Among avid readers, the question of whether e-books would eventually replace the printed page remains a hotly debated subject. Many readers simply don’t want to give up their regular visits to bookstores, where they can browse hundreds of titles and come home with a shopping bag full of literary gems to add to their collection. Others are already convinced that e-books are the future of literature and printed copies will become more and more redundant in the future, if they don’t end up vanishing completely.
No matter which side of the debate you land on, it is undeniable that e-books hold many advantages. You can quickly download hundreds of them from the Internet without ever having to leave the house. E-books don’t take up space as they are conveniently stored on a digital reader or computer. They also save plenty of trees, a good argument for environmentalists to adopt them.
Recognizing the growing demand for e-books, An Sonny Kaliman, Anson Lesmana and Roy Kurniawan — three Indonesians who have been friends since their college days in the United States 10 years ago — established the first online e-book store in Indonesia. Launched in July 2009, Papataka.com allows customers to both download e-books and purchase electronic readers.
Papataka literally translates as bookworm — a term that An could also use to describe himself. The director of Papataka, An has been an avid reader ever since he was a child. When he came back to Indonesia from the United States in 2004, he found it difficult to find the books he wanted to read in local bookstores.
Eventually, he came up with the idea of starting an online e-book store for Indonesia along with two of his closest friends, Anson and Roy. Thus Papataka was born.
“We founded the company in February  but we launched the Web site only in July,” Roy said.
He acknowledged his fondness for e-books and said he preferred them to the printed page.
“First of all, you can carry thousands of books in a single device instead of just one,” he said. “You can also increase the font size if you think the text is too small — something you can’t do with normal books.”
An said the majority of the books available on his site came from abroad.
“You have a much wider selection of books online [than in an actual bookstore], and they also come at a cheaper price,” he said. “That’s the main advantage for the Indonesian market, even though an e-book store might still be a niche market right now.”
Still, the trio is pleased with their business so far. They said they have been doing well in terms of the number of e-books available on their Web site.
When it comes to Indonesian literature, however, so far their selection remains limited.
“We try to encourage local authors and publishers to convert their printed media into digital formats,” An said. “Most of them are not familiar with the concept yet, and, mainly, they are concerned about piracy, so we have to convince them that e-books are as safe or even safer than regular books. With a regular book, you can just use a machine to copy it.
“We use the DRM [Digital Rights Management] platform to protect and distribute all of our e-books,” Roy said. DRM restricts how e-books are copied and shared among devices.
Anson said another advantage of e-books is the ability to reach a wider readership.
“In big cities like Jakarta, there are, of course, bookstores everywhere,” he said. “But in more remote areas of Indonesia, not everyone has easy access to them. But everyone with an Internet access can download books from Papataka.”
The trio said most of the customers at Papataka were 18 to 35 years old.
An interesting fact is that special-interest material, such as gay literature, sells very well.
“Bookstores sometimes don’t include these titles in their selection because the market isn’t big enough,” Anson said. “Also, people who actually want to buy these kind of books maybe do not want to do so openly. By buying the books online, they don’t have to.”
Both An and Roy don’t see the need to buy printed books since they started using their e-book readers. Anson said he still bought children’s books for his son, and doesn’t believe good old-fashioned printed books will become extinct anytime in the near future.
“Maybe there will be fewer printed books. But as you can see, even though, nowadays, there is e-mail, some people still write letters,” he said.
“It’s just about giving people different options and handling information in a different way.”
For more information, visit www.papataka.com
Papataka Showroom & Gallery,
Plaza Indonesia & EX Bridge Level,
Jl. M.H. Thamrin Kav. 28-30
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.