Technology is like an object in your
rear-view mirror. It is always closer than you think it is. In
fact, for us in Indian publishing, it may actually just be ready
to jump out of the mirror.
Let me first put this in perspective. Last year around the same
time, I was asked by a business magazine to comment on the Indian
publishing trends for 2011. I had said then that lack of
efficiency in chain stores is bound to diminish gains in medium to
long term. The sentiment was not without basis. Over the last year
itself, we have seen three of the five biggies getting into
extremely choppy waters. Most of them seem to have been caught in
the trap of going after margins on paper, running the show mostly
from an accountant's perspective.
Books, interestingly, are not like any other FMCG commodity, where
data mining could be singularly relied on. This, coupled with the
blind race of scaling up, can be a sure recipe for disaster.
Hopefully, towards the latter part of 2012, some of these chain
stores would have begun to find their feet again.
But during the initial phase of this churning, with most of these
show-stoppers in bad shape, we are bound to see new independent
stores coming up, though the ones to survive will be those which
are completely passion-driven. They will need to remember that it
was the romance of having a book shop which got them to begin one
in the first place. As long as the fire keeps kindling in their
heart, they are safe. Conventional book business in India has
never been a money spinner, anyway.
The saving grace among chain stores has been Reliance Time Out,
who with their prudent use of technology and a responsive and
engaged team led by Deepinder Kampany, Tarun Singh and Jacob
Johnson, seem to have got their act together. The rapid expansion
bug seems to have caught them too though, which by its very nature
is high risk-prone. Fingers need to be crossed on that.
In 2012, as we saw in 2011, fiction's percentage in the overall
book sales will continue to increase in conjunction with the rise
of paisa-wasool literature. We have seen the Rs.100 chick lit
novels (inflation has ensured a price band of Rs.100-150) mushroom
and almost every 20-year-old Indian is an aspiring writer today.
This will continue in 2012 with smaller towns increasingly shaping
the trend, thereby keeping the non-mainstream book wholesalers in
business. The beautifully complex dynamics of Indian society
ensures that what is looked down upon by one may be aspirational
for the other.
This brings me to the other trend which I bet on - consolidation
of book e-commerce. The phenomenon continues and we will see a
rapid maturing of this zone - a few managing to scale up and most
of the others who have just joined the bandwagon without
appropriate long-term plans and awareness of the challenges of
book e-commerce getting weeded out.
The open secret is that Amazon India is slated to begin operations
in 2012 and you can be certain it will change the way books are
bought, sold and read in India. But the one with the real ace up
its sleeve seems to be Flipkart. They have understood the dynamics
of Indian publishing and logistics like nobody else and have the
crucial first-mover advantage. It is imperative that they will
bring in their own intelligent e-book reader in 2012. Between
Amazon and Flipkart, they will definitely negotiate territorial
e-book rights with differential pricing with the major
For an Indian reader, it means that an e-book in India will be
cheaper than the e-book, say, in the US or the UK, and also
cheaper than its Indian printed edition. Indians are known to be
among the most intelligent and money-conscious consumers who want
to remain updated with new technology and it's anybody's guess how
e-books may take off here over a period of time.
2012 may then well be the watershed year for books.
Though the lines between the delivery platforms will get
increasingly blurred -- books, e-books, applications, films,
television and games will witness an interplay never seen before
that you can be sure two things will never go out of fashion -
content and customers.
Shobit Arya is the
founder and publisher of Wisdom Tree. He can be contacted at
wisdomtreeindia.com and firstname.lastname@example.org