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AS THE year comes to an end, a troubling thought has been: Is the Indian publishing industry goingThrough a flat phase? Two years ago, Academic books market share was 40%, Children’s books was 30%, Trade publishing was 30%. Today, the K 12 market share is 71%, Higher Education share is 22% and only 7% is the share of the trade market. This means, only school books publishers are thriving, certainly trade publishers are not.
In 2012, experts said, publishing in India is growing at the rate of 15% and plus. If the printing industry is growing at four per cent annually, can the publishing industry be much different? Logically, even a dynamic industry will hover around 3% to 6% when the national growth too is nearabout.Number reports from abroad are startling. They also give us a ‘global’ benchmark. There were about 57,000 copies of Sherlock Holmes books sold in 2009 and about 88,000 in 2010, demand for these more-than-a-hundred-years-old titles keep increasing. Technology only supports demand, for example, by 2011 Lonely Planet sold 120 million books since inception and in early 2014, it had sold around 11 million units of its travel apps. In India, where print runs were 10,000 copies for a popular author, it is 2000 today. Newcomers begin with 500 copies at times. ‘Sales are down’, admit most marketing executives, even those for multinationals. To quote Anil Dharker, Tata Litfest Director, ‘When someone like Shobhaa Debecame a best-selling author, the number of copies of a book sold to achieve that status was around 50,000.... Then the peculiar Indian phenomenon of non-writers happened: people like Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi and others, bankers or managers all of them....’ Print runs went up to 20 lakh. But that phase was over in 2013. Today, a thousand copies of a title sold is ‘great’ for any publisher.
Another foreign data is a dead give away. In 2015, the rights deals signed at the Beijing International Book Fair amounted to 4,721, an 8.6% increase from 2014. Capaxil took just 13 publishers to Beijing. China translates at least five Indian works every year. Do we? In 2016 January, China will be Guest Country at the New Delhi World Book Fair. Half a dozen rights deals for a country of 9,000 odd publishers and 1.2 billion people does not say much for Indian publishing either.
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IT WAS especially important for India to be present at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, to redeem her image as one of the world’s greatest tolerant democracies. India-born Salman Rushdie, in his inaugural address said, publishing was the ‘embodiment’ and ‘guardian of freedom of speech’. He added, ‘If you believe in a single vision of the truth..., then people offering diverse visions of the truth become your enemies....But yet oddly, literature often survives this battle....Literature is unbelievably durable and strong (though) writers are weak.’ The FBF is the world’s largest book fair and the greatest opportunity for India to showcase its intellectual prowess, its literary merit, its publishing capability.
Students of military history know what the Athenian Thucydides said in 5th century BC, that a state which separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and fighting done by fools. Just arms and strength is not enough to win battles, just industry is not enough to make a state great, scholarship needs to go hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship. India’s promises are very different from policies, however. It was around this time in 2014 that India replaced German with Sanskrit as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas, which had 68,000 students studying the language. Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Germany in April this year, HRD Minister Smriti Irani told ambassador Michael Steiner that India ‘wants to expand the Indo-German Strategic Partnership (IGSP) in higher education’. The Prime Minister told top German business leaders in Hannover where the biggest industrial fair in the world is held, ‘India is taking steps to ensure ease of doing business in India’. While the government was wooing Hannovar and Dusseldorf, one repeatedly heard from bureaucrats in the concerned ministries, ‘why do you want to go to Frankfurt always... why not other fairs?’, when India should have led the Asian publishing industry at FBF. Early October, when Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Business Forum organised by NASSCOM and the Fraunhofer Institute, Bengaluru, PM Modi told her, ‘Ours is the country of the young and will remain so for many more years. Never before was India so well prepared to absorb talent, technology and investment from outside’. On her part Merkel said that Indian investors will be welcome in Germany. For all this to happen and such relationship to succeed, young India needs to know German, be seen in places like the FBF, participate in bilateral ‘cultural exchanges’ of global proportions like the five-day FBF where over one hundred countries participate. Where else can India showcase herself as a ‘global City of Ideas... through business decisions, new partnerships or (and) new products?’ as Juergen Boos, Director Frankfurt Book Fair so aptly put it during the opening. That is the importance of FBF.