Amazon's Kindle Yet to Make an Impact in India

India is unlikely to be a volume market for Amazon's Kindle reader in the short term, according to analysts. Estimates of the number of these devices sold in India since October, when Amazon started shipping the device to the country, range from a few hundred to about 1,000 units.

That is low for a country that had over 506 million mobile subscribers at the end of November last year, according to data from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

The comparison may however be inappropriate, said Arpan Gupta, an analyst at research firm, IDC India. While communications is seen as a necessity in India, the ability to download books and read them from a device is not, he said.

The Indian market for the Kindle is not very big currently and is also expected to remain sluggish this year, said Gupta, who however declined to estimate the number of Kindle devices sold in India so far.

Amazon does not disclose the number of units of the Kindle shipped, a spokeswoman for the company said.

The company said on Wednesday that it is selling its Kindle DX with Global Wireless device, with a 9.7 inch display, in over 100 countries outside the U.S. The device, priced at US$489, has been available for pre-order since Wednesday, with actual shipments scheduled for Jan. 19.

Amazon started shipping a smaller device with a 6-inch display, currently priced at $259, to the same countries in October. Estimates of sales of that device in India so far range from a few hundred to about 1,000 units, according to some analysts and industry sources.

In India, the cost of the 6-inch Kindle and the DX works out to more than the list price, after adding handling and shipping charges and import duties, according to the Amazon web site.

The Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on the company's plans in India, when asked if Amazon planned to set up a local presence, and also take advantage of local retail channels in India.

There isn't as yet a market in India for a specialized reading device at the price of a Kindle, said Gupta of IDC. For a market where PC penetration is still low, users would rather pay some more and buy a laptop, which has a lot more features than a specialized e-reader, he added.

Besides, 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.

"I considered buying the Kindle at one point, but I am still not comfortable with reading a book on a digital reader," said Irfana Tabassum, director at Zion Consulting Services, a marketing consulting company in Bangalore.

Some Indians who are interested in buying e-readers are likely to have bought them on their trips to the U.S., where the devices are cheaper, said Sridhar Vedantham, an executive at the Indian operation of a multinational software company.

Vedantham picked up an e-reader a couple of years ago in the U.S., but he decided on an e-reader from Sony because he didn't want to be tied to the Amazon store to buy books. He couldn't download books wirelessly to the reader, instead having to download first to his computer, and then transfer to the device. "The ability to download directly to the device was not a consideration for me," Vedantham said.

Interest in the Kindle in India may have been higher if Amazon had launched a promotion campaign, including in newspapers and television, highlighting the benefit of the product, according to Gupta. Having a retail presence would perhaps help users get a better feel of the product, he added.

"I think that for now Amazon wants to be there in the market before the competition, if it takes off," he said. Amazon seems to be mainly relying on getting its message across by word-of-mouth, Gupta said.

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