The print market in India may be difficult to crack for foreign publishers, but it is worth billions and growing fast. Here, Sonia Mathur, BBC Wales broadcast journalist and Wales World Wide’s India Correspondent, takes a look at the business of books in India.
It is a small word, using only five letters of the English alphabet, but ‘Print’ incorporates every letter and word in the language. The printing press transformed the world faster than any other revolution before or since. Every advancement in our world of information and communication since stems from this one point in history.
When Johannes Gutenburg invented the modern printing press he couldn’t have known that its impact would still be felt hundreds of years later.
Books were just for the elite until then. Produced by scribes mostly for religious purposes or through block printing. But a single printing press could produce 3,600 pages per workday, compared to about 2,000 by block-printing and a fewer still by hand-copying.
This one invention led to the printing revolution. It meant not just an easier flow of information, but also the exchange of ideas on a wider scale and it gave birth to an all new media – the press.
Today, the publishing business is worth more than £80 billion. It is bound to be more, but reliable data isn’t available from Africa or the Arab world. According to UNESCO, more than 2,200,000 books are published each year.
It’s an industry that’s grown even in a country like India, where only 74% of the population is literate. In fact, according to the data from UNESCO, India is the fifth largest producer of books in the world. One above Germany where Gutenburg published the first ever book.
Despite the poverty and illiteracy, the market in India is growing. In fact, it is one of the last few countries where printed and digital sales of books is on the up. In 2012, the Indian publishing market was worth £1 billion with an overall growth rate of 15%.
A national survey by the Book Trust of India in 2010 found that a quarter of all the young people in India, all 83 million of them, identified themselves as book readers.
There are almost 20,000 publishers in India with over half of them using ISBN. More than 90 thousand titles are produced each year in up to 20 different languages.
Academic and children’s books are sold more than others, as more than half of the country’s population are under 25 years old.
You can buy a book in a book shop or online. Some bookshops even deliver to your home. On a recent trip to Mumbai, I finished what I’d been reading sooner than anticipated. My cousin suggested I call my local bookshop to ask them for the title I wanted as, if they had it in stock, they would deliver free of charge. I did as asked and I just paid for the cost of my book in cash, to the guy who came to deliver it within the hour.
India has become a good place for providing printing and digital services. Printing books for foreign publishers is a £2.8 billion industry and is growing at the rate of 12% per year.
Legally regulated pricing means that all books have the maximum retail price printed on the book. There is no VAT on books and no customs duties on imports. However, the Indian market is still tough to get into.
Mick Felton is the publisher at Bridgend-based, Seren Books. He told Wales World Wide: “We’re aware of the size of the Indian market, but it’s not one we’ve looked at seriously. India seems to be a difficult market to crack.
“The size of the English speaking population is relatively small in the country. The kind of books they read are self-improvement or educational ones. The market for English novels is smaller than in Italy or Brazil.
“We are talking to publishers in India, but so far have no deals in terms of an agreement with anyone.”
Seren published the modern adaptations of the Tales of the Mabinogion, and one of those is written by Tishani Doshi and is based in India.
No one would dispute that the market for English novels in India is relatively small. But certain novelists are bucking the trend.
Ashwin Sanghi is one of the most recognisable names in Indian fiction at the moment. His books are selling fast and he’s recently co-authored a book with James Paterson.
“I was rejected by the entire world and had to self-publish my first novel,” Ashwin told Wales World Wide. “Luckily, it was noticed by my current publisher, Westland. The
rest, as they say, is history. I was simply grateful to be published. I never knew that I would start dominating bestseller lists in India.
“James Patterson and I have collaborated on a thriller set in Mumbai city. The book should be released sometime in 2014. James is a master storyteller and a person who has perfected the art of creating chills, thrills and suspense. Couple that with my mythological interest and you have the makings of a mystical thriller. It was a fun project.”
Ashwin is doing a PhD in creative writing at Bangor University and says he found the facilities and staff at the university “top notch”.
The book links between India and Wales date back hundreds of years. One of the first books to be published in the North East of India was the Mizo translation of the Bible by Welsh missionaries. Many Mizos still believe that helped save their language for posterity.
And Wales’s most recent export to India has already made a mark. The first Hay book festival was held in Kerala in 2010. It was the logical place to hold it as it is the only state in India with 100% literacy.
Since then, the National Poet for Wales, Gillian Clarke, has been there twice. She told Wales World Wide: “Hay in Kerala was a great festival, and the audiences were numerous, literate, intelligent. I do remain in close touch with several Indian writers.”
As India becomes prosperous and literate, the sheer size of the country means the market for books will remain a lucrative one.