The Problem with Ebooks

Digital books can’t beat printed books if they continue to just simply be digital forms of printed text. They need to play a different game.

Amazon has always marketed Kindle very strongly. Their primary revenue though continues to be physical books, movies, televisions, ovens, shampoos and the quintessential baby diapers. I personally prefer printed books because they don’t distract and are easier on the eyes.

But ebooks have benefits too, just like digital music is better than disks and cassettes. I believe we have still not seen ebooks ripen because they generally have the same content as printed books, which is a completely different medium.

Remember, when the physical to digital migration happened for music — it killed the concept of an album. The single was the new way to sell music.

I believe a similar disruptive theme is needed for ebooks. (It might be argued that a blog is the single of ebooks, but I believe blogs are more analogous to podcasts — very individual and niche.)

Ebooks cost in the range of Rs 400 to 500 for the books I was interested in buying. Paperback versions in India cost the same. I have been inclined towards the paperback as it offers me far more value. There is no improvement to my experience that might make me switch my method of reading.

Some promotional items are available at Rs 100, but that is like using a special coupon, and is not the state of their entire offering. On the other hand, paperbacks are DRM free and I like to pass on books I read to my friends.

To get me to switch, I should either get something cheaper, or it should offer me more value for the same price.

Ebooks are digital, they can be with me everywhere. Books that would have no luck getting printed, can make a shot with digital publishing. Also, ebooks have the potential to be part of the ‘social graph’.

I would like to offer my suggestions for the same.

  1. Cut a deal to be able to sell ebooks cheaper than their Indian paperback counterparts, for the promise of higher volume of sales. (I was pleasantly surprised by the Rs. 15 pricing that Flipkart brought to the Indian market for songs. Its the right mark.) Market them right along the paperback counterparts with the percentage savings in bold.
  2. Offer sharing unheard of in the paperback world. Let me select a block of text and share it to my favourite social networks, with a link back to purchasing the book. Also, let me gift copies to my friends easily, like Apple’s app gifting works. Just a text box with emails comma-separated to gift to. Also sync read position between devices.
  3. Become the publisher. What I suggest here is pretty much Amazon Singles. But they haven’t thought big enough. This is India! Let people self publish books in any language for under Rs. 100. Keep 30%, and let them keep the rights. The quantity of content relevant to India that Flipkart would have would out rival anything Amazon can ever dream. Next, ebooks that sell well, can then be printed for guaranteed sales.

Two promising products that come close are Wattpad and iBooks Author.

Wattpad is a writing community in which users are able to post articles, stories, fan fiction, and poems, either through the website or the mobile app. This gives people the chance to have their creative works available to a wider audience.

Wattpad is great to bring in new authors who might not get signed up by publishing companies. A few books have succeeded on the platform and eventually made it into print also. But it lacks in the fact that you can only create the kind of content that makes sense in print form — and does not take benefit of rich media.

iBooks Author is an e-book authoring application by Apple Inc. Documents created with iBooks Author may be exported as PDF files or published to the Apple iBooks Bookstore. iBooks Author is available free of charge.

iBooks Author is the richest way to create rich media — you can add images, video and charts to your creations and they are presented in a very rich interactive experience. There is also a marketplace where you can sell your creations. But there is no social platform to market your creation.

I believe the sweet spot lies in merging ideas from Wattpad and iBooks Author!


What do you think? Would this be the future of ebooks? Let me know in the comments below. If you enjoyed reading, consider clicking Recommend.