An overview of the Publishing Industry

The publishing industry in India is defined by a vast set of variables. To understand its intricacies, one cannot simply come up with a figure for market size and growth rate. In fact, for such precise figures one needs sufficient customer data. At this point, such data is missing and in reality the book publishing sector alone might be much bigger than the current estimates of Rs 80 billion. This is one of the reasons why John Makinson, a former journalist with The Financial Times, Chief Executive of Penguin group since 2002, calls publishing in India ‘a step in the dark’.

Like most industries, publishing is also driven by its customers. Research about what the readers like, how they make their buying decisions and how much they’re willing to pay for a book are questions a publisher in India cannot avoid. The publishing industry in India is largely reader driven. The good news is that the reader base in India is growing. 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. However, the pool of established writers is still limited. Those new on the horizon are finding it difficult to go beyond selling a few hundred copies. Only a handful of titles such as Chetan Bhagat’s book and Gregory David Robert’s Shantaram go beyond the 3 lakh copies sold mark. There are also others in the category of 1 lakh copies, such as The World is Flat, Freakonomics etc. The truth is that in general, books take time to become popular and so do authors. Since the industry is not a one-click solution and with all the content out there, it is not simple for an author to stand out in the crowd, multiple factors operate when it comes to the success of any book. Some of these are the content, the right launch and platform, marketing initiatives, finding the right audience and of course, how the book is priced.

In the past decade, publishers have directed their efforts to target the mass audiences, the common Indian reader who likes it simple and cheap. What the Indian reader is reading is a question to ponder on. A recent survey by NBT / NCAER Survey, of readers between the ages of 13 – 35 years of age in India finds that of the 83 million youth readers (comprising 25% of the youth population), fiction is the most preferred genre among 42% of the youth followed by non-fiction for 24%. Fantasy, comics and classics are the three most preferred genres of fiction, and the least preferred are romance and graphic novels. When it comes to non-fiction, religious/spiritual texts and biographies/autobiographies are the most preferred.

The success of Hachette India, which has recently climbed to the rank of second-largest trade publisher in the country by value terms, is largely attributed to the Stephenie Meyer collection. A taste of vampire romance certainly played its magic in India. It is not surprising that this mass appealing novel accounted for 17-18% of the publisher’s turnover of Rs. 270 million in 2009. Talking of the big players in Indian publishing, Penguin is still the big fish, with a turnover of more than double Hachette’s.

Apart from what books are being read, the second question to ask is how they are priced. This is where smaller players and new entrants in the market need to find innovative ways to break the barriers. The industry works on volumes because the margins for publishers in India show a bleak picture, with only 2.5 to 3% multipliers, as against UK or US where the publisher can afford to multiply costs by 10-12 times. Prices of books, instead of going up, have gone down further with the popular Rs. 100/- novel trend. They have been more or less static for the past ten years! Along with this trend, comes the obvious damage to quality. While the publishing sector in India is growing rapidly due to expansion of the literate population and English speaking section, the sad truth is that in a rush to produce more and more titles at a cheaper cost, many publishers have forgotten their editing lessons. Many books are badly written, with mistakes in grammar in plenty on every single page.

The woes of cheap-price-poor-quality, one of the sad highlights of India’s publishing scenario, however has been challenged by sale of books such as The Harry Potter series, Meyer’s Twilight series and Shantaram. These are some of the books that have seen high sales in spite of higher prices. Here, one must also account for the many challenges of piracy, as a major section of the readers still prefer to get a shoddy, pirated copy in India.

Emergence of Online Media and Outsourcing

In spite of many of the hassles in traditional publishing modes, the emergence of online media is one opportunity India cannot afford to overlook. In fact, Indian e-publishing industry is expected to grown at 35% per annum, offering immense outsourcing opportunity, as noted by, Integra Software Services founder MD, CEO Sriram Subramanya in the world’s first conference on publishing BPO services. This is however not an entirely new trend. Even back in 1977, Macmillan had begun its off-shoring unit in India. The sector is now poised for unhindered growth. The success of the industry will now depends more and more on quality, reduced pricing and fewer but sturdier players. Thus, publishing services outsourcing is another emerging option in India.

Even in the e-books segment worldwide, India, China and EU are expected to be the growth leaders. Currently, the U.S. is the biggest market for e-readers and e-book. Though this won’t change in the near term, new reading devices and discoveries are set to take place in India in the next decade.

Need for Manpower

Besides the challenges inherent in the Indian market, another problem publishers face is the lack of skilled manpower. There is a dearth of quality editors, copy editors, content providers, etc. due to missing links in formal education in publishing. With MBAs in Media and Communications already being imparted in many B-schools, this problem can also be expected to get solved in the coming years. The country will also need dedicated training infrastructure to impart multiple skills needed in publishing.

Some of the courses that a person looking to work in this dynamic sector can consider are those offered from time to time by National Book Trust (NBT) and Institute of Book publishing (IBP). A short term intensive course in Editing was also conducted by the Indian Publishing Institute between June 2-9, 2010. IGNOU offers a distance learning course in book publishing. Various aspects of book publishing from the pre-press to post-press stages will require specialized expertise. As such, there will be enough opportunity for professionals from various educational domains. Managerial posts in publishing houses will continue to rise, along with immense scope for entrepreneurship and starting your own ventures as providers of one or more of these indispensable service offerings.

Clearly, while from outside the publishing sector appears to be full of fantasy stories and make believe characters of literature, there is more to it than meets the eye. While writing or reading a book might be all pleasure and no pain for many, the business of books goes beyond pleasure and you have to be truly passionate to pursue it with all its opportunities and challenges. However, like all industries, there is tons of scope for innovation in this sector. The onus is now on the emerging players to publish quality books and at least be wary of English usage in published content. After all, what we read is what shapes our minds and thought processes. The publishing players must balance their aspirations on the thin line of playing on volumes versus giving the masses the right type of content and books to read. One can, of course, also pull it off without compromising on either sides. Are you ready for the challenge?






Unnati NarangAbout me:Unnati is a freelance writer, author and entrepreneur. From her blog to media initiatives like Times Ascent, HT Edge and The Better India, she is always keen on any writing opportunity that may come her way. Her writing bug extends to her venture, a publishing portal she co-founded early 2009, for emerging authors. She is also the author of Drenched Soul (poetry) and If At All (Fiction).

0 thoughts on “An overview of the Publishing Industry”

  1. Hi,
    i would like to publish my book of poems. Can you help me? I know nothing on publishing and would like to know how to go about it.
    Any tips and tricks will be appreciated.

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