There is still nothing to beat the power of a book. However, it is only natural that the smartphone juggernaut will have us take a look at if flipping virtual pages could be as impactful as the real thing. In fact, for digital migrants it is still hard to replace a book with a touchscreen, but the digital natives have no such qualms and can read longform on a 3-inch screen if the need arises.
But has the smartphone really grown enough to replace a hardbound? It is a tough question, especially in a country like India where a lot of the old world still has strong ground despite the smartphone juggernaut. But our like for large screen smartphones might just be what makes people make the big shift.
Analytics firm Flurry says 38 per cent of Indian smartphone users are on phablets with screen sizes of at least 5-inches. And that size is perfect for those who want to take a book along wherever they go. Most Indian websites are now read more on mobile than on a desktop. And it is wrong to think people read only short form online, for longer stories seem to be read more on small screens.
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Coming back to books, reading online offers an advantage no library will ever be able to replicate, and that is promise of choice and access to millions of books all over the world. Amazon Kindle, arguably the largest bookstore in the world, offers 3 million e-books on its Indian store. About 800,000 of these books are exclusive to Kindle and another 50,000 are free.
Sanjeev Jha, India Director of Kindle Content, says they want people to read at their convenience and are happy to provide the platform which enables them to read on their smartphone. While Kindle is usually associated with its popular e-readers, there is also a very popular app that works on all kinds of devices, even the PC.
“India is among the top ten countries globally for books, and is the third largest market segment for English books,” says Jha. Amazon’s excitement with the Indian market is reflected in the fact that the latest Kindle Paperwhite e-reader was announced for the India market the same day as the rest of the world.
While Indians love books across all genres, Jha says the biggest categories are Literature & Fiction, Business & Economics, Biographies, Children’s Books and Mythological and religious books in that order. It helps that a lot of books are actually more affordable as ebooks. Amazon has over half a million titles priced under Rs 99 and 1.5 million tiles under Rs 299. Recently, it offered a discount for those who wanted to pre-book Amish Tripathi’s new book on a Kindle device.
But what are the other advantages of reading online? There is a possibility of continuum or the ability to continue reading the same book seamlessly across devices with technologies like Kindle’s Whispersync. Then you can tap to find the meaning and usage of a word, especially useful for children. Plus, you could be carrying a virtual library wherever you are going without paying for the excess baggage. And for the kids, the books could become really interactive too.
I have bought a couple of children’s titles on my Kindle to see if my four-year-old can be weaned away from his tablet. It does interest him, but does not have the appeal of a colourful, smooth, high resolution tablet screen. He loves to flip through the same books on the Kindle app. The way bookstores across the country are shutting shop, I am tempted to tell him that he better start getting used to a e-ink screen.
I am in no way suggesting that books are dying. I know that for a fact, for while I lapped up the pre-order version of Tripathi’s new book, I also ordered the paperback within minutes. As Wayne White of Canadian e-reading giant Kobo once told me, a lot of people will still continue to buy a book for its “trophy value”. After all, you cannot showcase an ebook reader or a smartphone on your bookshelf.