‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’ said Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero. Much before the advent of printing, cavemen were telling their stories through petroglyphs, and ancient Egyptians through hieroglyphs which serve as an excellent record of their time and help us understand the evolution of civilizations. As societies evolved, the need to record stories, ideas, preserve and communicate knowledge to a wider audience became stronger. This need led to the birth of the publishing industry.
Prior to India’s Independence, the British controlled publishing under a model of homogeneity. McGraw-Hill, which had a presence in India from the late 1940s, together with Tata worked as ‘Indian publishing in miniature’. With the liberalization in the 1990s, international companies began entering India changing the landscape completely. Today, the market is a model of non-homogeneity.
India’s publishing sector, though vibrant, is fragmented and somewhat cyclical. The publishing industry now has two major categories of players: educational and trade publishers. According to Nielsen’s India Book Market Report 2015, India is the 6th largest book market in the world, and currently the second largest for books in English, after the United States and is growing at a rate of 30% every year. Nielsen estimates that the publishing sector is now worth USD 6.76 billion. Led by educational books, the sector is set to grow at an average compound annual growth rate of 19.3% until 2020.The educational book sector, which forms 70% of the book market in India, is the bulwark for the publishing industry. Out of 9,037 publishers identified in India, 8,107 publish books for schools, colleges and higher educational institutions. Only 930 are trade publishers, which includes the whole gamut of fiction, nonfiction and children’s writing.
While publishing has grown, there are several challenges – production and marketing of printed books is expensive; the market is getting increasingly fragmented in terms of language, geographies and audience tastes vis-à-vis genres, which makes niche publishing economically more challenging. Digital development – not necessarily digital books, but much more broadly e-commerce is negatively impacting the brick-and-mortar book store sales, and piracy continues to be the bane of the industry. Illegally photocopied books are available on pavements, railway stations and several shops, robbing authors of their royalties and booksellers of their commission on sales.
Against the backdrop of these challenges, the future of the publishing industry looks rather bleak. However, it can leverage to its advantage several of the new developments:
- Current and upcoming technology has transformed publishing, making printing faster, cheaper and easier.
- E-commerce has opened a whole new market for books – both educational and trade. Some publishers such as Juggernaut publish primarily for the online reader and is a digital publishing platform.
- Literary Fests like the Jaipur Literary Fest and book fairs promote authors, books and reading as a habit. Both professional and consumer book fairs are important for this industry. They bring together publishers, agents, retailers and book lovers on one single platform. These are cultural events with literary seminars, lectures, musical and theatrical performances and draw huge crowds.
- As literacy rates improve, there is an emerging market of first-generation readers who are lapping up books by authors such as Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi, Durjoy Datta, Twinkle Khanna and Devdutt Pattanaik, who are yielding large numbers compared to imported authors like John Grisham and others.
- Middle class aspirations have fueled a demand for self-help books, knowledge books and educational books. This has also led to an increase in regional language publishing.
- Government support through the Sahitya Akademi, which promotes literature in different Indian languages through grants, awards, fellowships and publishing continues.
- The Government’s push vis-à-vis rural and adult education will translate into increased demand for printed material in the form of textbooks, course material and exercise notebooks.
- Most Government schools and other schools have libraries and children are being encouraged to borrow and read books.
The magic and the love for the written word endures. But it must be rekindled for it grow and the publishing industry has to adapt to the changing times for it to prosper.