Indian Online Retailer Introduces E-reader

Infibeam.com, an online retailer of books and other products in India, has introduced an e-book reader that it plans to combine with local content of interest to Indian users.

"Some of the books that sell in the West may not sell in India," said Vishal Mehta , CEO and founder of Infibeam, in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The Infibeam Pi, priced at 9,999 Indian rupees (US$215), supports a number of Indian languages, and Infibeam plans to offer content in these languages to Pi users, Mehta said.

The retailer also announced last week an e-book store which offers to the Indian market e-books from some foreign publishers, including HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, and John Wiley and Sons. The books are downloadable in a number of e-book formats, such as EPUB and PDF, which are also supported by the Infibeam Pi e-reader.

The Pi has a 6-inch E Ink display, is close to 10 millimeters thick and weighs 180 grams, according to the company. The product, assembled by undisclosed manufacturers, has been customized to meet the specifications of Infibeam.

The device can store up to 500 standard e-books in its internal memory of 512MB, and also has an SD Card memory expansion slot that supports cards up to 4GB. The device currently has to be loaded from the PC, with a version for wireless download of content also planned, Mehta said.

Users also have the option to upload their own content such as documents to Pi from their PC through a USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable.

Besides consumers, Infibeam is targeting a number of industry verticals such as law firms, and education that can use the Pi devices for disseminating content, Mehta said. Infibeam plans to manage the digital rights for this content which will be available on its online store, he added.

The company has started booking orders for the device at 999 rupees, with product shipment scheduled for Feb. 22.

Infibeam expects to sell "tens of thousands" of the device in the first year.

Analysts have warned that the Indian market is not yet ready for a specialized reading device. Users may prefer to pay the extra and buy a computer that can do a number of other tasks, Arpan Gupta , an analyst at research firm, IDC India, said earlier this month, while discussing the prospects of Amazon's Kindle in India.

Amazon's Kindle with a 6-inch display is priced at $259 in India, with handling and shipping charges and import duties extra.

Indians are still used to reading physical books and newspapers, rather than electronic editions, Gupta said. Online editions of newspapers are getting popular, but very slowly, he added.

Some of Infibeam's e-books are priced higher than the print editions, because of publishers' pricing strategies, Mehta said. Users may still buy the e-books for the convenience of downloading and reading a book when they want to, and the ability to store the book digitally. In the long-term, e-books will be cheaper than print books, Mehta said.

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