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An overview on the state of Indian publishing

By Som Sapru,

29 November 2016

The industry is in a good place. It’s thinking new and fast. Som Nath Sapru explains.

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India is the world’s seventh largest book publishing country and there are more than 16,000 publishers in India, the huge majority of them are small players and family owned units. (India is the third largest English language publisher in the world and the seventh largest worldwide, when all languages are counted.) India is also the world’s third largest book market. More than 80,000 new titles in 24 different languages are published every year in India.

The good news is the reader base in India is growing. India has always been a multilingual country and with the country set to become a hub of the largest English-speaking population, books sales will directly go up. Secondly, the number of writers in India is also increasing, with more and more new authors finding ways to make it to the market. The middle-class aspirations in the past couple of years have fuelled demand for knowledge books, educational and self-help books. Meanwhile, the government’s push to rural and adult education, besides reaching out to all sections of the society for literacy growth, will translate in increased demand for the printed material in the form of textbooks, course material and exercise notebooks.

A white paper titled ‘The Business of Books 2016’, presented by the Frankfurt Book Fair Business Club ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair held in October, confirms that among the emerging economies, China and – in a more complex situation – India, has continued to grow over the past few years.

The Nielsen Book Report estimated the Indian book market in 2015 to be worth USD 3.9 billion, and it is growing by around 20% a year. This figure includes book imports, which are particularly important in a market where 55% of all trade sales (and about 90% of all professional titles sold) are English language titles. The lion’s share of these revenues goes to publishing houses headquartered overseas, much of it still managed from offices in London. Books in Hindi account for another 35%, according to Nielsen, with the remaining 10% split between all the other Indian languages.

Publishing is a tricky business – the involvement of capital investment for printing and finishing machines and other allied requirements can give you the edge over outsourcing of printing and finishing. There are hurdles that are still holding the industry from attaining its full potential. You have to understand that physical books have a huge bottleneck in terms of production, distribution and payments, and that is causing deep concerns to the publishing industry. Of course, escalation in the cost of production, particularly of paper and other ingredients is a matter of concern.

According to the Frankfurt Book Fair white paper, the most exciting challenge for book publishers active in the Indian market may come from its digital development – this refers not necessarily to digital books, but much more broadly to eCommerce and purchases made with mobile phones. This must explain why Amazon is so active in India. The biggest category on amazon.in, which started as an online bookstore, but soon diversified, is literature and fiction. This can be attributed to high-profile releases that Indian readers are picking up.

It faces competition from Flipkart, which has 45% share of the online retail trade. The question is whether or not the emerging opportunities can be used for selling books. This remains uncertain, as is best illustrated by the decision of Flipkart to drop bookselling altogether and hand its eBook business to Kobo Rakuten.

According to publishing industry sources, there is a growth in first-generation readers who may not have grown up reading but have taken to recent Indian authors, such as Chetan Bhagat and Amish, among others. Even names like Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Datta are yielding big numbers compared to imported authors like John Grisham. Last year alone, two of Penguin Random House titles, by Twinkle Khanna and Devdutt Pattanaik, both have sold lakh copies each.

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Another interesting trend is that the younger generation is looking for books online. The recent trend is authors creating ‘pages’ of their titles on social networking sites like Facebook, and tweeting and talking about their books and writings at every given platform and opportunity, which is so very crucial. This kind of author participation in marketing their titles has enhanced opportunities that go a long way in helping a book gain in numbers.

Paperbacks, school, college and other educational guide books besides regional language dictionaries are big segments of the publishing industry. In northern India, Hind Pocket Books established by DN Malhotra in late 1950s has done wonders in the paperback segment. In the south, Dominic Chacko set up DC Books 40 years ago. DC Books’ contribution in Malayalam is worth mentioning. The brand grew and flourished in the lifetime of Chacko and he was very successful in publishing works of the best talents in Malayalam. DC has sold 2.5 million copies of its Malayalam-English dictionary.

Hind Pocket Books, in a way, developed the paperback market in India for Hindi and other regional language books in late 1950s and 1960s. With the help and cooperation of some like-minded Delhi-based publishers, Malhotra brought the publishing trade from Bombay to Delhi, shifting the focus away from importers of foreign books to domestic/ local publishers. Hind Pocket Books was also instrumental in setting up the first voluntary all-India body of publishers, the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers of India, and Malhotra served as its president during 1967-69 and was later president emeritus, Federation of Indian Publishers.

In English, the current trade market is estimated to be Rs 1800-2000 crore. The market, however, is going through a churn. Readership is dwindling. Balancing that however, volume of titles is increasing. There is a lot of contradiction. Yet, the publishers are seeing double-digit growth and most are still growing in the last eight years. It is higher compared to the West, but lower compared to the education market.

Hindi publishing today

While, India is the third largest English language publisher in the world, among the local languages, it is Hindi which seems to be dominating the publishing scene. In newspaper, Hindi has more than 55 prominent dailies with morning / evening editions, besides more than 250 periodicals. The prominent names include Dainik Bhaskar, Jagran, Hindustan, Amar Ujala, Rajsthan Patrika, Nav Bharat Times, Ranchi Express, Haribhoomi, Panjab Kesari, Jansatta, Hindi Milap, Tribune Hindi, etc.

Prominent Hindi language book publishers are Rajpal & Sons, Rajkamal Prakashan, Anuradha Prakashan, Neelkanth Prakashan, Diamond Publications, New Sarswati House, Pustak Mahal, NBT, CBT, Jaico, Kitab Mahal, Delhi Book Press, S Chand Group, Mehta Publishing House, Indian Book Depot, Kitabghar Prakashan, Eklavya, and Manjul. Sources say Pustak Mahal is India’s largest publisher of mass appeal books in Hindi.

Pandit Jugal Kishor Shukla printed the first Hindi weekly newspaper, Udand Martand, in Calcutta on 30 May 1826. A serious and concentrated beginning of Hindi newspaper and periodical publishing goes back to Bhartendu Harishchandra’s efforts in the years 1850-1865 by publishing his own writings with a social message of mass appeal. Several other Hindi writers followed his writings. A reputed publication during that period was Saraswati, a monthly magazine published from Allahabad. This was followed by Gita Press Gorakhpur’s Kalyan, which was mostly dedicated to religious preaching and analytical articles about Hindu scriptures. The freedom movement gave a big boost to Hindi publishing with scores of Hindi newspapers being fielded to reach the masses.


Som Nath Sapru has a master’s degree in Print Technology & Management. He served 33 years with the United States Information Service at the American Embassy in New Delhi as chief of publications. During 2005-2011, he headed IPAMA as CEO and was editor of the IPAMA Bulletin. He then moved on to Pramod Engineering, part of the Delhi Press Group as general manager.

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