But the Indian economy is growing, and so is its appetite for books.
India has a distinguished history of producing great writers, but until recently, not much of a track record of actually buying their books. That lack of enthusiasm was due, in part, to sheer economics; books were largely considered a luxury item that could only be used once. For years, Penguin was the lone foreign publishing presence in India. But as the economic outlook in the country brightened, so has the outlook for aspiring authors and publishers. Sensing a new and growing market, foreign publishers like Harper Collins and Random House have set up shop in the outskirts of New Delhi. Retail space for books exploded, with big chain bookstores opening in cities, airports and hotels across the country. "It all happened pretty quickly: shopping malls came up, big bookshops came up, and people had the spending power," says Anantha Padmanabhan, the head of sales at Penguin India. "In 2003 everything curved upwards. A mass injection took place."
The Indian market, despite being considered one of the fastest growing in the world for English language titles, is unique in the world. Unlike in the U.S., where purists lament the disappearance of the independent bookshop from Main Street, three quarters of India's estimated 2000 bookstores are small, independent dealers, the majority of which still don't use computers to track sales.
The lack of computerized coordination of sales data among remote bookstores means that publishers rely heavily on newspaper best-seller lists and, perhaps more importantly, on feedback from bookstore owners to divine what kind of book the Indian reader want.
Despite the challenges of the business, it's a good time to be an author in India, says Malhotra. "They now have so many options to be published."
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