E-book investment for now?

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The Kobo eReader Touch, an Amazon Kindle, an Aluratek Libre Air, and a Barnes & Noble Nook, left to right, are displayed in this photo, in New York. Photo - Richard Drew/AP

E-books, once considered the new kid in town, are shaking up the world of publishing with surging sales.

In 2009, readers spent $108 billion (Dh396.36 billion) on books with the lion’s share of the market found in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In comparison, only 5 million e-readers were sold around the world during the same period. This new digital form of reading is nowhere near taking over the traditional book form but it’s catching up quickly.

Barnes & Noble recently announced a 140 per cent jump in first quarter revenues from e-book related products.

In July 2010, Amazon announced for the first time in its history of selling more e-books than hard covers. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), 180 e-books were sold in June 2010 for every 100 hard covers. The e-book market also saw a boost with the launch of the iPad, which was used to download 5 million e-books (including free e-books) from Apple’s store in the two months following the market launch.

Following these impressive sales statistics, local publishers and retailers are taking note and are taking action to make sure they are not left behind.

WIDER MARKET

Kalimat Publishing is a Sharjah-based publisher founded in February 2007 by Shaikha Boudour, daughter of His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah. The publisher, which?specialises?in children’s books written in Arabic?with distribution points across the Middle East and some parts ofEurope, is working on a new project to convert many of its titles to e-books.

“E-books are an essential part of our evolutionary literary development. The publishing world has been transformed by digital publishing. As a leading publisher of children’s books we cannot ignore this transition and have to embrace it.

By creating e-versions of our print books, we will be able to reach a wider market of readers from all over the globe and capture the interest of reluctant readers who prefer to spend time on the computer than read a book,” Shaikha Boudour, CEO of Kalimat, said. They are now working on their e-book website which will feature downloadable books and apps for the iPhone and BlackBerry. Kalimat is looking to convert up to 75 titles to e-book format by the end of the year.

“E-books are a completely new market and because it is there, we have to be there. The technology of e-books offers more interactive activities compared to printed books which is what Kalimat is trying to use,” Tamer Said, business development manager at Kalimat Publishing, added.

According to Said, one of the challenges they face as a publisher working in the region is in shipping or logistics. “E-books can help with the availability. Also, because our books are high quality, they are sometimes too expensive for some markets like Egypt. With e-books, we can offer the same quality at lower prices,” Said declared.

LOCALISING THE READER

Since its launch in 2007, the Kindle e-book is slowly gaining popularity among Amazon shoppers. In the first half of 2010, Amazon sold more than three times as many Kindle books compared to the first half of 2009.

In 2010, Barnes & Noble, the largest US bookstore chain, introduced the Nook. The chain credits the Nook, its e-book reader, with strengthening its bottom line. Failure to jump more quickly into the digital frontier is blamed in part for the demise of Borders.

Across the Atlantic, Sony maintained its large market share in e-readers with its Reader Touch Edition launched in October 2009 and the Sony Pocket Reader launched in February 2010.

In 2008, Dubai based company Merlin Digital launched a six-inch e-book reader to the local market.

“There is a large market for e-books in the UAE compared to the rest of the region because of the UAE’s multicultural population. The demand for this particular product should generally triple in coming years,” said Nelson Vaz, account manager at Merlin Digital General Trading.

“Customers are going for the e-book as it offers convenience. For a traveller, instead of carrying 30 to 50 books, all these books can be downloaded in a small e-book reader. It’s great for people on the move,” he added.

The 0.4-inch thick, 0.18-kg Merlin E-Book reader is preloaded with 100 all-time classic e-books. It is also compatible with most popular e-book formats available for download on the net. The Merlin E-Book Reader also enables a user to view 7,000 pages before recharging. “The only time that the e-book draws power is when you turn the page,’ said Rohit Bachani, Merlin Sales Manager, whose brother Sharad designed the latest electronic device.

JASHANMAL READER

Jashanmal Bookstores, a chain of 5 bookstores, recently announced that they will soon have an e-book reader. But there?s a catch.

Given the complications of languages, local laws, customs, and rights issues, they don?t feel that they could launch a website based e-bookstore in theMiddle East (similar to Kindle Store or pretty much any other e-bookstore in the world). Due to the local issues, Narain Jashanmal, the general manager of Jashanmal Bookstores, decided to fall back on a tried and true distribution method: physical medium.

The e-books will be distributed on cards (with chips embedded, probably). They?ll be sold in stores and customers will use in-store terminals to transfer the e-books to their e-reader or other device (iPad and Galaxy Tab both mentioned by name).

The e-reader is being designed and manufactured by Kibano, a Norwegian company.

“We’re launching it for an integrated solution. If buyers buy international products like the Kindle, they arrived in a grey market channel with no localized support available. Our product will have local support,” said Narain Jashanmal, general manager for Jashanmal National Company.

“After discussions with several potential partners this is the route that made most sense. It’s not simply a matter of just sourcing the device, but one needs to have a content delivery platform associated with it, ideally one that delivers directly to the device,” he added.

The e-book will be launched in time for the Christmas shopping season and will sell at Dh600 to Dh800. In addition to the e-reader, Jashanmal is working on a parallel project to develop local content and convert it to e-books. “It’s going to be a combination of licensing existing content and developing original which is still in its early stages. We are expecting products to be ready in the new year,” said Jashanmal.

Magrudy’s was the first bookshop chain to sell e-readers starting with the Sony e-reader in 2009 and is currently developing its strategy for selling e-books.

MAINSTREAM

“The difference with books is that they are not a three-minute experience and we engage with books and the written words in many ways. Will an e-reader satisfy all those needs? I don’t think it will fully replace the physical book and I think that books as we know them will still be around for the foreseeable future. However, e-books are going to become more and more mainstream which is why Magrudy’s is developing its strategy for selling e-books,” Isobel Abulhoul, director at Magrudy Enterprises, said.

PwC echoes the sentiment stating, “Technology may change rapidly but people’s habits do not. People will continue to want books to fill their shelves, give as gifts, and place on their bedside. But make no mistake ? modern reading devices such as the Kindle and iPad mark the beginning of a digital transformation, and the book market has taken its first irreversible steps into new territory.”

DOWNSIDE

Despite a surge in new technology and strong e-reader and e-book sales, print books are holding their ground; publishers see them as key to the future. They want consumers to have many choices in reading formats and ease of buying.

“We’re glad to be in the vanguard of what’s taking place, even as the traditional forms of reading and book buying continue very widely,” says Stuart Applebaum of Random House. “If some 20-plus percent of books we’re selling in the US are e-books, that still leaves 80% sold the old-fashioned way.”

Even in the digital era, publishers believe that books need graphic representations ? if only for the online marketing campaign. Regardless of the format, ?they all seem to need what we know of as a cover to identify them,? said Chip Kidd, associate art director at Alfred A. Knopf.

The current e-book popularity is set to increase without any doubt. Traditional books will never lose its loyal readers, for nothing can replace the presence of those hardbound, dusty, yellowing books in the bookshelf.

Sources: Gulfnews, The-digital-reader, USAToday, NYTimes

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