god about 50% higher adoption of the save card feature when people are making the payment. It clearly shows that customer feels the pain of entering those 16 digits.

You don’t support side loading and new devices yet?

we currently don’t support side loading or moving the books. The content creators demand this protection.

But within the app, you can sync right?

Yes. That happens automatically.

What are the promotional activities?

We are running a 50% off on 2000+ books for the next 2-3 days.

Any learnings from the mp3 business that you have applied here?

The aspects around distribution can be important. The reason the mp3 business is different for us is that Flipkart was a book brand. It wasn’t the case in music.

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