India as a publishing super power

“We have the opportunity to create the largest market in the world by readership,” shares Anantha Padmanabhan, Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers India, in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

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HarperCollins India is one of the leading book publishers in India. The company’s strategic partnerships with various publishers both Indian and international and strong relationships with booksellers and distributors across the subcontinent have been instrumental in HarperCollins’ growth story. Here, Anantha Padmanabhan, Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers India, shares his views on India as a publishing super power.

Indian publishing market…

According to a market survey in 2015, India is a $7 billion publishing industry including academic and consumer publishing. India is also one of the youngest and largest English speaking audiences in the world and indeed in the top 10 Indian languages too. Over 400 million kids are undergoing formal school education. Given our vibrant economy, a very good creative industry, some of the finest publishers in the world are in India with excellent editorial and publishing services, and now well established online retail to support offline book retail, India has the opportunity to become the country with the most readers.. (By value the US and UK will remain the biggest markets). We estimate that consumer publishing has about 50 million readers and we should aim to double that number in the next 5 years.

Indian book market today…

The book market has been stable and growing consistently at a regular run rate of between 10-12% every year. The current crisis has taught the publishing industry to rapidly innovate and change their publishing, marketing and selling process. I think we are going to see a big change in the way consumers buy books. At the beginning of 2021, with almost 10 months of the post pandemic market, we are seeing 95% of the shopping is happening online and that e-books have grown 100% in sales and audio book sales are growing too. This must be leveraged to grow the market – because now a lot more customers have begun to use only online for shopping – and they might have been reluctant book buyers. Publishers have increased their digital assets exponentially to try and replace the ‘browsing experience’ so readers can make faster choices on what to read next. Books for children will also see a dramatic shift and with schools and public spaces continuing to have restricted access – children will need more and more books. Retailers who manage physical spaces will need to think about how they will reach their readers and find ways to retain the experience.

Key strengths of Indian book market…

Like with all other markets too, publishing will be driven by a vibrant demand and a growing readership. We have the opportunity to create the largest market in the world by readership and must work towards achieving that.

Key challenges…

At the moment, key challenges include govt regulations, piracy, lack of physical retail (even after the pandemic, we just don’t have enough bookstores in India), libraries and other programs that can promote reading and make books part of our daily lives.

Anantha is Chief Executive Officer at HarperCollins India.

Anantha is Co-Chair of the FICCI Publishing Committee. He has also served on the Executive Committee of the Association of Publishers in India (API), where he was actively involved in activities that aimed at creating a level playing field for Indian publishing, fighting against piracy in the market, and protecting authors against Copyright and Territorial Infringement.

Anantha joined HarperCollins in 2015, after having spent over 18 years at Penguin Random House. Prior to publishing he worked at a bookstore in Chennai, India, between 1992 and 1997 where he discovered his love for books. Anantha is a published author and photographer.

What needs to be done?

The govt, both at the centre and the states, can do various things to make books and reading a national pastime. There could be a National Book Day for India. I think Kerala has a day earmarked already. We need to celebrate this nationally.

Besides, we need well stocked and well maintained public libraries, these places should be accessible for ALL – not just physical access like for wheel chairs but also for the differently-abled. We have long ignored people who are differently abled and have to provide books and reading materials in all other formats – Braille, large print, audio and video. Our libraries aren’t conducive for senior citizens either – in a country with so many million people who are in their post retirement phase, a great free library would be a wonderful space for them to spend their mornings at. Indian languages are vibrant with every language having its own publishing and when I mean good libraries, we should make books from all languages available everywhere. I know it’s obvious but libraries would be a great place for children too, especially for children from the weaker sections of the society.

The govt has also got to support and help publishers and other content developers fight piracy in all formats – print and electronic. Piracy significantly impacts author royalties, sales through legitimate channels and therefore retailer revenues and indeed livelihoods. Piracy also enables child labour. This is definitely a space where we need more intervention.

Future growth prospects, trends and innovations you foresee…

The industry in India, including all parts of the value chain, have to work towards increasing readership for consumer publishing. We have to catch kids young and make sure that books are part of their daily life. Print publishing is in a very good place and alongside, we have to increase the purchase and use of e-books and audio books. Innovations can be made in all aspects – publishing, publishing processes, anti-piracy, digital marketing, experiential value of books, retail, and indeed exploring all the various formats – digital, gaming, learning, AI, voice and video. There are innumerable ways in which stories can be told and consumed.

Publishing in India in the next 10 years….

Publishing in India will definitely be much larger in the next 10 years. It will be more vibrant in how books are perceived, celebrated, sold and consumed. We should have reached 200 million readers (indicator being people who buy consumer publishing) and we should be often seeing books selling more than a million copies each.

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