December 2016 had some good news for Indian readers. E-tailer-publisher Amazon said its reading device Kindle would now support at least five Indian languages — Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam. This support of Indic scripts will make distribution of Indian language e-books easier.
This is is a game-changer for the $3 billion -plus Indian publishing sector for more than one reason. First off, it will make reading in local languages more accessible for urban, tech-savvy readers who are believed to have better purchasing power than their rural peers. That means more money for writers and publishers in local languages. For most publishers in local languages, especially small, niche players, distribution is a Herculean task. They always end up piggybacking on big players, agreeing to unfavourable clauses in revenue sharing. Amazon can make a difference there with its digital delivery models.
Given how Kindle and other e-reading devices are gaining in popularity, and the explosion in smartphone penetration in India, including in villages, Amazon will stand to gain immensely if it can enter this segment — a market so large and fragmented that no official data is available on its size. Literacy rates are improving , especially in the rural areas, and the catchment pool of local language readers is only growing. But local language publishing has not seen an explosion in production, distribution and marketing practices. The sector badly misses global best practices. Amazon’s entry into full-fledged local publishing can transform this market, which sees a large number of self-publishers and print-on-demand operations. A player like Amazon can coordinate and synchronise this chaos, leading to a win-win deal for e-publishers, readers and writers.
That said, Amazon should not be allowed to use the opportunity to monopolise the sector with its bargaining powers and distribution might. Policymakers must make sure such big players do only a healthy hand-holding exercise and do not jeopardise a fledgling ecosystem. In all likelihood, 2017 will see more concerted action on this front.
Jinoy Jose P, Deputy Editor