Lessons from India

A few weeks ago, Sarah Odedina went to the Penguin India conference in Delhi. This post is a collection of her observations and experiences from that trip.

A visit to India is a fantastically ‘awakening’ experience for anyone working in publishing. It is a country with a vibrant, even booming, publishing scene which shares many of the same authors on the best-seller lists as in the UK and USA.  Suzanne Collins, Jeff Kinney and Eoin Colfer all feature strongly in  bookshops and school bags across the country. But the most solid and reliable sector of the children’s market appears to be amongst local authors whose books sell consistently and whose profiles and reputations are solid.  Ruskin Bond, Anushka Ravishankar and Paro Anand’s and many others have the lions share of space in the children’s section of bookshops.

A healthy stock of YA titles in the Delhi Airport (including one of our own!)

India, like everywhere else, has also started looking at the Young, or New, Adult market and a vibrant publishing genre is emerging. Many Indian publishers are selling a unisex version of ‘chick lit’. These are affordable tales featuring the highs and lows of love. Aimed at both young adult and adult readers, these books are often campus-set, and have melodramatic story lines that somewhat mimic the formula of the county’s most popular films. They have attractive and commercial jackets and very competitive price points making them a perfect impulse buy.  English-language publishing in India is growing across the country and these high-energy books are one of the driving forces behind that growth.  Penguin India has a series called “Metro Reads” with their best selling title, CAN LOVE HAPPEN TWICE, selling 200,000 copies so far. While Rupa Publishers, with such titles as ‘RIGHT FIT, WRONG SHOE’ is the market leader and often sells around 65,000 copies per title.  This is commercial mass market fiction at its most effective.  Sold in great volume, at low cost, to a variety of readers and the feeling is that their easy style and low price point will encourage readers generally.

In a country with a rapidly growing middle-class, book publishing is a beneficiary of the economically stable times. Both adults and children’s books have a ready and willing audience who want books that reflect their lives. The Indian publishing scene is strong, clear and creating some of the best books I have seen for a very long time. With a really sophisticated market, split into many different social groups, publishers are shaping their lists to reflect this social complexity. While home-grown literary fiction like Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger sits at one end of the spectrum, at the other sits the commercial Metro Reads, and the result is that all Indian readers can find something to their taste in this market.

Returning to London and reflecting on all I had seen and learnt while in Delhi, I realise that we have lots of great opportunities in our home market. The most important difference between our markets of course is that we only deal in English-language sales. While in India there are many local languages with strong publishing industries catering to them we only publish in English.

This may be both good and bad. On one hand, it definitely means all our eggs are in one basket. My preoccupation at the moment is thinking about the “Metro Reads” model. How can we launch inexpensive, fun and disposable novels that appeal to a wide range of readers? I suspect electronic formats might be the answer, and while there have been many great ‘one-offs’ in this market, no one has yet managed to launch a series or range which generates its own reader loyalty.  Coming very soon from Hot Key Books is the racy New Adult novel THE VINCENT BOYS. We will publish this title initially as a digital book with a very competitive price for a short period of time, and then print version will follow.  Who knows, this may be the start of our own version of “Metro Reads”!  Watch this space…

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2 responses to “Lessons from India

  1. It is getting noticeable just how chicklit-ty the Teen sections in bookshops are becoming. I get a fair number of proofs sent to me and I’d say a good half of the ones I get fall under chicklit. Bookseller friends of mine tell me that the sheer volume of it all though can obscure the titles – like not being able to see the wood for the trees as it were. I wonder if maybe your idea of cheaper eBook versions of some of them would help divvy up the market, make it more accessible, if not everything gets made into a physical book? That and I wonder which would do better – the physical books or the eBooks? Will you be blogging about it once it’s got underway a bit, I’m very curious to see what happens!

    I love the idea regardless of kids (or women) with Kindles collecting a series of books on their little electronic gizmos. If all goes well with Vincent Reads, would you be looking at a similar sort of plan for younger readers, so pocket money eReading?

  2. Really love the idea of an electronic series – I’m thinking this could catch on in the young readers’ market. I’m seeing them reading it a bit like they read their mags…

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