Qassim Soudi


Despite concerns over piracy, education exceptions on copyright that threaten the livelihood of educational publishers and ongoing worries over the photocopying of textbooks, the book market in India is booming, driven by a vast and young, knowledge-hungry population.  Figures presented by Nielsen at the International Publishers Congress in New Delhi earlier this month (11-13 February) revealed unit sales up 2.7% to 18.584m and value up 2% to INR 5.7bn.  With its rapidly rising – and young – population, India is already an important market, but it has even greater potential.

Like everything about India, the figures are extraordinary.  By 2030 its population is expected to overtake China at 1.46bn with a projected median age of 32.  Its economy is growing at 7% per annum and there is increased investment in education – something that is of vital importance given the rising numbers of children at school and young adults in college.

The government recognises the importance of books and has initiatives in place like ‘Read and Grow’ which stipulates that there should be a library in every school.  Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen on putting resources into mobile, with emphasis on the spread of fibre optic cable, it seems that, as yet, Indian people prefer print to digital.  A recent survey undertaken by Nielsen found that more than 35% of respondents said they preferred print or non-digital material.   As a result, the country’s print industry is three times bigger than the film industry and six times the size of music, radio and gaming.

There are more than 9,000 publishers in the country, with organised or semi-organised book publishing existing in around 16 of the country’s 22 languages.  India is the second largest English language print book publisher in the world.  The vast majority of publishers are educational, with trade publishers numbering between 930 and 940.  A number of publishers do not use ISBNs and piracy and photocopying are commonplace, but the country’s Copyright Bill has made some difference.  There remains, however, a problem with consumer education – some young digital natives who have grown up with the Net are accustomed to content being free and, as in many publishing markets, this can be a difficult view to shift.

There are an estimated 22,000 bricks and mortar bookshops – from established well-organised chains like Oxford Bookstore and Crossword, to street outlets who stack the titles on the sidewalk, just a few feet from the mayhem that is the typical Indian street.  A walk around the famous Connaught Circus in New Delhi soon reveals both styles of bookselling.  Oxford Bookstore is upstairs above the Circus’ famous white colonnade (built by the British in the 1930s and based on the Royal Crescent in Bath).  It is an upmarket store which boasts its own café and encourages people to linger.

Out in the colonnade are independent outlets like the Central News Agency and the Suneja Book Centre.  Close by is Anil Book Corner, a street bookstall with books stacked as high as passing pedestrians.  Needless to say, there are no EPOS systems at such outlets, so exact figures for the book market in India is always difficult.

Nielsen’s research into where new books are bought is interesting.  Some 45% of respondents said they bought their new books at school bookstores while independents came in at a healthy 32%.  Chain stores were at 10% and ecommerce sites came in at 20% (as yet, Amazon is nothing like the force it is in the US/UK).

The challenge for India in the years ahead was outlined by Amitabh Kant, CEO of the National Institution for Transforming India.  “Our population will get younger up until 2042.  We have to lift a young population above the poverty line.  Technology will be a big disrupter.  Publishing will not remain the same.  In education, technology will enable every child to be tracked so that their learning programmes can be adapted.”

In the not too distant future, there will be three times the number of students needing to be educated putting extreme pressure on existing infrastructures.  Digital learning products will help, but it seems print will be around for a good while yet too.  And as with Delhi’s incredible traffic, somehow a way through will surely be found by this most resourceful of countries.