Move over Kindle, India's very own e-reader is here

by Abhinna Shreshtha    Aug 20, 2010

Wink EreaderA group of NRIs, along with Kerala-based DC Books Group, have launched a new e-book reader called Wink, specifically for the Indian market. The Wink e-reader will compete with products like Amazon’s Kindle and another Indian e-reader — the Pi, in a still nascent e-reader market.

EC Media, the privately funded company behind the Wink, was founded in 2009 to bring out an e-book reader for the Indian market. Having worked on the product for the past one and a half years, the Wink e-reader was finally launched yesterday. In a very nascent market, in which the most well known name is Amazon Kindle, Wink not only aspires to carve out a niche for itself but also expand beyond Indian shores. In fact, Pradeep Palazhi, COO of EC Media, has set a sales target of 10,000 units in the first year for Wink (Kindle has sold only around 2,000 units so far in India).

However, this is easier said than done. Priced at around Rs 12,000 many will view it as a luxury rather than an essential gadget. But Palazhi, who is also one of the investors, defends the price. “When you consider the amount of functionality that we are providing with Wink, the price seems justified. For Rs 12,000 one gets an e-book reader, an exclusive newswire service (WinkWire), Wi-Fi, e-mail, music downloads, etc. Also, it’s not very different from the cost of a Kindle, if you consider the duty you have to pay on it (Kindle),” he said. However, he did promise that newer versions, which are expected to be out in the coming months, will be much cheaper.

Currently the Wink is manufactured in China with design specifications from EC Media. Based on the performance of the device in the coming years, Palazhi said the company would consider setting up a manufacturing plant in India. To position itself more strongly in the Indian market, EC Media is also introducing a 3G-enabled version, which is expected to be launched around October. Palazhi informed that the company is already in talks with service providers like Airtel, Tata Teleservices, etc. EC Media had also considered a touchscreen version of the Wink, and a prototype was also built, however it was found that a touchscreen ruined the resolution of the screen, so the idea was dropped.

The Wink library, which is being managed by Kerala-based DC Books Group, currently has 200,000 titles in 5 Indian languages, including English and the company expects to increase this to 15 by the end of the year. Books can be downloaded from the Wink portal directly through the device. EC Media is also in talks with the bigger national and international publishers to get rights of even more worldwide bestsellers and classics.

“It is not easy to develop a product in India. The environment is not suitable to create IPs here and there are a number of obstacles in the way. However, we studied the Indian market closely for a year and found that it is not that different from the American market. So if the Kindle can be successful in the US, there is no reason why e-readers can’t replicate that success here. This prompted us to take the risk,” said Palazhi.

At present, the Wink e-reader is only available through Croma’s network of retail stores. Palazhi said they are also exploring the possibility of working with other retail chains and stores to ensure it gets better exposure. Future plans also include launching Wink in other parts of Asia and the middle-east, along with local content.