HarperCollins India CEO – “Indians are reading more ebooks. We are seeing a steady increase in ebook sales”

 

It’s not something we hear said much nowadays. People are buying more ebooks. In India, that is.

In the US the story is somewhat different, with the Big 5 US publishers all happily reporting ebook sales trending down, as they manoeuvre to protect their core print market.

Time was we could look to Author Earnings to offer a semblance of evidence that the indie and smaller mainstream publishers were making up the difference, but Data Guy avoided that question in the latest, watered-down Author Earnings report, so we are back to the dark ages when it comes to the true size of the US ebook market.

Likewise we can only guess at the true size of the Indian ebook market, but there are many positive indications, and now we have confirmation that at least one Big 5 publisher is seeing increasing ebook sales from its India arm.

In an interview with the innovative Indian digital-first publisher Juggernaut, Ananth Padmanabhan, CEO of HarperCollins India, offered some fascinating insights into how the Indian book market is shaping up.

As reported here last week –

HarperCollins adds its catalogue to India’s Juggernaut app

HarperCollins decided to put its entire ebook catalogue on the Juggernaut app, a decision not taken lightly. Why would it bother? Padmanabhan explains,

we can now go straight into a customer’s phone and not only offer a lot more curated content based on reading habits but also get real-time feedback on what’s working.

It’s not clear just how much data Juggernaut is feeding back to HarperCollins, but assuming it is a lot more than the impel daily sales count offered by, for example, the Kindle app, then this is where independent apps like Juggernaut’s can, for the publishers, hold their own against the big retailers like Amazon.

Of course, the app data is only of value if there is sufficient volume of sales. Padmanabahn believes there is:

People are reading more ebooks, and for HarperCollins in India, we are seeing a steady increase in sales for our bestsellers, especially, and across the board too. Marketing is what is most impacted by digital, naturally, and we are reaching a lot more people in much shorter time and we are able to conduct focussed targeted marketing – creating useful conversations with readers.

Padmanabahn says he,

would love to see audiobooks work in India.

Well, there will be plenty of opportunity. Amazon’s Audible India launch is expected any time now, while Storytel got in late last year.

Sweden’s Storytel beats Amazon’s Audible to the India audiobook market

In a country with such a rich oral storytelling tradition the only thing holding back audiobooks in India will be the price. Western audiobook list prices are notoriously high-end, reflecting, publishers would have us believe, the higher production costs for an audiobook compared to a print or ebook.

That’s of course a nonsense argument that turns the whole idea of bookselling on its head. A successful book in whatever format will out-earn its productions cost multifold, delivering profit. Volume of sales determines profit or loss. The production cost of an audiobook should bear no relation to its list price.

But that’s a debate for another time.

Here, let’s get back to the main point: India. If western publishers intend to sell their audiobooks in India at US prices then the audiobook market will struggle. If publishers get real, and act sensibly on the subcontinent, we will see the Indian audio-book market boom and quite possibly in time exceed the market for the written word.

Just how big is the India book market? The current estimate of 50 million book buyers in India, says Padmanabahn,

is too small a number – we need to aim to grow this to 100 million.

Obviously Padmanabahn is talking about all publishers, not just HarperCollins, but even so talk of needing to double the size of the market is either completely crazy or extremely well-considered.

Perhaps Padmanabahn has been reading TNPS, where I have explored on numerous occasions the enormous potential of the India book market.

India – Publishing’s Brightest Prospect

Juggernaut and Padmanabahn avoided the elephant in the room, Amazon Publishing and its ownership of a major Indian publisher, Westland. Last month A-Pub poached one of India’s biggest authors with a six-book deal.

It made headlines for all the wrong reasons. I’ll be taking a look at the implications of that deal sometime soon.

But for now I’ll end this post with Padmanabahn’s eminently sensible response to Juggernaut’s question, In the battle between paperback and ebook, who will win? Responds Padmanabahn,

‘Books’ win – I’m not married to a format and will be most happy when we sell a lot more books and give the reader the benefit of choice based on his or her comfort format. Print, or Electronic or Audio are all ultimately stories and ideas!

 

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