Printed books sales grow at a healthy clip in India

Regional language books sell faster than English


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.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels 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. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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VIASandip Sen
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Sandip Sen is a journalist and author. His most recent book is India Emerging: From Policy Paralysis to Hyper Economics, Bloomsbury, April 2019. He also writes on business, economy and technology in many Indian and International publications and is the author of the book Neta, Babu & Subsidy: Roundup 2000 to 2014.


  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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