Unlike West, publishing growing in India

New Delhi, Feb 10 (IANS) The printed book is still sought after by readers in India. The publishing industry, valued at nearly $2 billion, is witnessing a healthy growth despite the slump in the international market and threats from digital mediums.

Experts say the millennia-old tradition of written texts, conservative Indian mindsets, vigorous event-based promotions of the reading culture, the sudden spurt in national and state-level literature festivals and competitive pricing are keeping the industry on the move, drawing new segments of readers.

This was evident at the World Book Fair 2013, which clocked heavy footfalls and transacted several international deals.

According to recent projections by the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Indian publishing industry was registering a growth rate of 15 percent annually and is estimated at nearly $2 billion.

"Publishing is in a healthy shape in India. The good news is that there is a proliferation of publishers," said Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resource development and writer.

Shedding light on Indian publishing, Tharoor said "the country today was seeing a number of world class publishers and a number of Indian publishers who have met international standards of production and design quality, among others".

"Indians read widely...Conventional books should be celebrated," the minister said accounting for the publishing boom at the World Book Fair in the capital Feb 4-10.

A survey by the National Book Trust, which hosts the World Book Fair, says one-fourth of the youth population (nearly 83 million in 2010) can be identified as "readers of books" and the number is growing.

Chairman of the National Book Trust, A. Sethumadhavan, a Malayalam writer, said "the diversity of India and the fact that the two-thirds of the Indian population was young (35 years of age) was driving the publishing industry in the country and allowing books to retain relevance".

Sudhir Malhotra, president of the Federation of Indian Publishers, estimates that the country supports at least 60,000 big and small publishers who print approximately 100,000 titles in English and in 28 regional languages every year.

"Book publishing has undergone a metamorphosis from the handful of publishers in the 1950s. The picture looks bright but the progress is uneven with English being the most talked about language of publishing. Several other important regional language are trying to keep pace," Malhotra told IANS.

He added that India presents a unique scenario in the publishing growth story like its syncretic culture that allows both the old and the new to co-exist. Digital publishing complements conventional publishing like many other western nations where e-books have edged out printed ones.

"E-books are broadly a retailing area for publishers and lucrative because we do not need to invest in papers, do not need to transport consignments. More middle-class Indian readers are reading on smart phones. If a reader wants to copy a book, an e-book is the way for him," Malhotra said.

In the face of the steady growth in publishing, the industry that is still unorganised without "official industry status" is looking to streamline itself with the help business forums like Federation of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

At a recent forum "CEO Speak: A Forum for Publishing", a joint initiative between the National Book Trust and FCCI at the World Book Fair, a chief executives and publishers expressed concern about "rampant piracy, undercutting in prices and discounts in books, the implementation of the National Book Promotion Policy drafted by former human resource development minister Kapil Sibal in 2010 to enable quality production of books.

Outlining the problems faced by the publishing industry, Himanshu Gupta, joint managing director of the S. Chand Publishing Group, said: "One of the biggest issues is the cost of paper, which might increase by 72 percent in the future, forcing a hike in cost of books."

"Duplicate books sold at traffic intersections is another cause for alarm with corporate infringement in which coaching centres and colleges use and distribute content from our books to students for Rs.3,000-Rs.5,000. Publishers must join hands to stop infringement," Gupta told IANS on the margins of CEO Speak at the World Book Fair.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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