There are three major e-commerce players in India right now. Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon.
Of those only one – Amazon – is now selling ebooks, but don’t give up on this story yet, because what Snapdeal is doing right now is going to alter the Indian e-commerce landscape.
So far the internet in India has been very much an English-language affair. India may be the second largest English-speaking nation in the world, but English is spoken by a substantial minority of Indians.
And for those that don’t speak, read or write in English, the internet – and especially the field of e-commerce – has been of limited interest.
There are great sites in local languages, of course, and some ebook retailers specialize in local-language titles, but English has been the driving force in internet take-up in the country thus far.
But not for much longer.
As Google’s South Asia VP said earlier this year, the next 100 million internet users will not be in English.
The proliferation of smartphones has made internet access a global phenomenon in a way that was quite impossible even five years ago. Globile (global mobile) has allowed nations to simply skip the desktop era of cable internet access and go straight from no internet to 3G/4G internet pretty much overnight.
In India, the fastest-growing smartphone market, globile is changing lives as internet access becomes available to even the remotest parts of the subcontinent.
But with English a minority language (a mere 150 million speakers) the shift to embrace local languages on the net was always just a matter of time.
That time has come. And Snapdeal is the first of the big Indian e-commerce sites to grasp this nettle.
Snapdeal, generally acknowledged as the second largest player after Flipkart, is rolling out the Snapdeal site not just in English but in Hindi and Telegu with immediate effect, and by end January will have Snapdeal options in nine other regional languages – Gujarati, Tamil, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Assamese and Punjabi. (LINK)
Flipkart will follow suit in no time at all.
Amazon? Well, this is going to be interesting to watch.
Amazon’s focus is on the middle class niche who largely coincide with the English-speakers, not the whole population. With its limited payment options in a country where over 90% of the population do not have bank cards that’s unlikely to change.
In the Kindle store Amazon currently supports only one local language, and there are just a handful of titles available.
That’s not so important right now, when over 50% of print titles sold in India are in English. But that’s more to do with availability and affordability than reader preference.
As innovative local-language digital players like Rockstand and Dailyhunt are clearly showing, when local language ebooks are made available and affordable, Indian readers are snapping them up.
And now Snapdeal have just opened the door to local-language engagement with the internet in India at a whole new level.
It seems unlikely Snapdeal will be selling ebooks in the foreseeable future, but the idea that the internet in India will remain the preserve of English-speakers is now redundant.
More and more Indians will be coming online looking for local language content, including books and ebooks.
And many – probably most – Indians who do speak English likely do so as a second language learned at school, rather than their family conversational language at home, and will welcome content in their first language.
There are fantastic opportunities here for internationalist indie authors willing to go the extra mile and seek out translations in as many local languages as possible, for ebooks, print, audio and beyond.
By beyond I mean, for example, promo, blogging, social media engagement, etc.
It’s not commercially viable for me to have The International Indie Author blog and FB pages translated into other languages right now, but it’s certainly something I’m looking at for the future. if we want to fully engage with the world we will have to address translations not just of our books but of our wider social media presence.
But let’s focus on books for now.
Earlier this year India leapfrogged the UK to become the second largest English-language book market in the world. It’s now the sixth largest book market on the planet overall.
And it will get much bigger as smartphones make internet access available to literally hundreds of millions of Indians who previously had no way of getting online.
Many will be buying ebooks, and many more will be using their smartphones to buy print books from online stores.
We are going to see a big surge in local language take-up of books, across all formats, over the next five years.
Savvy indies will be positioning themselves now to enjoy the ride.