The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fair’s pick: classics on click
- Tagore to toons, e-pages put the covers on printed word

Rabindranath Tagore at your fingertips. Step into the south-east corner of the Book Fair ground and that is the e-message that reaches book-lovers, loud and clear.

E-books, spread across a range of genres in Bengali literature, are the toast of the stalls that have come up in the IT corner of Book Fair 2003. And every stall has a Tagore title. The biggest draw is Chirantan Rabindra Rachanabali, a collection of our first Nobel Laureate’s works in a single CD-ROM. Priced at Rs 1,110, the e-book has received “great response” at Rs 999 at the Fair.

More than 200 copies had gone with the click, with two full fair days to go, said Nandan Sengupta of Celcius Technologies. At an adjacent stall, Gitabitan Live is doing brisk business. The CD-ROM contains lyrics of more than 2,000 songs, notations of 1,900 as well as live renditions of about a thousand. Carrying a discounted tag of Rs 900 (Rs 1,200 outside the fair) this, too, has crossed the 100 sales mark. Dawsen Infotech’s Amra Sabai Raja, an animated collection of children’s poems penned by the Bard, has found prominent display beside games and imported cartoons.

Though Tagore is the top draw, other authors, too, are making their electronic presence felt. Celcius, with the e-rights to cartoonist Narayan Debnath’s works, has come up with a CD-ROM of the popular comic strips Handa-Bhonda, Bantul the Great and Nontey-Phontey. “We had set a target for 1,000 for the fair, but had to put in a hasty order for another 1,500 copies after six days,” says Shome Sengupta, adviser to Celcius. At Dawsen’s, Sukumar Ray’s Abol Tabol is rivalling Tom and Jerry and Popeye in off-the-racks pick-up. “This is good news, as Abol Tabol is priced at Rs 200, double that of the imported toon titles,” says Chaitali Mazumdar, marketing manager. The e-book business is here to stay. “The size of the market in Calcutta now is Rs 4 to 5 crore, and growing fast,” points out Dawsen CEO V.C. Bhalotia. According to the company’s estimates, more than five lakh homes in Calcutta own a computer. And it is this home PC-user sector that the Book Fair is targeting.

Chandril Samaddar and Ram Mohan Chattopadhyay picked up Chirantan Rabindra Rachanabali within 15 minutes of each other. Engineers both, they pitched for the e-book mainly because of the search option and portability. “It is time-consuming to scan all 28 volumes for a particular line I am looking for,” Samaddar says.

Celcius invested about Rs 30 lakh in the Tagore project, including launch and fair costs. Sengupta expects cost recovery within a year. Gitabitan Live took Rs 48 lakh and has recouped costs in about seven months, says Nirmalya Chowdhury, manager, business development, ISS Infoway. Abol Tabol has sold over 2,000 copies since its April 2002 launch and is well on its way to achieving its target of 300 at the fair.

But that does not mean printed books have real competition, just yet. Most buyers of Tagore and Sukumar Ray CD-ROMs have the printed versions too. “The comfort factor of holding a book and reading in bed can never be replaced with the screen,” smiles Ram Mohan Chattopadhyay.

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