India’s publishing industry: a trickier start for e-publishing

By Adam Pollard

Printed books continue to be the most sought-after choice by Indian readers. An annual growth rate of 15% in the print publishing industry is indeed striking at a time when most international markets have taken a plunge following the emergence of digital platforms.

India’s print publishing is currently valued at $2 billion, and a survey by the National Book Trust shows that one-fourth of the country’s young population (close to 83 million in 2010) can be considered book readers. According to Sudhir Malhotra, President of the Federation of Indian Publishers, India supports about 60,000 big and small publishers who print 100,000 plus titles in English and 28th other regional languages each year.

However, while this is attracting a lot of attention, there are challenges which are giving rise to a phase of consolidation in the publishing industry. Taking a closer look at the reality on the ground, many bookstores are in fact shutting down or redefining their models to move away from printed books. Recently, Reliance Retail decided to shut down Time-Out, its standalone brand of book-music-movie stores. And another retail chain, Crosswords, has focused on increasing its stock of merchandise such as toys and stationery, and limiting its supply of books to children’s and bestselling titles. Other challenges facing the industry include the high cost of rents for retail space, and for publishers, the rising cost of paper.

As is to be expected, digital publishing is likely to grow quickly over the next few years. Worldwide, digital media has quickly overtaken traditional books, however, in India, this has taken longer to develop, with a tiny portion of the market estimated at 0.05% of e-book readers. Flipkart and Amazon already have significant business in the country and are credited with changing the landscape of book shopping.

Up until 2010, the digital publishing industry was practically nonexistent in India, with only a few audio books sold by international publishers to an affluent audience who could afford their prices. Since then, some enthusiastic digital publishers have been entering the Indian market and slowly gaining traction with main-stream readers.

The fragmented nature of India’s publishing industry poses difficulties, as it is comprised by many small, medium and family-owned businesses that are risk adverse and not keen to invest in digitization. Also challenging is establishing a pricing strategy for the market, and it is currently charging the same price for e-books as it is for printed books. IP protection remains a concern.

The quick penetration of new, inexpensive technologies and improved connectivity are likely to drive growth further, but it will be interesting to see how it develops in this very peculiar environment.

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