E books or keitai shousetsu (which translates into Ketai-mobile phone and Shousetsu-short story or novel ) one of the latest trends in Japan, is showing signs of emergence in India. Of course its at a nascent stage and it will be a while before it catches up here, say experts but yes, a beginning of sorts seems to have been made.
Why else would you have a publisher like Penguin India, tying up with a developer and distributor of mobile technologies Mobifusion Inc The tie up aims at providing books to mobile phone users across India. Right now there are three books on offer by Penguin-Mobifusion The Joy in Loving: A Guide to Daily Living with Mother Teresa complied by Jaya Chaliha and Edward Le Joly, The Path to Tranquillity by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and The Book of Prayer edited by Renuka Narayanan.
In fact Mobifusion India has also tied up with Oxford to provide mobile users with Word of the day and with
Britannica for knowledge diamonds. Other tie ups are on the anvil as well. The contents of the books are made snacky. The reader can access them through sms, WAP or java application. Ask Prashant Gupta, managing director, Mobifusion India about the trend, and pat comes the reply, Right now the Indian market is ready for snacky things. They want samosas and that is what we are giving them. When they are ready for a thali, well probably start offering that as well.
And Guptas thali, which means a novel on the phone, agrees author Chetan Bhagat, will take a while for Indians to develop a taste for. Reading as a habit in India is yet to really catch up. First books need to become big and only then can we think of e-books catching up.
HarperCollins Worldwide, which was the first publisher to start digitising their content to create a global warehouse to drive direct to consumer initiatives is yet to begin the initiative in India. P M Sukumar, chief executive officer, HarperCollins publishers India Ltd says there are no immediate plans to digitise andgo direct to the customer, but , it is something that will follow soon, with the global initiative.
While he doesnt see the digital book ever replacing conventional books, he says that e-books would definitely facilitate reach to a wider readership. I dont think mobile phones are the ideal platform for reading start-to-finish kind of books; a palm reader like Kindle would be a lot better for that. But a dip-in-anywhere book, like a daily living guide or prayers should be okay on mobile phones.
And its probably the same way that the trend started in Japan. Today Japan not only has a wide variety of books available on phones, but also has a new genre of emerging writers, those who write entire novels on phones. In fact half of Japans top-10 selling works of fiction in the first six months of 2007 were composed the same way on a mobile phone. They sold an average of 4,00,000 copies. By August, the president of Goma Books, Masayoshi Yoshino was quoted in The Sunday Morning Herald as being determined to establish this not simply as a fad, but as a new kind of culture.
And it all began with a website called Maho no i-rando (Magic Island) just about eight years ago that has free tools to help readers create their own mobile phone novels. Today the site has accumulated nearly one million works. First-time novelists were soon making it big, thanks to an equally enthusiastic number of readers. Rin, all of 21, a first-time novelist who started writing her now popular novel, If you,on her mobile, uploaded it para by para on a site.
Last year cell phone readers voted her novel No 1 in a ranking. And soon the story of a tragic love between two childhood friends was turned into a 142-page hardcover book that sold 4,00,000 copies and became the No 5 best-selling novel of 2007, according to a list by Tohan, a major book distributor.
But before first-time authors get all starry eyed, industry experts in India says its time to do a reality check. Like Sukumar likes to put it simply, I dont see writing novels or short stories on phones for commercial exploitation happening for a long, long time. As to readiness of the Indian market for e-books, there would be some readership for some kind of books as mentioned above. But I dont anticipate it becoming a significant part of the market for at least a decade.
Bestselling author and journalist Binoo John agrees when he says, Itll be a while before the trend catches up in India. It might happen, but not immediately. Short stories might make it, but entire novels to be read on phones will take a while.
For readers it is a different set of problems that they may face. Like Kalpan Desai who works with MTV in Mumbai explains: Books are books. Even if I have a Blackberry or Iphone, they are too compact and for reading small fonts, you will end up straining your eyes. And if fonts are big enough to be read clearly, youll have to scroll down. It sound like a lot of pain.
For others, it is simply the feel of a book they dont want to give up. Iv been reading a book like a book for years. I cant imagine not feeling the turn of the pages, holding it physically says Durgesh Nandan, a sworn bookworm.
Another concern for some purists could be the language. Because if the book is for cell phones, the lines have to be shorter, the words probably shortened (sic). But that, says John, will probably be a natural progression, You see the English language is changing constantly, so it is inevitable that this will happen.
Another worry could be how the story appears on the phone. A reason why Bhagat refused some people interested in putting some of his work as e-books. You dont know what it will appear like on a screen. An answer to that could be the palm reader, Kindle.
Amazons reading device is currently out if stock due to heavy customer demand. The device, which costs $ 399 can give you the look and feel of going through pages of an actual book. Amazon might be trying hard to meet its bookings, but publishers in India might have another issue to sort out before Kindle catches up.
Like Sukumar says, author permissions (particularly established authors) and safeguards to prevent unauthorised viewing/reading/downloads etc could be some of the problems publishers could face when it comes to e-books.
But John puts in a word of hope when he says, Things are changing, you never know.... Yes, we never know. All that paper need not be used up in shaping a book anymore. Your mobile phone might just suffice. And soon you might have a new mobile book language too.