Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just Wink It

This appeared in The SA Times today.

The Indian publishing industry is undergoing what I underwent a decade back. Too many changes, too soon. Such arbitrary changes that if they plotted a graph for every trend that has occurred in the recent past, they run the risk of being more confused than they might have been prior to plotting the graph.

First off, the concept of monopoly is passé. The space has opened up in a big way inviting major international publishing houses to get their fingers wet. So professionalism is in high gear and modern outlook, a must. Enter lit agents. It’s not a job title you might have heard of forever but now you can bump into them at a cocktail party for a book launch of a newbie (read not even old enough to drive) author and they’ll tell you they’ve helped bridge the gap between writers and publishers.

Commercial books (those that can unite a billion people with simple language and a touching story) is a big business now compared to literary and self help books back in the day. No points for guessing that whatever genre you’ve admired in international titles is home grown today. Crime, sci-fi fantasy, romance, graphic novels, children’s books… name it and we’ve been farming it. Just look around the fancy bookstores sprawled across every city, big and small. Until Chetan Bhagat came along, a book that sold 5,000 copies in India would be classified as a bestseller. Today, the numbers have risen steeply from that level in the ball park of 50,000. The next Vikram Seth or Amitav Ghosh book is just around the corner. Literally.

When an industry undergoes an explosion, a sub-industry comes into action too a la iPod style. If you like to be in the know of the newest statistics that hit the stands, here’s one. For every hardcover book that sells in the US, close to 2 e-books sell. It’s a significant ratio considering how young the e-book market is. I haven’t helped the ratio in favor or e-book btw. Still a hard copy kinda girl. Call me cliché but I love the feeling of holding something that I can spill coffee all over. Plus my blackberry does more than I need. I’d rather not own another device and have them fight in my handbag for space and attention.

A Bangalore based company just introduced a new e-book reader for the Indian readers under a brand name Wink. It stands at Rs. 11,500 and one can not only read books in 15 Indian languages but it also offers over 200,000 book titles on debut. 200,000! Impressive. It also offers access to journals, newspapers, magazines and selected articles.

The funny part is that Pi, the country's first e-book reader, was already launched at the beginning of this year. So technically Wink is 2nd in the game. But all I hear is “the first ever”. Who’s keeping a track right?

Wink seems too pricey and hello, no snob value. But one day, I’m sure I’ll see a panwallah reading a gujju newspaper during an extended lunch hour on one such device. And then he’ll take off in Tata Nano. All I can ask for is that he not judge me when he sees me with a then extinct real book.

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