Flipkart May Stop Selling Ebooks; 3 Reasons Why It’s a Bad Business Decision


Flipkart exit eBook Business

Indian publishing market is abuzz with rumors that Flipkart is exiting ebooks business. At a time when Indians are finally warming up to the notion of reading books via digital ink, this is certainly negative news for the industry as a whole.

In 2013, Flipkart had teamed up with Smashwords to distribute ebooks on their platform. Smashwords is World’s largest distributor of ebooks written by independent authors, worldwide. Last month, Smashwords announced on their blog that Flipkart is terminating their contract with them.

Yesterday, Medianama contacted Flipkart regarding this news, and here is what they replied: “Currently, we are evaluating our eBooks strategy and are working towards redefining our digital offerings to our customers.”

Although titles from Smashwords catalogue have disappeared from Flipkart’s portal, there are several ebooks still available, which can be read on Flipkart’s own ebook app. However, none of the best sellers or new releases are now available in ebook format.

When Flipkart started selling ebooks in 2012, they decided to deliver them in secured, proprietary format which made piracy almost impossible. Readers were allowed to read them only on Flipkart’s own ebook reader. Later, in 2013, they launched an eBook app for reading books on mobile as well.

Industry watchers had assumed that the next logical step would be to introduce a dedicated ebook reader like Kindle, so that Flipkart can build a whole eco-system of digital goods, hardware and a robust platform. But their decision to quit this entire niche was something unprecedented.

Here are three reasons which suggest that it’s a bad business decision:

1) Tremendous Potential for eBooks

Although there aren’t exact numbers, but right now, ebooks constitute around 1-5% of overall books sales in India. Yes, we admit that globally, ebooks sales have decreased in the last 12 months, and there are critics who are declaring that the ‘fad of ebook’ is over. But while analyzing this stat, one must keep in mind that in US and other developed nations, ebooks constitute more than 23% share of the overall books market.

In the next couple of years, when the share of ebooks will increase from 1-5% to 10-15% in India, then there will be no one to stop the market leader, which is Amazon right now. In fact, in January this year, Flipkart themselves said that in the next 3-4 years, ebooks will capture 25% of market share in India!

Not only English, but the demand for ebooks in vernacular languages is also increasing. Newshunt have already launched ebooks on their platform where readers can buy ebooks in 5 languages: English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Marathi.

2) Amazon Will Win Hands down

Now, this isn’t rocket science to find out who will benefit if Flipkart quits ebooks business! Amazon will become the undisputed, unchallenged player of this segment, once Flipkart goes away. Although Google Play Books store exist for ebooks readers, it will offer very little resistance to Amazon Kindle, which is on a roll in India.

Recently, Amazon had introduced Kindle Unlimited offer, which customers can subscribe to read (some limited) books for free. Keeping a price as low as Rs 199 / month, Amazon certainly wants to target the masses with this scheme. Last year, they had even introduced EMI scheme to boost sales of Kindle devices.

Such enthusiasm from Amazon is no doubt heartwarming; but it’s also dangerous. If only one major player remains in this market, then the authors and writers will have to depend on this major player to sell their art.

Should Flipkart surrender to Amazon so meekly, without even a fight?

3) Shying Away From Social Responsibility

Ebooks provide an easy, economical and convenient way to spread the idea which is shared in any book. There are thousands of children, book readers in deep rural hinterland where shipping physical books can be a major challenge – both logistically and economically.

But most probably, they have a smartphone. Using their smartphones, they can access ebooks any time, and get the knowledge which they want.

Flipkart must regard this as their social responsibility to help propagate more books to more readers; and there can be nothing better than ebooks. When even Indian Govt. is attempting to spread knowledge and education via projects such as e-Basta; it is surprising to witness Flipkart shying away from their social responsibility by ditching ebooks.

We will keep you updated as more details come in regarding this news. Don’t forget to share your views on Flipkart’s decision to quit ebooks business.

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