The writing has been on the wall for a while now, and the latest move by Smashwords didn’t help. Nor did Amazon’s launch of Kindle Unlimited India at a heavily subsidized price.
This week Flipkart formally announced the company ebook store’s future is under review, and there’s really no reason to expect it to end favourably.
Last month Smashwords withdrew 200,000 titles from Flipkart because “Flipkart determined their systems are not yet capable of supporting the dynamic nature of the Smashwords catalog.”
In plain English, Flipkart is not running a business model based on the interests of indie authors who want to jump in and out of Select at a moment’s notice. Smashwords is.
Barely was that announcement live than Amazon stepped up with the Kindle Unlimited India launch at a price no-one in their right mind could ignore. Almost certainly it saw a dramatic fall in Flipkart ebook downloads.
The thing is, while Flipkart has deep pockets, a multinational like Amazon has deeper still.
When Amazon launched in India a few years ago Flipkart was the undisputed king of online retail, with 80% of the online retail market (all goods, not just ebooks). Fast forward 2015 and Flipkart has just 44%. Snapdeal 32% and Amazon 15%.
Just this month it was announced India now has more people connected to the internet than the USA has people. By end 2017 it is projected India will have a half billion people online.
And while many will be reading ebooks, digital downloads form one very small part of Flipkart’s business.It intends – and needs – to focus elsewhere.
Last month Snapdeal declared its intention to dethrone Flipkart as the king of Indian retail. Flipkart faces an uphill struggle to stay at the top. Meanwhile Amazon has transformed its India game across the board, including ebooks.
Snapdeal doesn’t do ebooks, and while the withdrawal of Flipkart would leave a gap in the supply chain, I can’t see Snapdeal jumping in. They have bigger fish to fry.
A half billion Indians online by end 2017.
No wonder Amazon is throwing money at the India store like there’s no tomorrow. And, unlike in the first year when Amazon totally failed to glocalize, you just have to admire the way they are rising to the challenge now. And Amazon is big enough to play the ebook scene at a loss for the forseeeable future, while still investing in the bigger picture.
Where does this leave the Indian ebook scene? Heavily balanced in Amazon’s favour.
There is no Apple iBooks store in India, and of course no Nook store. Kobo has a token presence (the partner stores are irrelevant). Google Play is there, and may yet emerge as the main western challenger to the Kindle store. The other western player is the digi-magazine store Magzter, which also sells ebooks.
Among the local players Landmark stopped selling ebooks over a year ago and Infibeam is like a fart in a colander, not knowing which hole to go out of.
There are two significant local players left – both app-based and pandering to the mobile readers. Rockstand and Newshunt.
Both have seen impressive growth and both are worthy challengers to the Kindle store. But they don’t have the deep pockets of Amazon to put up a fight against Kindle India.
Western indie authors can get into Rockstand and Newshunt direct, but it’s a convoluted process. The Indian aggregator Kartindo (LINK) will get you in as part of their paid package. But what we really need is a forward-thinking western aggregator like Italy’s StreetLib (LINK) to set up in India. Not likely in the near future as their focus is clearly on Latin America right now.
That said, Rakuten-owned Kobo could yet surprise us all, make a bid for the Flipkart customer data, and start taking India seriously.
Or even formally partner with Flipkart to handle the Flipkart ebook store, leaving Flipkart to focus on its core business.
But until that happens it looks like an open goal for Amazon in the India ebook market.
For daily news, clues and views on the global ebook scene, join the official Facebook Group The International Indie Author. (LINK)