India: From a service hub to a potential market?

Some recent news on the Indian publishing scene inspired me to explore how the market is emerging in the trade category, especially in the English language.

  • The Tata Group is aggressively focusing on their book publishing business. The company aims to be amongst the top five in India within the next three years.
  • Penguin India has chosen one of the most popular Indian writers, Shobhaa Dé, to acquire a new line of books for the publishing house. The imprint – Shobhaa Dé Books – to be released in 2011 will cater to an urban English speaking audience.
  • Penguin-India has been recording approx. 25% growth in sales. Random House, Harper Collins, Rupa and some others have been increasing their titles each year.

Outsourcing destination! That’s the foremost identity while referring to ‘India’ and ‘publishing’ together. India has emerged as a key destination for sourcing publishing services for US and UK based publishers for over two decades. But publishers viewing India as a potential market ? – It’s a different ballgame!

India represents a highly fragmented market, with a large number of publishers (over 16,000), publishing content in all Indian languages as well as English. The industry provides very low priced titles (compared to other countries), that benefit millions of readers/students across India. The market is diverse – with multi-national publishers like Wiley, Pearson, Macmillan, McGraw Hill competing with local publishers, primarily in the education category.

But there is a new market that is opening up… English trade publishing in India. Let’s look at some stats on India’s demographics before we get deeper:

  • India‘s population – approximately 1.17 billion people (estimate for July, 2009)
  • Population in the age group – 15-64 years: 63.6%, Median age: 25.1 years
  • Native Hindi dialect speakers -  41.03%
  • Native English speakers  -  12%  (2nd most spoken language in India)

This group of native urban English speakers especially within the 18-40 years age group category is creating a unique consumption boom in India across various products and services. Interestingly, English is the common thread across the urban layer of this group that is set to change the publishing space in India. The runaway success of Chetan Bhagat (the highest selling author in India, after a series of successful titles to his credit) in the fiction book category is an indication of the tremendous appetite that this slice of demography has for English fiction. Also implies how underserved this market is! While mass consumption is the key ingredient of success for publishers, several areas like children’s literature, cookbooks, specialty books, etc. are also finding an audience ready to consume!

So while there is potential, Indian trade publishing in English has been hugely untapped and therefore underdeveloped. Globally, publishers are always looking to address new markets. So when the steam builds up on this front, what can one expect?

  • Local and global publishers jostling for their share in the opportunity pie – therefore more books in the market.
  • Replication of western publishing models in the Indian context – this will drive the need for global publishers to differentiate market characteristics and estimate actual demand.
  • Demand for writers/authors in English that understand the ‘pulse’ and therefore drive market demand
  • Plethora of wannabe writers will emerge with dreams to strike gold, therefore increasing publishers’ travails to sort the worthy from the ordinary, spurring a need for content reviewers.
  • Growth of another need – training in English skills which may include creative writing, copy-editing, specialist editing, and proof reading skills. This time round – not for western sensibilities but for the local palate!

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