After a series of delays in launching the second generation of Wink e-book readers (announcements came in January), Bangalore-based EC Media International Private Ltd has decided to shift its focus to applications. Techcircle.in caught up with EC Media CEO Dr J K Nair to learn the rationale behind the change in strategy, the new app BooksonWink and recent trends in digital publishing and reading.
Why did you decide to stop the launch of the next line of Wink e-book readers?
We halted our project since there were already so many Tablets in the market. You see a flood of Tablets today - there were 12 Tablets launched just last month and global giants have launched their devices too. The Tablet is not a good reading device but there is no distinction anymore and tablets will double as readers. So, we have decided to stop..for now, at least.
How have sales of the original Wink e-reader been faring? What was the response to them?
From season to season we have been conducting various promotions online and offline, in Kerala, bundling e-books with the Wink readers. These received an encouraging response with 500-600 people purchasing the e-readers. On an average, we sell 4,200 Winks per month. Since April, we have sold 9,000 units. We launched them last year and got good reviews for both the models, globally. Their functionality and usage were appreciated globally but in India, we have been hearing that the price is on the higher side. Indians, as you may know, like to bargain.
How would it have affected the company?
Today, we sell at Rs 8,000 and people want it to be priced between Rs 6,500 and Rs 7,000. But we do not make money from the e-reader; we have no margins on it. Two years ago, we might have made money, but not now.
So what is your strategy now?
Now, the focus is on content and the methodology to reach out to users across various platforms â€“ mobile, e-reader, Tablets, iPads, Android, BlackBerry. We will make money from e-books and deliver the technology that connects and delivers content smoothly.
Does that mean you will discontinue the Wink e-Readers?
For the committed digital reader, we will continue to offer e-readers. But we are not launching any more as of now.
What are your plans for apps now? When will you launch BooksonWink?
We are now working on developing applications. MagsonWink, our magazine store application for Tablets, was launched for the iPad and we are now generating versions for smartphones and PCs. We have also tied up with 118 magazines and newspapers. The recent ones are the India Today group, Living Media group, Anand Media group (which publishes Tehelka), Diamond Comics, Mangalam, Sunday Indian and Toms Publications. We are now busy developing BooksonWink and will be launching 15-16 versions of it by July end.
So the apps will direct to your online bookstore Winkstore.com? Tell us how it has been faring?
We have 3.5 lakh e-books on the Wink store. The majority of the books are in English, but we also have e-books in 15 Indian languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Marathi and Malayalam. On an average, we get 50,000 unique visitors on a monthly basis. This summer, we have seen a lot of books sold â€“ books on easy reading, cookery and fiction. But now, there is a lull. I expect the traffic will grow 8-10 times in the next two quarters and the apps will substantially change the landscape.
Are there any other digital bookstands like Magsonwink and Booksonwink today?
US-based Zinio has a magazine application. Individual publishers and newspapers have also launched such apps. But the question is â€“ how often do you go to a publisher to buy a book? You go to a bookstand instead. The print industry is also trying to go digital now and I think that all the models will co-exist for some time. But the way the younger crowd is growing, reading will become all-digital. It is a process that is on an irreversible path. In fact, this is a new market for all of us. But eventually, our entire reading is going to happen from devices. You will find a majority of users reading on the digital format soon.
How many e-books have you published so far?
We have around 44 books published "they are mostly childrens' books, and contain animation, quizzes, etc. They have a multimedia impact.
And what are your plans with e-books for older readers?
We plan to publish a series of books called Winglets â€“ which are snappier e-books. People who use gadgets, especially the teens, are more likely to have a limited attention span. So, we have decided to shorten the books. Each of those contains around 1,000 words, just like an extended article, a soap opera.
Our digital publishing division has produced a series called Wink Specials for which we are commissioning orders. The series features relevant topics where we bring in the power of technology with the tightness of narration. We are planning six Specials this year.
Are you partnering with any manufacturers to pre-load the apps?
Yes, we are in active conversation with leading device manufacturers of mobile handsets and tablets â€“ largely with global players who have launched their products in India. We are also talking with telcos for distribution, but I will not be able to share more, as of now.
EC Media has a strong regional language focus for digital publishing but the MD Ravi DeeCee noted that there is a lack of interest in regional language digitisation in India which has been slowing your efforts. What is the progress on this front?
The process has not been as rapid as expected, but we have been able to get some traction on the new releases. We have acquired nine Indian languages so far, besides English. What we aim to do is to deliver out-of-print and rare books online. But this is taking longer as publishers are cautious nowadays.