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The Indian Book Market

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Published | Rights Royalties Contracts

Kevin Massey

The publishing world has been in a state of flux for a number of years.  Technological advances such as increased internet speeds and portable storage have been two of the factors that have seen a decline in print book sales since the turn of the millennium, along with changing markets and increased competition for our disposable income.

The introduction of eBooks has shown that a growing readers market still exists but this opened the industry up to the problems of piracy.  And the decline has been prevalent almost worldwide, with a notable exception.  India. Not only has their economy and publishing market arrested the decline, it has flourished in recent years.  India is now the sixth largest book producer in the world and the third largest producer of English language books, with their market currently valued at £1.6 billion.

There are several intersecting factors that have led to the huge growth in the Indian publishing market.  Most notable have been advances in education.  As standards of reading and writing improved, particularly of English, so too did the demand for books (India is in the unique position of having a demand for books that far outweighs the supply).  In India, there are 550 million people in the 15-30 age group, the demographic with the most book buyers.  Increasing literacy has created a ‘home’ market for Indian writers, in both English and regional languages, that is far more lucrative and secure than the international market.

The potential in India was noticed internationally, leading to India being the Guest of Honour at the 1986 Frankfurt Book Fair.  This gave international publishers the opportunity to interact with the Indian market and vice versa, with the direct result, the development of Penguin Books India, Hachette India, Harper Collins India and Random House India.  These international houses realised that, in order to be successful in India, a complete overhaul and modernisation of the local industry was needed in urban centres.  They provided training centres for writers, editors and proof readers.  They introduced higher production values for all books and generally raised the bar of professionalism across the board.  In doing so, they gained a greater understanding of the Indian Market and learned how best to use the new infrastructure to gain a strong foothold in a growing industry.  In learning about the market they also had the opportunity to discover Indian writers with global appeal.

A growing industry then turned to government to help meet demand.  Reliable editors are a commodity in India, as there is no academic route to produce them.  Publishers began to communicate this to the Government so that a new academic structure could be developed for the publishing industry.   While the publishing houses have taken the first step, it is hoped that by integrating new classes and degrees for publishing/editing that the jobs will be filled by local university graduates.  The role, and number, of literary agents has also increased.  They have help instil a level of professionalism and a higher standard of writing in the Indian market.

At present there are 19,000 publishers in India, producing approximately 100,000 titles per year.  The majority of the publishers are small, family run business; none with more than 1,000 members.  Added to the mix are ‘The Big Five’ publishing houses which have entered the Indian market in the last twenty years; Penguin Books India, Hachette India, Harper Collins India, Random House India  – and Rupa & Co., that originated in India.

60% of books produced are in regional languages, with the remaining 40% produced in English.  However, in monetary terms, English language books account for 60% of sales.   An important point to bear in mind is that 10% of India’s 1.16 billion inhabitants are fluent in English. Thus a statistical minority, the 15-30 year old English speaking middle class demographic comprises a large sector of the book buying public.  It is this section of society that are the focus of the major publishing houses.

The issue of distribution was one of the final hurdles to overcome.  International publishers found it difficult to develop a sustainable foothold in second and third tier cities; areas where the regional language was dominant over English and without the necessary infrastructure to maintain a profitable presence in the area.  To counteract this, Harper Collins India and Penguin India, have aligned themselves with local distributers who understand the market and recognise that selling regional language books in a rural market requires a different distribution model.

Despite the prosperity in the Indian market, there are issues that threaten to derail its success.  A proposed change to India’s copyright laws has divided opinion.  As it stands, authors own the rights to their work and can sell the rights to various publishing houses in different territories.  Each publishing house is legally protected as the only seller, in their area, by copyright law.  The proposed changes seek to remove that protection and allow ‘parallel’ imports.  The effect of this will be to make the idea of territories redundant, allow editions to be imported and sold in India regardless of who holds the rights.  Those who oppose the change say that the increased competition will negatively affect the book market by making it less experimental and unwilling to take a risk on new writers.  Those who support the change claim that the current system is anti-competitive, creating monopolies around certain writers and genres.  The outcome of the debate could have an impact on the global market, particularly if the system of territories is called into question.

The Indian publishing industry is, once again, on the cusp of change.  As eBooks slowly make their way into the market, the problems of rights could worsen while the distribution issues could be resolved.  In 2006, their continued growth in the international market saw them become the first country to be guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair for a second time; twenty years after their first appearance that helped spark their current state of prosperity.  To date, international sales only account for 5% of Indian book sales.  However, in a move previously unheard of, Seagull publishing in Kolkata has maintained international rights for their authors in Germany and France. This is one of few examples of international rights not being held by a British or American publishing house and demonstrates the continuing growth of India’s literary market.  In the next decade, publishers predict that India will become the largest English Language book-buying market.

About the author

(c) Kevin Massey, October 2011.

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