14 June 2008

Bound and gagged

Searching for information on the book publishing industry in India is a frustrating experience. Internet searches generate miscellaneous and dated information. Publishing industry people never volunteer anything; nor do they come forth with anything specific upon probing. It seems, not only are books bound in India, when it comes to sharing information, their publishers – and their staff – are proverbially gagged.

No one seems to know what the size of the book publishing industry in India really is. Figures vary between Rs.3,500 crores to Rs.7,000 crores – a pretty wide margin. Of this, Hindi books seem to have the biggest share in the number of titles published (followed by English, Tamil, Bengali and Marathi). But, English books seem to have the biggest share of sales in value – i.e. in rupee terms. That’s because English books are more expensive than regional-language books in India.

Even here, the share of English books vary between 22% and 45% of the market – another wide margin – considering a great many English books are imported. However, there is a general belief that the book publishing market in India is growing – and growing fast, considering the improvements in literacy. Here again, the English-language book market is growing the fastest – thanks to India’s globalisation. If we were to consider 2% of India’s population as English-language book readers, that’s a huge potential of 24 million consumers for English books.

This fact has changed the dynamics of the Indian publishing industry. More and more retail brands like Crossword, Landmark and Oxford are opening up bookstores in major cities. More and more Indian publishers are realising the importance of reach and setting up their own distribution channels. More and more foreign English-language publishers are eyeing the Indian market for their books and publications. More and more Indian writers are beginning to write and publish their works in English.

Although these changes are bound to rub off on regional-language publishers sooner or later, at the moment, they’re feeling a little gagged.

[The figures quoted in this post are entirely my own speculation and should not be interpreted as industry figures. The Indian market for books includes school books, academic books, general interest books (fiction, non-fiction), and trade books.]


Satya said...

As a book publisher, I share your frustration at not finding any information on the size of the Indian book industry, having myself looked for authentic data for over five years.

It is not that publishers don't want to disclose industry figures, the reality is that we don't know, since no one is responsible for collecting and compiling the data from individual publishers. What publishers can talk about is data on their own businesses, but not all maybe ready to do so.

It has been said that the Indian publishing industry is worth Rs. 7,000 crores and is growing at about 25-30%. While most publishers will be able to validate the growth rate of 25-30% over the past few years, based on the growth of their own businesses, the market size figure of Rs. 7,000 crores is debatable, simply because there is no sense of how this figure was arrived at. I am similarly skeptical about for NBT's more recent claim of Rs.10,000 crores too.

It is sad that the book trade organisations in India like the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) and the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers Association of India (FPBAI) have not yet been able to produce authentic reports based on inputs from their members. This is something that must be done sooner than later, since the lack of basic industry data is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the infusion of capital into the book publishing industry in India.

runawaysun said...

@ Satya
Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting on it in such detail. I agree with you entirely.
Who should take responsibility for collecting and compiling data on the Indian publishing industry? FIP? FPBAI? NBTI? I feel they all should. But who am I to make this statement?
Since it’s expected that more and more foreign publishers will enter the Indian market, perhaps, everyone is waiting for them to do the necessary research and assessment for us.
Although there are issues of investment and management which require deeper understanding (as you’ve pointed out), I guess what’s important for us all is the fact that the Indian publishing industry is flourishing.