Nilanjana Roy predicts how the world of books will change dramatically in 2016.
Ananth Padmanabhan, HarperCollins India’s chief executive officer, calls young readers “reluctant readers” who are open to being influenced. Booksellers confirm his view that it is these readers who’ve propelled the shift from an India where English-language bestsellers were dominated by John Grisham, Paulo Coelho and company to local bestsellers like Chetan Bhagat, Amish, Devdutt Pattnaik and Ravinder Singh.
Padmanabhan points to the power of the social media to drive consumption, and says: “18-30 are reading almost everything in the top shelf — romance continues to dominate, but also across mythology, crime, humour, biographies, true crime, business, even literary fiction — essentially books that make noise. The one change that is apparent is that readers are not worried about whether they bought mass market or literary fiction.
Despite attempts by several publishers to find the Indian Judy Blume, there are few takers for Indian young adult fiction. “It’s just not selling, nobody reads it,” says Sayoni Basu, director and founder, Duckbill Books. Other children’s publishers agree — Indian children and their parents will pick up stories by local authors aimed at the pre-school and primary school reader, but there are no big blockbuster bestsellers in the teen and young adult market.
Basu has seen the appetite for children’s books grow — the success of Pratham Books and Tulika Books, for instance, is a pointer to the hunger for books for pre-teen readers in English and other Indian languages. Her hypothesis is that teenagers’ aspirations are fixed abroad. They’ll read authors like Anthony Horowitz, Suzanne Collins, Jeff Kinney, however. Another factor, according to booksellers, is that Indian parents still prefer books that are educational or information-heavy.
Studies show that Indians do read e-books — but they prefer free downloads (either legal out-of-copyright books or illegal pirated PDFs) to paying for e-books. Despite these indicators, many publishers think e-books have a future in India, especially with the rise of reading on smartphones for Generation Text. Some publishers, Juggernaut in particular, are betting on delivering content tailored to smartphone readers. By the end of 2016, we’ll have a better sense of how Indian readers have responded.