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BW Businessworld

Spoilt For Choice

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There has never been a better time to be a book reader, nor a better place in the world for readers than the present in India. Readers are being wooed by over 12,000 publishers, large and small retailers, online booksellers such as Amazon and Flipkart that are jostling for market share and, more recently, by e-book retailers. And the readers — spoilt for choice — are definitely not complaining since prices are typically half to a third of international prices. Technology has helped readers overcome barriers of availability, access and even time, with the immediacy of e-books. Thanks to e-tailers, readers can access the latest business bestseller or a history classic sitting at home in Rohtak, Udupi, Satara or Gangtok. 
 
Although print books will continue to dominate, 2014 will be the year in which e-books make a mark in India. The stage is set with a confluence of enabling factors — including the ramp up of e-book stores, widespread use of smartphones, e-readers and tablets, improved Internet penetration and speed, and some unbelievably low-price offers. For instance, Flipkart offered over 100,000 books at Rs 99 each. Yes, e-books will still be nascent with less than 2 per cent of book sales, but this will be significantly higher for business books, where readers are more urban, affluent, travel often, and tech-savvy. 
 
Another shift is the size of the book. We have moved from an era of Peter Drucker’s path-breaking 700-page books to the Twitter generation of readers who prefer 150-page quick reads. For Harvard Business Review Press (HBR), some of our bestsellers include short, practical books such as HBR Management Tips and HBR 10 Must Reads. Publishers are also being innovative, extending the concept of the book to combine other offerings such as an app with tools to complement Michael Watkins’s bestseller The First 90 Days.
 
Non-fiction, as a category, has traditionally played second fiddle to fiction and children’s books.

Volumes in India are tiny relative to the US. For instance, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is said to have sold 14,000 copies in its first week in India, compared to 379,000 in the US. In India, business books that sell 5,000 copies often make it to bestseller lists. However, things are changing. A growing educated middle class, an increasing number of quality Indian writers, and improved distribution have exponentially driven the demand for quality non-fiction in business, management, history, politics, self-help and health. A testimony to this is the number of Indian non-fiction authors — like Ramachandra Guha, Rujuta Diwekar and Vineet Nayar — whose books have sold over 100,000 copies.
 
These are uncertain and complex times for businesses and managers in India, and it’s no surprise that they are looking for books that help them navigate these choppy waters. In the circumstances, best practice, practical books by Indian business leaders — like Ravi Venkatesan and Kris Gopalakrishnan — appear to resonate well with readers. 
 
In recent years, there was growing interest in Western markets for books on doing business in India. Unfortunately, this appetite seems to have waned in recent months as India, with its economic challenges and inhospitable investment conditions, has fallen off the radar of foreign investors. Whether interest in India and books on business in India re-emerge in 2014 will hinge on election results and how soon we, as a nation, can get our act together. More and more business books are looking to sciences such as neurosciences, sociology and psychology for answers on human behaviour and business problems. 

Many of us have witnessed our neighbourhood bookshop give in to the commercial pressures of high rentals, deep discounts and competition from online stores, to replace bookshelves with toys, stationery and confectionary. So, while the number of books grow, finding shelf space and catching the readers’ attention — who are bombarded with crazy amounts of information from newspapers, free websites, blogs, television and magazines — has never been more difficult.

Authors and publishers will need to address this ‘discoverability’ challenge by personally engaging with their audience through events, traditional media, webinars and, crucially, social media. The author’s personal brand and Klout Score is becoming a big factor in driving awareness. 
 
So, what can we expect in 2014 in the world of non-fiction? More books than previous years, more organised and online retail, the emergence of e-books, and a big shift in how books are marketed, promoted and sold. And, for book lovers, there’s never been a better time!   
 
The author is MD, Asia-Pacific, Harvard Business Publishing
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 13-01-2014)



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