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Read All About It: India’s Book Market Is Poised for Growth

3 minute read | March 2016

India’s literacy rate has seen significant improvement over the past decade, thanks in part to government investments in education. According to the 2009 National Youth Readership Survey, three out of four youths in the country are literate, and a quarter of the youth population (an astonishing 83 million) identify themselves as book readers. By 2020, the country’s literacy level is projected to reach 90%.

And that has huge implications for the global book industry.

India is currently the world’s second-most populous country with over 1.28 billion people. And population growth forecasts estimate that India will surpass the most populous country today, China, by the end of 2030, with a population of some 1.53 billion.

In addition to this extraordinary demographic growth, the Indian economy is also on a path of robust expansion, with an average annual increase in the GDP of 8.6% over the last three years. This makes India the world’s fastest growing economy.

To better understand publishing in India on an industry level, Nielsen Book undertook a major research project, resulting in The India Book Market Report. In addition to reviewing the economic parameters of the publishing industry and the size of the book market, the study also looked at governmental frameworks and policies, and the impact of amended laws on book publishing, book-buying behaviours and book consumers’ characteristics across different types of publishing.

So what types of books make up the Indian market?

Whilst reading for pleasure is an important component of the market and the audience for general trade books (fiction, nonfiction and noneducational children’s) looks set to grow, school books account for the bulk of the country’s overall book market. In fact, purchases of K-12 school books are estimated to account for some 71% of the market, with higher education books accounting for an additional 22%. 

India’s total population is becoming increasingly educated. The gross enrolment ratio (GER) for K-12 schooling was 84.6% in 2013-2014, and the Planning Commission has projected this figure will rise to 93.2% by 2017. This will mean nearly 100% enrolment at elementary level, over 90% enrolment at secondary level and 65% enrolment at senior secondary level. Nielsen’s forecasts for market growth in the educational book sector show this already extremely significant market growing by some 19% over the next five years, predicated both on ever greater numbers of children entering school—and remaining there longer—and more parents able to afford the resources to support them in their learning needs.

The unique features of India’s demographics in terms of a growing population, especially of young people who are literate and educated, also present tremendous opportunities for the growth and expansion of the publishing industry in all sectors, not just education. But these huge opportunities do not come without challenges. For example, India has 22 official languages and, with regional languages and dialects from all states, the figure climbs to more than 1,600.  

In addition to having to cope with such a fragmented market demographically, brick-and-mortar booksellers in India also have to deal with competition from new channels to market offered by e-commerce. These online retailers are often, as in other countries, attractive on both range and price to an increasingly mobile population. Other obstacles include the geography and size of the country, as well as the inefficiencies and costs involved with poor infrastructure. These make the distribution of large volumes of books to all parts of the country a logistical problem for publishers.

Despite the many challenges faced by the book market in India, however, the industry is fast expanding, creating jobs and contributing to the education and literacy of the country. Those working in this vibrant, influential and significant sector believe it is now time to receive ‘industry’ status so that the book trade can gain financial support and work more closely with the government in furthering the overall development of the country.

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