Lessons From India: Libraries, Licensing and Lined Up by Amazon

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

India imageMy original plan was to attend the New Delhi World Book Fair but, wisely it turned out, I added in several events around the book fair, such as GlobaLocal, CEOSpeak and a two-day Copyright Seminar. A lot to pack into a week but, although busy, it allowed for a fascinating insight into the Indian publishing market.

I could write an essay rather than a blog post, but I wanted to pick out some of the key lessons from my time in New Delhi:

 1) Ebooks and internet – the Indian market is five years behind the UK and US in terms of the impact of ebooks and internet retail. Still the large majority of copies are sold in print and only a minority on the internet. While tempting to say this is due to the passion for the printed book and bookshops, the reality is it hasn’t hit yet but is coming.

The most common reason I was given was the low take-up of Smartphones to date due to their cost, but that cheaper Smartphones are on their way (as is Amazon, see below).

2) Libraries — Coming from the whisper-first-shout-maybe-later UK, the debate over key issues was passionate in India, the first copyright seminar I have attended that led to shouting. And one of the key points being raised was the demise of libraries and that the government must support them to ensure their survival.

Sadly, in the UK that battle is nearly lost so, to see it at an earlier stage, I wanted to warn those arguing that they need to act both now and decisively to stop the issue slipping down the agenda and libraries out of existence. It is a subject requiring sensible debate but also worth shouting about.

3) New revenue streams — It would be wrong from the points above to summarise that the Indian market is just operating several years behind the most developed markets. There are areas where they are at the forefront of new development. I was there to spread the word of the service IPR License offers and was taken aback by how ready publishers were in their understanding of and willingness to receive new revenue through licensing.

In addition to this, it was pointed out that although ebooks have yet to fully hit, more ebooks are converted in India than nearly anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, there are not many territories in which so many major conglomerates have subsidiary offices. As I discovered on my single half-day of tourism, India offers a unique mix of old and new.

4) Legal issues and freedom of speech — I happened to be there in the eye of the storm of Penguin India withdrawing and pulping all copies of a book deemed to have insulted Hinduism. This brought an outcry from publishers, believing that restrictions on freedom of speech are getting worse in the country and action needs to be taken. The best books have always broken boundaries, state what others may be scared to, and ultimately changed societies for the better, and so I hope the outcry will lead to braver decisions than that made by Penguin India.

There were also interesting developments on the protection of copyright, with piracy still a major issue in India. The government announced a new copyright initiative at the New Delhi World Book Fair and appear to have some focus on the area, so hopefully this will lead to forward steps, though difficult steps in light of the complexities of legal action there as a result of copyright infringement.

5) The Book Fair itself — As I mentioned at the start I am glad I arranged events around the New Delhi World Book Fair. GlobaLocal was a fantastic business-to-business event, that proved a great success and very useful. In addition, CEOSpeak and the Copyright Seminar were both very informative and also useful.

The Book Fair itself is, firstly, geographically vast, fair larger than I was expecting. Secondly, although it was useful for a sweep up of final meetings at the end of my trip, it is very customer focused. This isn’t stated as a bad thing — I am often going on about the need to focus more on the customer — but coming from Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, which are back-to-back 30 minute meetings all day every day, the New Delhi World Book Fair was a very different experience. I will be watching with interest the direction they look to take it in for future fairs.

6) Amazon — As I started with ebooks and the internet, it is probably apt to end with Amazon. Their key movements are quiet ones, kind of panther-esque, and most importantly they work ahead of the rest of the market. I understand people’s dislike, but we would be a better industry if we learnt from them. You won’t see much of them at the London Book Fair in April, as others look to grapple for whatever business they have left behind, but to my surprise in India they were there in force, to the level of sponsoring the slightly worse-for-wear mini-buses.

Amazon were in attendance halfway through their classic three step approach: 1) identify the market (dig), 2) push their retail services, Advantage, marketplace etc. (set); 3) the Kindle (spike). Once they have everyone hooked on 2), the stage is set to then plough through with 3) and wrap their arms around the book sales market share.

I noted this while there and what news greeted me on my return? Amazon announce plan to push into Indian market. Their base is already set-up and this is likely to be what changes my first lesson — the ebook is about to take off.

So, these were six key lessons from my trip. I could write more, but I have a lot of follow-up to complete. New Delhi was a great experience, there is nothing like being in a market to understand it better, and I returned home with much learnt and much more to learn.

Tom Chalmers is Managing Director of IPR License: www.iprlicense.com | @Tom_Chalmers

DBW Europe, Expert Publishing Blog
Tom Chalmers

About Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He started his first company in 2005 when aged 25, Legend Press, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. Chalmers subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing, and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections, respectively. He also founded IPR License in 2012, a global rights licensing platform, which he sold in 2016. He has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. He also speaks regularly on publishing and business and is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

5 thoughts on “Lessons From India: Libraries, Licensing and Lined Up by Amazon

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  3. Jack W PerryJack W Perry

    Tom – appreciate the insight into India. One question, what type of retail pricing do the ebooks have? I heard that the prices needed to be quite low to generate an audience. Thanks. Jack

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  5. Pingback: 6 lições vindas da Índia - e uma (positiva) dada pela Amazon | Revolucaoebook.com.br - notícias e opiniões sobre ebooks, livrarias e o mercado do ebook - Revolucaoebook.com.br


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