E-books may be at an inflection point in India. For most publishers, ebook sales are between 2% and 5% of business, small compared to the 30% in mature markets where ebooks are mostly read on ebook readers like Amazon's Kindle.
But the smartphone surge, and the availability of reading apps on them, are redrawing the book market. "Few in India would want to spend a minimum of Rs 7,000 on an e-reader and then pay money to buy e-books," says Thomas Abraham, MD of Hachette India. "But now, with tablets and smartphones (that you bought anyway) having reading apps, we are seeing the beginnings of what might well be a big change. Last year we saw a quantum jump in sales," he says.
They could well be correct. Smartphone sales topped 44 million units in India in 2013, up threefold over 2012 (according to IDC). There's no data on ereader sales but I would be terribly surprised, based on sales patterns elsewhere, if ebook reader sales in India hit 1 million units in 2013.
And while ereader slaes have not increased significantly in India, the same cannot be said for ebook sales. Amazon hasn't released any sales figures for any market, but their leading competitor Flipkart is willing to share.
The site launched an ebookstore in November 2012 with around around 70,000 titles. It now carries around 550,000 titles in its catalog including titles from Smashwords, and it reports that reader adoption has grown even faster than the catalog.
Flipcart's reading apps in particular have been the driving source for growth: "Since the launch of the apps we have seen a 5-fold increase in orders and new customers," says Nipun Mehra, senior director of retail at Flipkart, adding that more than 60% of the readers use smartphones to access ebooks."
Smartphones aren't particularly cheaper in India than elsewhere in the world, but compared to a Kindle, which costs $102 in India, the prevalence of smartphones make them the more attractive reading device.
This is more or less what I expected last year when I wrote that tablets and smartphones were driving ebook adoption. As was pointed out in the comments for that post, there is already some evidence to support this idea is coming true in Germany and Australia, and now it seems to be coming true in India as well.