Publishers Weekly estimates that Indian pirates cost the global publishing industry about $36 million a year; we are among the largest book piracy centres in Asia.
The book pirates always get it right: they anoint a few (and only a few) literary writers (Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Seth), they know when the market shifts from an obsession with The Secret to books by Indian authors on diets. They also know how much the market will stand: the classic story about Chetan Bhagat’s success is that the pirates were selling copies of his first book at Rs 150/- when the retail price was Rs 95/- but they still had takers.
Most book pirates have much better market research than most publishers in India. One of the larger pirates – the trade is shifting into the hands of a few large operators who run networks of illegal printers and vendors around the country – gets his news by tracking over 600 distributors and printing presses across the North of India. His charts rate textbook publishers and trade publishers by their track record of bestsellers over a 10-year period.
As piracy evolves, the book pirates increasingly have access to print technologies that allow them to do their own printing. There are urgent fears that as offset printing of US books shifts to India, among other markets, piracy of books in this segment will boom. The piracy trade and the printing trade are intertwined; publishers try to protect themselves by working only with trusted printers, but once a book’s out, it’s fair game for the pirates.
The one thing that pirates have that publishers don’t is a map of book hunger – but they aren’t sharing.