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A country of readers?

The Indian print book market is worth about Rs 26,000 crore, making it the sixth largest in the world

Nilanjana S Roy 

Nilanjana S Roy

For years, estimates of the size of the Indian book publishing market, the number of active trade-and-and readership levels have been just that: educated guesses based on often incomplete data.

In 2008, estimated the size of the Indian books market at about Rs 13,000 crore, but a 2010 FICCI sector profile placed it at around Rs 10,000 crore; by 2015-16, most estimates said it was between Rs 12,000-Rs 15,000 crore. The industry itself had commissioned no large surveys after 1972. Nielsen’s Indian Book Market Report 2015, commissioned by the Association of Indian Publishers and the Federation of Indian Publishers and priced at Rs 66,000, aims to plug this information gap.

A brief look at their findings, drawn from surveys and interviews with market professionals plus a survey of 2,000 18-plus readers, is illuminating. They estimate that the print book market is worth Rs 261 billion (approximately Rs 26,000 crore), which would make it the sixth largest in the world and the second-largest of the English language markets. The strength of the Indian market lies in the country’s rising literacy rates and the relatively high number of youth who identified themselves as readers — one-fourth, according to their sample survey.

The drawbacks are many, too: the local publishing sector is “highly disorganised” and highly fragmented, piracy is endemic and widespread (some years back, an industry insider called book piracy India’s parallel publishing industry), the distribution system is tortuous, and there is no direct investment from government.

But perhaps the most interesting conclusions from the Nielsen report are about readership tastes and styles. Despite the massive diversity of languages, the two dominant languages are still English (with 55 per cent of the market) and Hindi, which accounts for 35 per cent of all Indian language sales. A high two-thirds of urban Indian consumers claim to read books occasionally; 43 per cent of those surveyed say they read weekly, an impressive claim. Word of mouth was a far bigger driver of sales than media coverage. Looking at the growing number of Internet users, at 243 million and rising, the Nielsen book report was confident that terrestrial and online could exist.

In 2010, the (NBT) had conducted a large youth readership survey, and their data makes for interesting reading in the light of the Nielsen Book Report’s findings. The NBT report estimated that about 25 per cent of the youth — roughly 83 million — identified themselves as readers. Of this, only about 25 per cent read books for pleasure and relaxation (as opposed to professional reasons); marginally more women read for leisure than men.

The language breakdown was interesting: Hindi was the most preferred language for leisure reading, with 33.4 per cent saying they read Hindi books for fun; English, by contrast, had just 5.3 per cent readers saying they read for leisure. About 88 per cent did their reading at home – only a small percentage said that they read in libraries, schools or colleges. Despite this, a high 39 per cent said that they were members of public libraries — it is reasonably safe to assume that this generation sees libraries as good places for borrowing books, but not as reading spaces. Many public libraries are less than welcoming, so this is not surprising.

The finding that most surprised the NBT — in 2010, when the country’s obsession with literary festivals was fairly strong — was that only 3 per cent of literate youth had visited book promotion events every year; 85 per cent had never been to a book event.

It is possible that these numbers have changed, but the message was clear even then: book promotional events have not been successful in attracting new readers, even though there was a strong chance that those who did visit a festival or a reading would buy more books.

Publishers will take time to assess the findings in the Nielsen report, but this much is clear: the Indian trade publisher has a pool of youth readers. The challenge will be to find better ways of reaching books to them — the present system, heavily dependent on media coverage and traditional publishing events, is clearly not the way to go.

First Published: Sat, October 24 2015. 00:08 IST