2019 Guadalajara Book Fair Guest of Honour Spotlight on India – Sales and Distribution

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.

The book market of India is divided into trade books—including children’s and young adult literature—school textbooks or K–12 publishing, professional books, and academic lists. Every segment is currently showing growth for various reasons.

Though brick-and-mortar bookstores exist in metropolitan cities, in recent years some of the older ones have closed. Three reasons for this are 1) an increase in rents, 2) sales lost to online marketplaces, and 3) lack of succession if the next generation is not interested in inheriting the book business. The good news is that many independent bookstores continue to exist, and newer, smaller bookshops are also being established. For about four years now, online retailers such as Amazon and Flipkart have made books available in tier-2 and tier-3 cities as well, so distribution is no longer restricted to the metropolitan areas. Significantly, they allow payments on a cash-on- delivery (COD) basis, as well as allowing returns within 30 days of purchase. Other ways in which books are made available, particularly for commuters, are crossroads/ traffic signal hawkers, pavement booksellers/newsagents, and railway and metro stations. According to Nielsen’s Book Market Report 2015, 29% of respondents had bought at least some of their books from these types of outlets. As well, volunteers such as “Books on Delhi Metro” have begun to leave books on the metro for readers, joining the Little Free Library and BookCrossing communities that promote literacy and reading.

Many other factors contribute to the growth of book sales in India, particularly the growth of the Indian middle class. In many cases, families now have both husband and wife earning salaries, which has inevitably resulted in an increase of disposable income, thus releasing part of the household budget for books bought for pleasure reading rather than to pass an examination! This shift is partly due to increased emphasis by schools on supplementary and leisure reading, apart from prescribed textbooks, and increased awareness by parents and educators to wean children away from digital devices. Encouraging children to read print books gives them a more sensuous, tactile experience. This has had an unexpected positive benefit—an increase in storytelling sessions for children, and an increase in the popularity of home-grown authors whose distinctive brand of commercial fiction has created a segment of readers that did not exist earlier. Sales for mass-market fiction authors are in the hundreds of thousands of copies, with magnificent pre-orders. With many keen readers still unable to afford new books despite the low price points in the Indian book trade, various initiatives—such as selling books by weight, offering three for the price of INR 100, and monitoring the algorithms of online retailers for price drops by intrepid entrepreneurs who then inform their online groups—have arisen to assist.


The limited library system in India also contributes to the emphasis on consumer book buying. The huge gap between the estimated 50,000 libraries (state and private) that exist and the 450,000 libraries required for a population of this size means that the cur- rent library system is unable to meet the demand. Stepping into this gap, volunteers have been setting up community libraries that begin by catering primarily to children but have extended their services to adults as well. Other volunteer activities include crowdsourcing to help provide books for different groups—schools, orphanages, communities, etc. There is no denying that the future of the publishing industry is bright as the literacy rate continues to grow and is estimated to reach 90% in 2020. Increased spending by the government on education, digital initiatives, and outsourcing of publishing services are all identified strengths of the Indian publishing industry.


There is no ready census of bookstores available in India. As mentioned above, some bookstores have been shutting down, but some of the older standalone bookstores that managed to survive have begun to add more stores. For instance, Teksons, Midlands, Om Book Shop, CMYK, Full Circle Bookstore, and Bahri Sons are family-owned businesses that have now slowly begun to add branches. At the same time, smaller, multipurpose bookstores have been opening around the country. Bookstores are in the process of reinventing themselves to counter the threat from online retailers. For instance, bookstores are offering multiple services besides the traditional bookstore: library services, cafés, book events such as storytelling, author interactions, book launches, workshops, etc. Some of these events may be ticketed. Niche bookstores, especially those specializing in children’s literature, even offer a subscription plan to their calendar of events. The relatively new bookstore owners are equally divided between renting space and owning it; some are also moving into malls to take advantage of other consumer traffic. And, children are frequenting bookstores more often now if their pocket money comes with the condition that it can only be spent on books!


Over the years, book distribution has become more streamlined with a handful of main distributors, but is still a far cry from what it should be. The distributor layer still exists just for the convenience of collections and regional stockholding. The distribution of books between brick-and-mortar stores and online retail is an even 50:50 split with noticeable surges in sales during festivals. Many distributors found the arrival of online retailers disruptive as the discount structures changed. Customer patterns—browsing and discovering books offline, then buying online—also shifted. In terms of stocking, a distinct pattern is emerging with bookstores offering more locally published titles and online stores selling more imported/international titles.

On average, distributors must screen 2,000 new titles monthly from publishers alone. They are now being requested to distribute self-published titles as well, which they sometimes agree to do. Specialized distributors also cater to railway station bookstores and newsagents.

Publishers are generally wary of piracy so are careful about releasing ebooks of their frontlist titles. Juggernaut Books, however, has a publishing model based on digital access to books on the smartphone. Self-published titles, on the other hand, get distributed via digital platforms such as Kindle Direct Publishing, pen drives, WhatsApp, and other unconventional methods.

To learn more about exporting books to India, download our full market guide on Selling Canadian Books in India .

11/20/2019 | Book Fairs, Distribution, Export, Market Guides