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India: A new mission for Amazon -- e-readers for kids

Amazon hopes to use the Kindle as the thin end of the wedge in its bid to tap the Indian market. But it could gain a lot of goodwill, and a huge market, if it pushed e-readers out to India's library-starved schools.
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Amazon officially entered India this month, aiming to use the Kindle Store as the thin end of the wedge. The company could earn a lot of goodwill, and a huge market, by pushing e-readers out to India's library-deprived schools. (AFP/Getty Images)

Following its "quiet entry" through offshoot Junglee.com in February, Amazon launched its Kindle store in India last week, hoping that its e-reader could be the thin-end of the wedge in its bid to tap India's huge retail potential. But if the company really wants to be big in India, it should be looking to push cheap e-readers out to India's library-starved schools.

Amazon on Wednesday announced the launch of the India Kindle Store, which will allow consumers to buy e-books in rupees, the Economic Times reported. The company also announced it is partnering with the Tata group's Croma Retail, saying its Kindle e-reader will now be available at Croma stores across the country, the paper said.

In part, both the move to enter India through Junglee.com and the move to launch the Kindle store are a way to skirt India's laws limiting foreign direct investment in retail. Amazon had hoped that e-tailers might be exempted from FDI limits that prohibit "multibrand" retail outlets such as Walmart from opening majority-owned stores here. But because its site flogs products made by many different brands, it was forced to team up with a local partner for Junglee.

According to another article from the Economic Times, Amazon won't "sell or buy anything in the country for now. Instead, it will direct customers to both online and offline vendors listed on Junglee." 

The Kindle store, on the other hand, qualifies as a single brand retailer, selling Amazon-branded e-readers and accessories, even though the e-books themselves are "branded" by varying publishers.

But Amazon is missing out on a huge opportunity to win the good will of the Indian government and build brand loyalty overnight if that's the limit of its strategy for the Kindle in India. Instead, it should be negotiating deals with India's states, as well as private schools and state-owned and private universities, to make the Kindle available cheaply to libraries and individual students. Then it could facilitate bargain deals with publishers for textbooks and other academic materials that are difficult to find here -- where even the libraries of few elite universities can hardly boast 100,000 books.

The government, which has been wasting time and money to develop a low-end tablet computer with UK-based Datawind, should also take note. Because files can be transferred by wireless local area network and USB cable, as well as the web, the Kindle (or another e-reader) could be much more practical for Indian students than a tablet. Moreover, e-reader technology is not changing as rapidly as tablet computers (e-readers are getting smaller and adding bells and whistles, while tablets are adding processing power). And the price of the Kindle has already dropped to $80 in the States. So it's likely that Indian schools could actually get their hands on actual, working e-readers while they are still useful -- instead of waiting around for a tablet that will be obsolete anyway when they get it. 

Added benefits? Well, e-readers have a battery life that's measured in weeks, not hours, so village kids without access to electricity wouldn't have to worry about charging until they got back to class. And Amazon already has the infrastructure set up to disseminate the books.

All they need now is the will.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-amazon-kindle-education