India’s Booming Book Industry

Via Himal Southasian

The publishing industry in Southasia as a whole, and India in particular, has never seen better times. With a whopping 550 million people below the age of 30, and with a significant and consumerist middle class, book sales in the country could well surpass all expectations.

It is further estimated by the various associations that a total of 90,000 titles are produced every year, while the potential growth is pegged at an optimistic 30 percent per year.

Amidst this excitement, one still finds a fractured infrastructure that presents a huge challenge and a consequent opportunity for the industry. First, there is the challenge of finding interested and trained professionals. Publishing was, and in many ways still is, a family-owned and family-run business, which means that many people in the profession were literally born into publishing. Others claim they sort of ended up there by chance. When publishers aim for expansion and recruitment, there seems to be a clear lack of both talent and professional training.

With new technologies coming into the sector, there is also a pressing need to train editors to adapt. ‘An editor’s job is becoming more and more challenging day by day, because of the digital revolution,’ Karal says. ‘The new modes of delivery of content have thrown newer challenges to the editors, who are now, besides linguistic competence, required to understand the potentials of the new technologies to deliver content to the end user in the most preferred ways, and get authors to develop content that can make the best use of them.’

Browsing through Books

Still, while the need remains significant, the Indian publishing industry has clearly managed to nurture editorial talent. This is evident from the accolades that Indian writing in English has been receiving the world over. ‘Being an editor in India is hugely satisfying, though not monetarily,’ Mukherjee says, ‘because of the growing market and because there is scope for taking publishing decisions which can spark off trends. In India, some editors are adventurous, and the industry gives them the scope for that.’ This opportunity to commission offbeat books that can set trends in new writing makes the field particularly interesting.

There has certainly been an upsurge in shelf space for books, at least in the major metropolitan areas, while online retail outfits such as Flipkart and InfiBeam have belied earlier predictions to become serious players in the business in India.

In this vibrant atmosphere comes the next interesting player: the agent. Until just a few years ago, barely one or two literary agents were operating out of India. As seen in ‘mature’ markets, agents play a crucial role in identifying, nurturing and exposing new talent in ways that publishers tend to find difficult to do, preoccupied as they are with other matters.

The ‘new’ writer, then, has an interesting arena in which to work. With a growing market in the Subcontinent, the old argument of writing for a foreign readership is losing its logic. Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi, each selling over 50,000 copies in India alone, represent a new breed of writers who are able to defy previous notions of what the market demands. Literary quality apart (defined, in any case, by a handful of critics fighting for the scant space the media permits for reviews), the mood that these authors create lends a new flavour to the scope of English-language publishing in India.

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