Friday, May 25, 2018

An unlikely nation is the best-read country in the world


One of the lesser-appreciated joys of India are its bookshops - my photo shows the Janta Book Depot in Khan Market, Delhi. India still values the written word and is the second-largest newspaper market in the world, with over 100 million newspapers sold every day. It is one of the very few global markets where both the print and digital book publishing sectors still show strong growth. The Indian book market is worth USD 2 billion and is growing at more than 15% annually. The country's 19,000 publishing houses publish 90,000 titles annually, of which 70% are educational. India is the best-read country in the world: its population spends an average of 10 hours 42 minutes per week reading; this compares with 5 hours 42 minutes for the US and 5 hours 18 minutes for the UK. All this reading supports a large number of excellent old-school booksellers, helped by retail prices which are typically between 50% and 75% cheaper than for equivalent Western editions. (I returned from my recent trip to India having bought fifteen books. On a previous trip I purchased so many we had to buy an additional hold bag for them.)

But this supportive retail infrastructure is under threat. Amazon already has a large and successful Indian operation. Another major online seller is Flipkart; this was founded in 2007 by two ex-Amazon executives, and was bought last month by Walmart for USD 16 billion in the world's largest e-commerce deal. The predatory nature of the online sellers is shown by Flipkart's price of 161 rupees for Sadhguru's Inner Engineering: that is 46% cheaper than the price I paid in a Khan Market bookstore. Microsoft has been a long-term investor in Flipkart and Google is pondering a minority stake. India will not be a paradise for bibliophiles much longer. So hurry there before the Taj Mahal succumbs to green slime and the nation's priceless bookstores succumb to the online predators.

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