Printed books sales grow at a healthy clip in India

Regional language books sell faster than English

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Book sales in India are growing. But less than a third of the books by number are English language books. Regional language books are selling faster than English books with Hindi, Tamil and Bengali being the key language markets. Reading habits are growing in India, as are literacy rates and print book sales are still growing fast despite the intrusion of mobile phones and digital reading.

Book sales boom and regional languages flourish

Baldev Verma, the general manager of IBD, one of the largest book distributors in the country, says the Shiv Khera best seller You Can Win today sells more in Indian languages than in English. Bloomsbury, which bought the title rights a few years back, now sells the book as a step by step tool for top achievers. The paperback English language edition of the book has a list price of US$ 20 (over Rs 1,400) while the Punjabi version sells at Rs 232 on Amazon. The book is sold in 18 regional languages at a price significantly lower than the English edition, but volume sales make up for the lower margins.

This is true for all books sold in India. Books in regional languages sell in very large numbers but at modest prices. By value it is the English language books that dominate the market, as they cater to the top 20% of the population, the upwardly mobile big city reader. Unfortunately, most regional language publishers are small. Many publish books without ISBN numbers while many others who do print with ISBN numbers, do not register in any national database. Thus, their books do not appear in the statistics generated by Nielsen.

Despite this and other lacunae, Nielsen estimates the Indian book market to be worth US$ 6.76 billion, predominantly consisting of educational books. Nielsen further suggests the Indian book market is all set to grow at a whopping pace – a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.3 % till 2020. India has over 15,000 publishers, of whom around 9,000 are officially listed. Even a decade ago three out of four youngsters used to be illiterate. Today less than one out of four cannot read and write. Considering a population of 1.3 billion of which over 500 million are below twenty, it is estimated that India added around 250 to 300 million new students in the past decade.

Indian authors dominate English title sales

There is not only a surge of readers but also of Indian authors. Not just the literary award-winning authors like Arvind Adiga or Jhumpa Lahiri or the mythology exponents Devdutt Pattnaik, Amish Tripathi or Ashwin Sanghi or pop culture writers like Chetan Bhagat or Ravinder Singh. Among the not so famous Indian authors selling well are Perumal Murugan, Twinkle Khanna, Amitabh Bagchi, Raghavan Jagannathan, Rana Ayyub, Rupi Kaur, Durjoy Dutta, Sudeep Nagarkar, Savi Sharma, Lily Singh, Koral Dasgupta, Shobha Rao and many others.

Verma says a decade back nine out of ten English titles published were of foreign authors. Today nine out of ten of the best-selling books in India are by Indian authors. Two-thirds of the sales of English language books come from the five southern and western states of Maharashtra, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These states are showing strong growth in consumption of both fiction and non-fiction and are strong in the purchase and consumption of education books. Even though book stores are faltering by the wayside, Amazon is making up with large volume sales of print books. Almost half the books sold in India today are through online portals. Digital reading is still not in vogue in tier-3 or -4 cities because of poor connectivity. Till this changes, and perhaps even longer, printed books will rule the roost and new readers will keep buying printed books with increasing gusto.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Real estate and rents for selling books are very expensive and as a largely unstructured industry, it is not easy to run bookstores and pay distributors and publishers on time. Amazon and Flipkart are taking away a lot of book retail sales because they use books as loss leaders to attract customers to whom they hope to sell other products. Nevertheless, there are over 1,000 book fairs in India and the general population is becoming literate and seems hungry for books. There is no question that book stores are going to be under pressure and you cannot afford to utilize valuable space, investment and energy and expect to make a profit unless you are very capable business with a very large and committed customer-base that relies on you. Not easy at all.

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