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Shri Nath Sahai: Publishing industry on a roll

Rising literacy and a growing economy help, but the government must also chip in

Shri Nath Sahai 

Rising literacy and a growing economy help, but the government must also chip in.

India is one of the top six publishing countries in the world today. In terms of English-language books, it is the third largest after the US and the UK. And this publishing industry is all set to grow further. Which is why, most global publishers want to be here. According to Harper Collins, a major publisher, its India-business has grown at around 30 per cent annually over the past three years. Around 70 per cent of the sales in the industry come from the organised sector, though the unorganised sector is much bigger in terms of the people employed as well as the number of titles published.

Within English-language books, the demand for Indian writers has increased on a scale that never existed before. A country which has a relatively young population offers immense scope in the area.

The rapid growth in the economy, greater literacy rates — with more emphasis on English, since this results in greater employability — the massive growth in the size of the middle class, increased globalisation, and so on, are all factors which have contributed to this rising demand for books. The fact that there are a larger number of Indian writers in English has also had a positive impact on Indian readership.

The popularity of Indian writing in English has been affirmed by various studies including one by Tapan Basu (Contemporary Indian Writing in English: Is there a market in India for this text?). The National Readership survey 2005 revealed that the time that people in India spend on reading has gone up significantly — from 30 minutes per day to an average of 39 minutes per day over the previous three years. The increase was sharper in urban India (from 32 to 42 minutes per day). This increased reading habit augurs well for the future of the book market.

Though the proportion of Indians who speak and read English-language books is very small, given India’s billion-plus population, this stills adds up to pretty substantial numbers in terms of the potential readers that can be targeted by publishers. A potential market of 65 million persons is second only to the 215-million English-language speaking population in the US, and more than the 60 million of the UK and 20 million of Australia. Which is why Penguin’s David Davidar says India is the fastest-growing English-language market in the world today. In the coming decade, India’s book market could be bigger than that in Canada.

While English-language publishing is more active in India, the number of titles published in Indian languages is equally impressive. The Federation of Indian Publishers’(FIP) estimated that 82,537 titles were published in India in 2004. Besides, other books published in India, in various Indian languages on subjects like folk literature and religion (which do not have ISBN numbers) may be around another 25,000 of so. Of the books that have ISBN numbers, the largest number of titles were in Hindi (21,370, or 25.9 per cent of the total), followed by English at 18,752 (22.7 per cent), Tamil at 7,525 (9.1 per cent),5,538 in Bangla(6.7 per cent), 5,475 in Marathi (6.6 per cent), 3,482 in Telugu (4.2 per cent), 3,358 in Malayalam (4.1 per cent), 3,213 in Gujarati (3.9 per cent), 2,172 in Urdu (2.6 per cent), 1,998 in Kannada (2.4 per cent),1,298 in Punjabi (1.6 per cent), 1,285 in Assamese (1.6 per cent), 763 in Oriya (0.9 per cent), 749 in Sanskrit (0.9 per cent), 176 in Sindhi (0.2 per cent) and 140 in Kashmiri (0.2 per cent) — other languages added up to another 5,243 (6.4 per cent). Only two languages — Hindi and English — went into double-digits.

The per capita number of book titles published in India is around 8 per 100,000 population. This number is much lower in comparison to those of the countries like the UK, US, France and Germany. In terms of languages, the per capita number of titles published per 100,000 persons is 6.3 in Bangla, 6.2 in Gujarati, 5 in Hindi, 4.8 in Kannada, 4.2 in Telugu, 3.9 in Urdu — at 7.7, the figure is the highest in Assamese. Considering there are more people who speak Hindi than those who speak English, the Hindi-language publishing industry is less dynamic. Among the other Indian languages, publishing in Tamil and Malayalam is more active. And though there are a lot less people who speak Assamese, the publishing industry in Assamese is a lot more active than it is in Marathi, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati or Kannada.

Since increased GDP requires more educated, informed and knowledgeable people in the work force — this, in turn, leads to a greater demand for books and allied literature — there is a direct correlation between GDP growth and the increase in book-production. Also, since increased GDP results in higher income levels, this in turn results in more demand for books.

In the US, the growth in per capita book title output increased from 7.6 per 100,000 people in 1950 to 43.2 per 100,000 in 2000. In this period, the corresponding figures for the UK increased from 19.8 to 212.2. And in Germany, the per capita book title output per 100,000 people was 100 in 2000 and it was 87 in France.

In India, however, the number of book titles per capita is very low, and was just 6.3 in 2004. In China, this figure was 9.9 in 2005.

In order to catch up with the present levels of book-production in developed countries, India needs to dramatically increase its per capita output of books. This is also required if we are to meet the growing need for knowledge in the country. While the sale of books has been growing at around 30 per cent a year, the government also needs to chip in — if book-publishing were to be declared an ‘industry’, this would be a big help as publishers would be able to access credit at more viable rates.

First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 00:30 IST