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Flipkart launches e-books but only for its own platform; unveils Flyte digital media app for Android

India's e-com major Flipkart.com continues to expand its territory across categories. And the latest to join the list is e-books, available at its digital media store Flyte. The company has launched the category with a selection of more than 1 lakh e-books, according to an official statement, and the new e-books section is currently in beta.

There is a catch, though. The e-books purchased on Flyte can only be read through the Flyte e-books app (in contrast, Flyte's existing music store offers DRM-free MP3 files for purchase). The books purchased via Flyte can be downloaded as many times as you want, but books are delivered in a proprietary format and one cannot copy, e-mail or save images from the purchased books. Also, the new app allows book download simultaneously on six devices. The app, which is also debuting in the market, is currently available for Android OS, but apps for Windows 8 will be launched soon. Some of the e-books cost as low as Rs 30 and there are around 4,000 free titles as well, to woo the readers (a la Amazon, which also offers free titles for its Kindle e-reader).

"This is the perfect time to launch e-books in India," said Sameer Nigam, VP (Digital) at Flipkart.com. "We have a growing, tech-savvy reader base that is constantly on the go and people are looking for options to buy and read their favourite books on their mobile devices instantly. In the US and European markets, which have been early adopters of e-books, the market share for digital trade books is currently 50 per cent. In the US, the e-books market has recently crossed $1 billion in annual sales," he added.

The e-books on Flipkart come with the usual features of instant purchase and read, bookmarking, highlights and notes, etc.

"Introducing e-books is a logical progression in our plan to become India's online megastore. With music, we started with something that Indians are familiar with, from the digital goods perspective. With e-books, we are upping the ante by entering a new space," said Ravi Vora, senior vice-president, marketing.

We found the digital version of printed books to be marginally cheaper, which is typically the case with other e-tailers, too (although there are some exceptions like Landmark's e-book store). For instance, the e-book version ofFifty Shades of Grey is priced at Rs 218 (Rs 220.29 at Amazon's India Kindle Store) while the printed version costs Rs 243 on Flipkart.com.

Three months ago, e-commerce giant Amazon has launched India Kindle Store on its parent site with a large selection and claims to offer the lowest prices, compared to other e-bookstores in the country. This is also the first initiative where Indian consumers can pay in Indian currency while buying from Amazon. Till now, users could pay in dollar for the products listed on Amazon's parent e-com site but they also had to pay customs duty on products shipped from abroad.

Soon after that, retail chain Landmark, a Tata Group venture which started in 1987 as books and music retailer but later expanded into other product categories, launched an e-books section on its website. The company also claimed that it was the first Indian retail chain to do so.

E-com major Flipkart has been entering new segments so often this year that it must be difficult to keep track. So here is a full list of how exhaustively the 'native wannabe Amazon' has enhanced its bouquet of offerings:

February: Flipkart launches its online digital music store called Flyte (one of the first such e-com players to do so), and claims it is India's largest legal online music store.

April: Expands into pens and stationery, home appliances and perfumes.

May: Expands its lifestyle-related product verticals by introducing health and beauty, watches, belts, bags and luggage categories.

June: Adds a toy section to its product portfolio.

July 19: Starts offering baby care products.

July 25: Forays into private label for digital accessories such as laptop bags and camera pouches, under the brand Digiflip.

October 4: Enters apparels segment.

October 20: Adds sports & fitness products.

October 29: Launches men's footwear category.

In another development, Flipkart has registered two new two companies in India – Flipkart Marketplace Pvt Ltd and Flipkart Payment Gateway Services Pvt Ltd. While Flipkart Payment Gateway Services was approved on Aug 31, 2012, Flipkart Marketplace was approved on Sept 12. If the names are any indication of the things to come, it looks like the company is all set to launch its own online marketplace business.

What is your take on this expansion spree of Flipkart?

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mandal)

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