Numbers and Letters

The possibilities and pitfalls before India’s publishing industry

01 April 2016
The National Library in Kolkata maintains the Indian National Bibliography, which, as per the Delivery of Books Act, is supposed to receive a copy of every book published in India.
SAMUEL BOURNE/ALINARI/GETTY IMAGES
The National Library in Kolkata maintains the Indian National Bibliography, which, as per the Delivery of Books Act, is supposed to receive a copy of every book published in India.
SAMUEL BOURNE/ALINARI/GETTY IMAGES

AT INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIRS, At international book fairs, which I have attended for the last seven years, experts show off their national book markets in elaborate presentations with colourful graphs and pie charts. I stare in wonderment. Not because the numbers are exceptional, but because they exist in the first place. By contrast, any presentation on the Indian book market is a collection of qualitative descriptions, anecdotal observations, experts’ views, information from newspapers, and whispered rumours. Indian publishers don’t rely on hard market data to make business decisions, because almost none exists. Instead, they fall back on an elaborate network of informers, which primarily consists of retailers and distributors, and in-house marketing and sales teams.

New entrants to the publishing scene in India are often baffled by the complicated industry. But even as publishers are transitioning to exploring digital spaces, the demand for print books continues to grow in India, and e-books have failed to take off as predicted. While the number of titles published each year has been rising, in the last three to four years, English-language trade publishers in India have not sold e-books worth more than 2 percent of their total sales revenue. The print-versus-e-book debate has almost died down in the book industry, replaced by the realisation that print and digital formats are likely to coexist and in the future lead to a hybrid publishing model that taps the strengths of both.

“The India Book Market Report,” released in October 2015 by the global market research firm Nielsen, is the first study in recent times to quantify Indian publishing. According to the report, India’s print book market—which grew at a rate of 20.4 percent, compounded annually between 2012 and 2015—is estimated to be worth R26,060 crore. The last known comprehensive industry report was “The Survey of Indian Book Industry,” published in 1976 by the Delhi think tank the National Council for Applied Economic Research. With the release of Nielsen’s report, the industry has new figures of its worth to replace the oft-quoted but unverifiable ones—R14,000-crore growing at a rate of 15 percent, compouned annually. Various official bodies, including the Federation of Indian Publishers, have used these very numbers over the last few years. The release of Nielsen’s report provides us with an opportune moment to take stock of the industry as a whole.

Vinutha Mallya is a publishing consultant, editor and journalist based in Bangalore.

Keywords: India media books publishing Distribution
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