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Overview of the Indian Publishing Industry

These are my very incomplete notes from meetings in India in January and February of 2009, when I was part of a British Council study tour of Japiur, Delhi and Kolkata. Individual events have been written up here, and there is a Flickr set here, if you are interested, pooled from all members of the tour.

British Council Meeting, Delhi

We went to the British Council’s great, modernist offices in New Delhi, designed by Charles Correa and completed in 1992.

We were meeting with:

  • Hema Singh – British Council, Visual Arts & Literature
  • Jaya Battarcharjee - Taylor & Francis, consultant
  • Manish Sejural – Anmaya

Hema and Jaya have both studied and worked in the publishing industry for a long period of time, and written reports on the Indian publishing scene for the British Council. They gave us an overview of the most significant moments in the evolution of the indian publishing scene over the past 20 years

I have also included in this section notes from SK Ghai’s talk in Kolkata book fair. Mr Ghai is the newly appointed chairman of the Federation of Indian Publishers, the equivalent of the PA.

– History

  • Prior to independence, the publishing scene had been controlled by the British – a model of homogeneity. McGraw-Hill had a presence in India from the late 1940’s; a collaboration with steel giants Tata, which worked as “Indian publishing in miniature”.
  • Mid-1980s saw the launch of brave and innovative independents who are still around – Kali, Seagull, Roli. Bureaucracy killed the international sale of Indian books; exporting was practically impossible and unviably expensive. These laws were finally relaxed in 2003.
  • 1990’s – Great liberalisation, which finally allowed foreign companies to set up in India, rather than enforced minority stakeholding as previously. Policy initiated by Manmohan Singh (now prime minsiter) as finance minister. Exclusivity ended, and distributors finally became publishers. The previous (export) differential margin had been bearable, but publishers are now being squeezed very hard indeed.

– Current Day

  1. Now the market is model of non-homogeneity. In fact, India is made up of many markets, structured by the language of the works being published. [Note - most of our trip has been focused on the English language publishers.] Each language also has regional translations of dialectical variations.

– Government support, priorities

  1. There is a lot of central government control, via a collection of literature academies, with the intentions of promoting regional literature – when a title gets picked for this, it is very prestigious. Sahitya Akademi is a bit like book trust, funding inexpensive book for children in all regional languages.
  2. Obviously, literacy is a huge, huge, concern, above all others. Education is the #1 focus; only when literacy has increased will books bought for leisure and literary reasons really take off.
  3. Libraries are regionally funded in each state; there is some fund matching from regional and central government.

– Numbers

  • Population, 1.2bn
  • Literacy rate 64.8 (30% in 1947, partition)
  • 650 m literate Male 380; 270 female
  • Kerala 91% literacy. Kottayam has 100%
  • India is 7th largest publisher in world; 3rd largest English language
  • Estimates for 82,537 titles published in India last year are “way, way too low!” i.e. these are just those which are registered. 16,000 publishers, with 1,000 publishing over 50 p/a
  • 10,000 crores annually
  • 60% educational
  • 40% trade, folk, religious, spiritual
  • 20,000 hindi titles
  • 19,000 English
  • 10 literary festivals
  • The subsisdisation of UK & US publishers entering the market in the UK, and the unofficial spread of English, “killed regional publishing”.
  • 25% of titles are published in Hindi
  • 20% of titles are published in English
  • Whilst ISBNs are allocated centrally (at no cost) by Raja Rahomen, there is no central agency – or any agency at all – collecting book data or sales figures [e.g. no equivalent of Nielsen Book Data]. Nor is there any real desire to set one up as yet.
  • Government mechanisms support the local and independent.

– Editorial & Rights focus

  • Rights-wise, the focus is on selling imported titles (either in terms of imported copyright, or physical editions) rather than acquiring them for original publishing. However this is changing.
  • In the english market, there are some characterisations that can be made:
  • - Teenage market, dominated by US publishers
  • - Older market, dominated by UK publishers
  • In the case of competing titles (e.g. Harry Potter, published by Bloomsbury in the UK and Scholastic in the US), then the UK edition is the one that will be distributed (as well as the pirated editions!)
  • Penguin has been a case study in growing original Indian publishing

– Supply Chain

  • Other than literacy, distribution is the main problem.
  • Convoluted Structure: Publisher –> Wholesaler –> Distributor –> Customer –> Reader. Must be strengthened & streamlined
  • Sales prices are set @ 3-5 times production costs; according to SK Ghai, in UK is 10x
  • Differential margins getting squeezed.
  • Pricing c. 295Rs-350Rs for hardback, trade paperback
  • Discounts range from 35 – 80%
  • Lack of centralisation makes collection of invoices very difficult and time consuming
  • 5,000 is a very large (English language) print run; whilst Bengali titles may get a much higher run, 500-750 is more usual for a trade title.
  • Bestseller in English may have a 750-1500 initial run; but may have 100,000 in Bengali
  • Publishers will usually break even with a fully sold first run.
  • Sale or return prevalent, 90 day (or 180 day!) terms
  • Collaboration of Penguin with Zubaan, HarperCollins with Mapin etc

– Accounts, Advances, Royaltiesala

  • There is a general “fudging of accounts”; the difference between 60,000 sales and 40,000 sales is generally left up to the gentleman’s agreement; authors will be “damn happy” with either figure (!)
  • However the gentleman’s agreement extends into the perception and reputation of the publisher, and so honesty prevails; at any point the (fully audited) accounts can be opened up for inspection.
  • Piracy and copyright violations are rife
  • GoCap – liaison IFP & Publishers to resolve copyright disputes

– Retail

  • Explosion in retail in last 10 years
  • Now dominated by corporate chains: Crossword, Landmark, Odyssey & Oxford
  • Strong regional players with multiple outlets
  • New players entering
  • Malls and premium locations
  • Retail software and “grand interiors”
  • Long hours, 7 days a week
  • Offer e-commerce and post, free delivery
  • Broad range of products, 35%-40% books only
  • One-off author events (e.g flew in Jeffrey Archer last year!)
  • Attracting new talent
  • Margins increased
  • Entering stage of consolidation

– Siddhart Pansari – Crossword

  • Crossword: evolution from stockist to retailer. Format and concept evolved from bookstore to community centre.
  • Penguin turnover less than 100 cr.
  • Top 10 cities only have large book chain presence. Penetration of books still very low. No real promotion of books: focus is on printing & sending to distributors. Must promote titles more – that is the job of publishers and booksellers.
  • Race between “watch and wallet” for customer attention. Shopping a form of entertainment.
  • Piracy “will always exist – we can’t fight it – justice mechanism is very slow; must have aggressive pricing formulae”
  • Bestseller market, with “a little bit” of range
  • Internet trading will “only grow” – bookshops must compete
  • Publishers and retailers must work together in an aggressive, pro-active manner to promote reading and books.
  • Must promote indian authors “in a big way”. Chethan Bhagat, Q&A, Chick Lit.
  • Evolution of infrastructure is required

– Web, ebooks, etc

  • Emerging market for eBooks in academic; Audio books not very popular but may grow
  • Online shopping –; many other bookstores (incl. Oxford)
  • General feeling is that booksellers have an urban focus; that the touch and feel / haptic qualities are very important
  • OAPs get discounts in shops, and the system of haggling, means that online (fixed) discounts are culturally disconnect from the existing retail model
  • There are also fewer PCs than needed
  • Mobile phones much more dominant
  • Postal service however very good and strong enough to delivery to dispersed locations
    Growing 19-35 demographic means that this is a new opportunity

– Things to check out

These are a few of the links I was given and told were interesting and worth checking out from a web perspective.

Also a couple of interesting pubilshers:
KaradhiTales – Audio book publisher.
AKS Media – Interesting and aggressively commercial business set up by ex-MckInsey consultant. Comics, animation, licensing, funded by VC,

Posted by Peter Collingridge in UKYPE India Trip.

Apt’s links for March 16th through March 17th // Apt’s links for March 18th through March 19th

  1. # Comment by Gautam @ 4:09 pm, March 19, 2009:

    Hey! And then there’s us! And unlike the others, we have blog and are on Twitter too… :)

    Great article, BTW. The industry here is so obscure that it’s hard to get a fix on numbers…

  2. # Comment by JM @ 7:52 pm, March 19, 2009:

    As a customer, one amazing thing was the large amount of Penguin classics at affordable prices as well as the large amount of used bookstores, esp. in places like Bangalore.

    One of the things that put me off some of their major chains was the lack of care with stock and confusing store setups. It was obvious that even in the smaller branches there was no reshelving or care being taken to put titles in their proper order and that quite a few spines were bent or books damaged.

  3. # Comment by Niteen Shastri @ 4:23 pm, April 15, 2009:

    Hey, I was wondering where can I find some more details on the “Numbers” and “Supply Chain” topics that you have mentioned in the blog.

  4. # Comment by usha vishwas @ 10:11 am, April 20, 2009:

    I’m a research scholar, and my research topic is “a study of book publishing in english in India after Independence”.
    This blog is full of information for me. So can we know, where we find some more details on ‘Numbers’, ‘History’ and about the references.

  5. # Comment by amy amster @ 2:02 pm, June 13, 2010:

    Lee and Low Books is an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. They take pride in nurturing many minority authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.

    For more about their history and their books, visit:
    Minority Book Publisher

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