Indian Online Retailer Offers Electronic Publishing Services

Infibeam.com, an online retailer of books and other products in India, is offering electronic publishing services to budding authors of fiction and nonfiction books, including textbooks, the company's CEO said on Wednesday.

The service is being coupled with a print-on-demand service that will allow consumers to order books that are out of print, said Vishal Mehta, CEO and founder of Infibeam.com.

The Infibeam.com digital platform will provide Indian authors and publishers an additional channel to reach out to book readers, the company said in a statement.

The service may also be attractive to authors outside India who are looking for a nonproprietary format in which to publish their books, Mehta said. The service will digitize books in various formats including pdf, epub and mobi. Content delivery and use will be restricted to authorized buyers through digital rights management (DRM), Mehta added.

By offering an e-book publishing service, Infibeam.com also hopes to get access to more e-books for its online store. Earlier this year, the company introduced an e-reader, the Infibeam Pi, that can be used to read content in a variety of Indian languages stored in several formats.

The device, priced at 9,999 Indian rupees (US$221), is doing well in the market, said Mehta. He wouldn't say how many units had been sold so far. Most of the buyers have been consumers, though the company also plans to market the device to businesses such as law firms or to educational institutions that can use the Pi devices for disseminating content, Mehta said.

The company plans to offer a new model of the Pi later this year with new features such as wireless content download, he said.

The electronic publishing tool will provide authors with a low-investment opportunity to popularize their books, Mehta said. They can later approach publishers to offer print editions of the book, he said.

The company is offering authors up to about 60 percent of its revenue from the sale of their e-books, Mehta said. The digital books will initially be sold through Infibeam.com's e-books store. The company also holds the rights to distribute the e-books through other web sites.

The Indian e-books market is still in its infancy, as Indian consumers are still more comfortable reading books in print, said Diptarup Chakraborti, a principal research analyst at Gartner. While some people in India read news and related content online, it is unlikely that they will move in large numbers to reading books online or from an e-reader, he added.

Amazon started shipping its Kindle e-reader in India from October last year, but it has as yet to take off in the country. "I don't think they have sold more than 10,000 units of Kindle so far in the country, at the most optimistic estimate," Chakraborti said.

To grow sales, e-reader vendors have to offer compelling content beyond text, such as video and audio, in a single viewing area, Chakraborti added.

Infibeam.com expects that users will get interested in e-books and e-readers if they can get content, particularly educational and local language content, Mehta said.

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