Book market

Why is the Indian book market struggling? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

Indian book publishers are facing new challenges during the pandemic due to the high cost of raw materials and soaring inflation.

Inflation, driven by high food and fuel prices, hit an 18-month high of 7.5% in April in India, according to a Reuters poll.

Publishers across the country – for English and regional languages ​​- say they have faced severe paper shortages and higher production costs for months now. As a result, they are forced to raise book prices.

About 80% of books in India are published in Indian languages, according to a 2007 publication by the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP).

The average Indian spends less than $5 (€4.65) on a single book published in an Indian language. But there is a lack of data on the actual number of books published.

Lack of data makes publication trends difficult to discern

The British Council released a report in February titled “Indian Literature and Publishing Sector” to take note of the challenges faced by publishers.

In the report, the researchers noted that a 2007 study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) found that half of titles published in India were either in Hindi or English.

The FICCI report also indicates that approximately 90,000 titles are published each year. Researchers in the British Council report pointed to the “sporadic” monitoring of the sector as no studies have been undertaken on a regular basis.

A 2015 book market report by Nielsen India estimated that the Indian book market is worth $3.9 billion and growing by around 20% every year.

Increase in production costs after years of pandemic

Alind Maheshwari, director of the Rajkamal Prakashan Group, a notable publisher of Hindi books, told DW the company cannot publish as many books as before the pandemic.

“The paper used to cost around 60 rupees ($0.77/€0.72) per kilogram (2.2 pounds), and now costs 110 rupees per kilogram. It almost doubled,” Maheshwari said.

Delhi-based Rajkamal Prakashan published around 200-250 books a year before the pandemic. Today, they publish only 72-100 books a year, including translations of English books.

Maheshwari explained that book distribution channels have been significantly affected since the pandemic posed a challenge to book distributors or those responsible for supplying new books to stores.

Satabdi Mishra, co-founder of Walking BookFairs in the eastern state of Odisha, told DW that it was becoming more and more expensive to print books with “the rising prices of printing and transport services “.

Publication of some books was also suspended due to the pandemic, and “finally, when we started publishing it, the prices had gone up significantly,” Mishra said.

A global shortage of shipping vessels and rising shipping costs in December contributed in part to higher production costs.

Indian paper mills have also been forced to reduce operations to two to three times a week, industry experts said.

Arpita Das, independent publisher Yoda Press for English books, said a rise in book prices has put pressure on the company as it tries “to keep prices low enough for readers greedy can afford books”.

Declining readership

Thomas Abraham, managing director of Hachette India, one of the country’s Big Five publishing houses, said Indians read largely for utilitarian purposes and less for entertainment purposes.

In the UK and US, new titles generally do well with readers. But in India, “it’s the exact opposite,” Abraham told DW. People usually read a lot of older titles like books by Enid Blyton or Agatha Christie.

“The country is losing its bibliodiversity” — the diversity in the types of books people read — Abraham said.

A combination of changing reading habits and rising publishing costs has forced many publishers to get rid of so-called experimental or intermediate books, which are not high priority because they only have a specific readership.

The pandemic brings more e-reading

The Nielsen book report added that e-reading devices have not found too many buyers in India. However, the pandemic changed the scenario as people started buying more e-books from Amazon, especially in the first period of the lockdown in 2020.

Major publishers said e-book sales doubled during that time, but there was a caveat.

Even though e-book sales doubled, they contributed very little to revenue as they were unable to offset losses incurred during the first four months of lockdown in 2020, Abraham said.

“We’ve seen that eBook spikes only happen when there’s a deep discount offer from eBook sellers,” he said.

Others have taken matters into their own hands decisively.

Mishra said Walking BookFairs is selling one of its latest releases – a collection of short stories by various Indian authors – “only in local physical bookstores across India – to support local bookstores – and it is not not available for sale on Amazon or Flipkart”.

Edited by: Leah Carter