2019 Guadalajara Book Fair Guest of Honour Spotlight on India – Reading and Consumption Habits

India is this year’s Guest of Honour country at the 2019 Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 30th to December 8th ). To help you brush up on this exciting and growing market before the fair, we will be sharing excerpts all month of our 2018 market guide on India, written by expert consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose. Today’s post focuses on reading and consumption habits in the Indian book market, particularly the significant growth in buying books for children and the education market.

Reading patterns in India are not always easy to discern since they vary from region to region, as well as linguistically and demographically. Distributors and publishers vouch for how different strategies must be adopted for different nooks of the country. Further, there is a deluge of books being published locally and imported. Every big publishing firm has its own product managers who figure out which books to select and bring into the country. They circulate Advance Information Sheets (AIS) of the international titles to collect orders from bookshops, online marketplaces, and individual customers. Distributors rely on publishers but also have a vast stable of titles to select from; they curate a diverse selection of titles, varied by region. Popular categories include children’s literature, fiction/trade literature, self-help, mass-market or commercial fiction, MBS (Mind, Body, Spirit), autobiographies, religious books, mythology, historical fiction, and narrative non-fiction, particularly politics and history. There was unanimous agreement that children’s literature has been selling well despite a slight recent dip in the reading patterns of children and youth, who comprise 50% of the population. Whether a bookstore chain or a bookstore owner, all say that children’s and young adult literature is a driver of their sales. Independent bookstore owners say that they curate their books to accommodate children’s literature, literary fiction, and MBS titles.

According to Nielsen’s Understanding the Indian Book Market 2015, the majority of respondents (85%) had bought new books in the past 12 months, using both online and bricks and mortar outlets, with significant numbers borrowing from friends, buying second-hand, or acquiring through their educational institution or workplace. One in ten downloaded free ebooks, with the same proportion borrowing from public libraries. Of those who had bought new, 71% had bought education books and 61% had bought trade books. Books, especially professional/business and academic/textbooks, were mainly bought by those under 35 years of age. Women formed the majority of buyers for adult fiction and non-fiction, while men were the majority of buyers of other categories, especially professional/business books.

Of the three out of five general adult consumers who had bought at least one trade book in the last 12 months, 30% had bought a children’s book, 20% had bought both adult fiction and non-fiction, while just 6% said they had bought a professional or business book. The likelihood of purchasing increased with education (35% of the least well-educated had bought, compared to 89% of those with a post-graduate degree) and income (54% of those with an income under INR 6,000 compared to 85% of those with an income over INR 40,000). On June 16, 2017, the prime minister of India launched the National Reading Mission program.

Growth in Children’s Literature

Undoubtedly the growth in children’s literature is unprecedented. It is the one segment in publishing that has shown healthy growth year over year for at least the past decade. Many factors contribute to this phenomenal increase, some of which are listed above. Others include the increased visibility of books within the school community by holding book fairs, parking book mobiles on school grounds, children’s literature festivals such as Bookaroo, storytelling sessions, designated time for reading in classrooms, and the development of classroom libraries. In addition, independent bookstore owners and senior management of bookstore chains repeatedly confirmed that parents are giving children pocket money to buy books at the local bookstore in order to wean them away from digital immersion. There are even book subscription-based reading programs like Enchantico where children are sent a box of goodies, consisting primarily of the latest book titles appropriate for their age. The parcels are customized and sent out at the beginning of every month. There has also been a shift away from bookstores stocking international titles toward local titles and Indian authors—indicating an increase in volume of local children’s literature publishing. So much so that HarperCollins India has just announced the launch of its India program for children and young adults.

This growing presence of children’s literature is remarkable since Indians have traditionally relied heavily upon oral storytelling for children, inevitably narrated by elders such as grandparents. With the shift to nuclear families, migration to cities, and both parents working, however, there is a rising need for age-appropriate literature and stories. The past two decades have seen massive migration from rural areas and tier-2 and tier-3 cities to the metropolises. This has dislocated traditional joint families where multiple generations stayed together, one benefit of which was that the children were entertained by the elders with stories. This tradition is slowly disintegrating and parents who move to the cities are forever looking for opportunities to fill this vacuum. Many seek books that will teach children cultural and moral values and support them in their education. Reading for leisure is still a relatively new phenomenon. Once the children reach middle school, it levels off for two reasons: 1) parents discourage reading except for school textbooks as it is a competitive environment, and 2) children themselves are under immense pressure to finish school assignments so have little time to spare. Yet students do make time for prescribed material and supplementary readers and this is the space many private publishers step into by recommending books from their lists, both local and imported/international titles. The choice of these titles often depends on the purchasing power of the school/parents and the prescribed curriculum.

Scholastic India surveyed more than 1,700 parents and kids—representing the country’s English-speaking population with access to the Internet—about topics such as reading aloud, reading independently at school, reading frequency, the level of importance that both children and parents place on reading skills, and finally, what children most want in books. Some of the important insights were that 50% of children aged 6–17 said their class or school had a designated time during the school day to read a book of their choice independently, but few kids have this opportunity frequently. Confirming the importance of this time, children who are given time for independent reading at school are more likely to enjoy reading books for fun, feel it is important, and do so frequently compared with those who are not.

Across all ages, an overwhelming majority of children (87%) said they would read more if they could find more books that they like. Further, kids agree that their favourite books—and the ones they are most likely to finish—are the ones they choose them- selves. Curiously, the publishing industry in India indicates that overall print book consumption exceeds digital by a huge margin, yet the KFRR study found that more than six in ten children aged 6–17 (64%) have read an ebook, with the oldest children the most likely to have read digitally. The survey also found that 80% of children aged 6–17 agree they will always want to read print books, even though there are ebooks available.

The Education Book Market

Despite this remarkable shift in reading patterns for children, reading in India has been mostly governed by the education system. Most Indians read because they need to pass an exam. Therefore, whether for school years or later, the educational book market is large and continues to show robust growth. For example, Arihant Publishers, a relative newcomer to the field, has become quite a significant publisher in the education market. As well, S. Chand & Company Ltd. went public and successfully redefined themselves as an “education content company.” Even publishing firms specializing in trade literature, such as Speaking Tiger Books, have a separate division focused on school and academic books. Penguin India’s product line for children has slowly begun to expand as well to include titles that will align successfully with school syllabi. Oxford University Press (OUP) India has one of the largest departments catering to educational publishing, creating books according to school syllabi. Given that the state budget for education is insufficient for the demand, private publishers are a critical component of the ecosystem. Increasingly, reading consumption even in schools is done with the use of technology. Web-based teaching and learning is rapidly emerging as a predominant paradigm in the delivery of education in India. For this to be effective, trustworthy content is required.

The education market is one of the largest consumers of books for leisure reading and educational purposes. Recent years have seen exponential growth in this market with direct outreach programs such as book fairs, author and illustrator workshops, literary festivals in schools, literary weeks, etc. Publishers too are offering more and more books and customized packages of supplementary readers aligned to school curriculums.

For more detailed information and guidance on how to succeed in this market, download our Selling Canadian Books in India market guide today.


11/12/2019 | Book Fairs, Export, Market Guides