India is this year’s Guest of Honour country at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 30th to December 8th ). To help you brush up on this exciting and growing market before the fair, today we are sharing an excerpt of our 2018 market guide on India, written by expert consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose.
Books in India are known to be low priced since the reader is particular about price points. The most acceptable price points for paperback are INR 299 or below, with hard-backs at INR 699. With rising discounts and returns, these price points are not really tenable but the industry will not raise prices since books are not seen as a consumer product and still have an educational identity. There is no standard preference for formats though paperback is most visible, probably because its production is cost-effective and price point favoured by the buyer.
Recently, publishers have begun to migrate to the “one-book” model whereby a POD vendor provides access to their backlist. In fact, Ingram partnered with Repro to offer publishers the option to publish one title as per a customer’s request. These are usually fulfilled in India by online retailers like Amazon and Flipkart, which has pros and cons. The pros being that it immediately reduces the burden of maintaining a backlist inventory and warehousing costs; it is convenient to the customer to order online; and the turnaround time for fulfillment is 24–48 hours. Emphasis locally is more on customer fulfillment than adherence to time, however, and the pricing is on par with global practices, including the sliding scale of cost to print run. Despite production and fulfillment to the customer being the responsibility of the POD vendor, the challenge lies in the fact that the cost of returns is the publisher’s responsibility. In India, most customers prefer the COD option. Online retailers offer customers a minimum of 1 week to 1 month to return any goods they purchase so books ordered POD become the publisher’s liability. Further, orders made in India can only be fulfilled locally and cannot be shipped abroad. Nevertheless, industry experts reiterate that POD is an important area for international publishers to explore.
Ever since the Kindle and other digital devices were introduced, of the 9,000 publishers in India, estimates are that more than 70% have digitized their content to produce ebook versions since smartphones and e-readers offer consumers opportunities to access digital content. Now with the arrival of Kindle Direct Publishing, writers also have the option of self-publishing digitally and circumventing the cost of a print edition. Further, books have emerged as an instrumental category for e-commerce business, accounting for 15% of the overall e-commerce trade, trailing just behind electronics.
Yet, unlike global trends where digital books form a substantial chunk of the entire business by contributing 26% of the revenue, in India ebooks contribute approximately 2%. There are many reasons for this limited penetration in a country where digital devices abound, particularly smartphones, primarily the misconception that downloading ebooks increases data consumption and thus cost. Another reason is the gendered division in families, particularly those who are not rich, where there may be only one phone per family with the data card held by the patriarch who lends it to family as per his convenience, usually Sunday only. Nevertheless, in terms of unit sales, it is still a sizeable number, and announcements such as “Amazon’s audio biz Audible to soon launch in India” integrated with Kindle can only boost ebook sales.
Digital consumption in India is driven by deep discounts but it does account for about 3% to 7% of publisher revenues (depending on who you speak to). Kindle is undoubtedly the market leader, yet completion rates of reading an ebook are bad (only 18% of digital purchases are read cover to cover). As Kindle books has shown, ebooks have made language publishing more viable. Many Indian language authors/independent presses use self-publishing tools like Kobo Writing Life and KDP to reach their readers (in India and abroad). Of these, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Marathi, and Hindi have the most digital books. In fact this is borne out by the growing popularity of an open source digital storytelling platform for children launched by Pratham Books called Storyweaver, which is available in multiple languages. Within two years of its launch, it has been a resounding success, allowing interactive engagement not just by levelling the books according to the young reader’s abilities but also permitting users to upload their own stories. At the time of writing, it had 6,271 stories in 103 languages with 2.2 million reads on- and offline.
The size of the global audiobook industry is estimated at approximately USD$3.5 billion. In India it is nowhere near this despite Audible establishing an Indian office in February 2017 and the integration of Audible audiobooks on Kindle in India, announced in November 2017. There have been a few experiments, primarily for the visually challenged and primary school students. Some non-profit entities and associations of schools for the blind have studios where volunteers record audiobooks. Some start-ups, Reado and Overdrive, tried dabbling in this field but soon closed down.
One of the earliest publishing firms to create audiobooks successfully for children was Karadi Tales. The audiobooks are narrated by a roster of celebrities and set to classical Indian ragas performed by trained musicians. For older children, Karadi Tales offers Charkha, a series for young adults featuring musical audiobooks based on biographies and autobiographies of eminent Indians. In addition, the philanthropic organization, Tata Trust, sponsored Kitablet, an e-library app that hosts children’s books from some of India’s best publishers and audiobooks form part of this digital library. According to informed sources, these audiobooks have same-language subtitling to help children struggling to read. Almost everyone, even children who can read, seem to enjoy the audiobooks. These include Indian children’s books from publishers such as Tulika, Eklavya, and Pratham Books. It is a tiny stable for now but will be expanded. Industry sources also say that publishers are slowly beginning to create audiobooks based on their lists, with a mix of a mix of frontlist and backlist. These are not being released into the market immediately, but a library of digital content is being created.
Storytel, the Swedish audiobook firm, has also arrived in India. Within a few months, Storytel has partnered with publishing firms to launch in three languages—English, Hindi, and Marathi.
Google Play—already a fairly engaging platform for ebooks in the local market—also announced its decision to venture into audiobooks. The introduction of audiobooks will make it a significant player given that most people in India prefer the Android OS. This is virgin territory, as no one has really explored the market for audiobooks sufficiently; however, given the wide consumption of music with its dedicated subscription base on platforms such as Apple Music, Spotify, Sawan, and Gaana, it stands to reason that at the right price point, the adoption of audiobooks will also happen. For digital and audiobooks to make sense to the Indian audience, they must be heavily discounted.
Want to find out more? Download our full market guide on Selling Canadian Books in India