NEW DELHI —
Despite more people turning to e-books in the digitized world, the printed word is still a first choice for the majority in India. Foreign publishers are increasingly tapping into the South Asian country to take advantage of the world's third largest English-language book market, which, unlike others, is seeing double-digit growth.
Forget e-readers. For many Indians, like Shema Kallimel, there is no comparison to turning the pages of a hardback.
"My dad says as a kid, when I didn’t know how to read and write, I would take his big fat books and just start flipping," she said.
She is not alone. While a technology boom has meant the closing of bookstores in many parts of the world, here in India the market for books is thriving.
The boom is evident in the more than 1.4 million people who will visit the annual New Delhi World Book Fair
, where 1,100 exhibitors from India and around the world display their latest books.
At the Harper Collins India stall, American bestsellers are stacked alongside the latest works by Indian authors.
Minakshi Thakur says the U.S. publisher will put out 160 books by Indians this year to keep up with the country’s growing readership.
“India has got the largest youth population, one of the largest now, and literacy is growing in India very fast - and that’s proportionate to the readership growing in India - and that’s why I think the book industry is growing, There are more people writing in English," said Thakur.
Indeed, more writers are catering to the millions of English-speakers in India.
Binny Kurian is with the National Book Trust India, the publishing house that organizes the book fair and was created decades ago to promote reading.
“Even if you talk of the English-speaking population, which they say is about three percent, then when you put it into a one billion and over [population], three percent works out to be a huge, huge market - thousands and thousands of colleges and universities. They all make up something you can sustain for generations and generations," said Kurian.
Dozens of foreign publishers have set up shop in India to tap into a growing market that is shrinking elsewhere.
"Teaching the concept of math or science through the storybook, the editorial content combined with the illustration, is something that is not available here yet," said Greg Taylor, who is with a South Korean company that wants to give Indian schoolchildren a new take on learning."
His and other foreign companies here hope to leave the book fair with a deal that will give them entry into India’s lucrative market.
Nielsen Book, the U.S.-based information provider, began tracking book sales in India in 2010. The company found that, in 2011, the volume of book sales grew by 45 percent during the first half of the year alone.
And that figure is said to only account for just over a third of India’s book market, since small, independent retailers - who often do not keep electronic records of their sales - sell many of the books in the country.