Vivek Mehra – The Indian Books Market

Live Encounters Magazine Vivek Mehra The Indian Books Market – an authoritative market estimate Volume Two December 2015

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The Indian Books Market – an authoritative market estimate by Vivek Mehra,
Managing Director and CEO of Sage India

The Indian Books Market finally has an estimate that comes from an independent and authoritative source. The first Nielsen’s Books Market report was released at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 14th 2015. The event itself was a tame affair considering the value of the report. There were a couple of speeches that were barely audible followed by wine and cheese. The report itself was reduced to a press release that was handed to the audience. Nielsen rightly so wants the report to be paid for before it can be viewed. So here is a sneak peek behind the scenes.

The report marks the culmination of a year’s worth of background work. You will need to buy the report to get the complete numbers but I can share with you information that isn’t in the report.

Like all projects it began with a critical question, “How big is India’s book publishing industry?” The question got bigger when the Copyright (Amendment) Act 2012 of was debated. Section 2 (m) of the act chose to allow parallel imports of published material. The clause received wide spread criticism from within the industry even though the Government and the MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) defended their decision for the inclusion. The argument for this clause was that publishers denied India content that was available overseas. When it was made available it was priced higher than in the West. Parallel imports were to be the answer where everyone and anyone could import any published material (especially books) without waiting for the authorized agent to do so OR go to the authorized agent to procure it. In theory this sounded right and one shouldn’t have been bothered about it. But the issue affected material with a short shelf life especially fiction. If fiction was allowed through parallel channels, it would kill the legitimate market. The reason remains relevant even today. Perhaps the argument could be the subject of another article. For now its sufficient to point out that this was the trigger to the main question at hand. The issue was handed over to NCAER (National Council for Applied Economic Research) to investigate.

NCAER spent close to 2 years researching and submitted their report on January 2014.  The government mandate was to determine if parallel imports would harm the interests of students or not. But to do that NCAER had to understand the industry itself and to then arrive at a conclusion on whether the imports would harm the interest government had chosen to protect.

A key issue they unwittingly stumbled upon was determining the size of the publishing industry and the various facets it represented. They had to examine import and export data along with domestic consumption. This led to the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) championing the cause of an independent study determining the size of the Indian publishing industry. Nielsen India was approached and a series of discussions followed. A framework for conducting the survey was agreed upon and Nielsen came up with a cost. As is normally the case, there is a clear disconnect between noble intent and financial commitment. So while everyone agreed the report was necessary, the cost of such a report threatened to ground this project forever.

Publishers then had to step in to support this. The two flagship associations in India (Federation of Indian Publishers and Association of Publishers in India) got members to contribute to provide the seed capital for the project. By this time FICCI had withdrawn from the project. The balance, Nielsen is to raise from selling the report. I personally felt the issue of payment could have been handled better by some of the individuals leading the project. My voice though was reduced to a minority one when I spoke of more inclusion on the contribution front. After the financial issues were settled the task of collating data was begun.

The most strenuous part of this exercise was to arrive at a consensus on the framework within which the report would be relevant to all. The very first round of discussions clearly outlined the problem. Publishing isn’t one homogenous activity; it is heterogeneous in every sense of the word. There were different markets to cater to and different types of publishing needs to address. There was the large K-12 school publishing market along with other children’s publishing. This was distinctly different from popular fiction, which in turn is different from academic publishing (both research and for higher education). There were other surprises in store¾what about distance learning publishing or English Language Training or Vocational Training?

It was back to the drawing board again. Publishers helped by making sense of all these publishing verticals. Expert groups were formed and Nielsen engaged with each to formulate questions, short-list stakeholders and define the process by which they would engage.

Besides this they independently located consumer groups and devised surveys for them too. The result is a report that talks about the landscape of Indian publishing. As one privy to the content I can safely say it is an eye-opener.

Here are some eye-popping details.

  • Even by rough estimates, Indian book publishing is much larger than Bollywood
  • Fiction is NOT the largest category of publishing
  • The Government of India is a major publisher to reckon with
  • Only the US and UK are ahead in US$ terms on the total value of the industry
  • India’s publishing industry is the largest when it comes to number of units produced.

Here are some questions that the report answers (and yes you have to buy a copy to find the answers)

  • What is India’s largest sector when it comes to publishing?
  • What is India’s total publishing (from the demand side) actually worth in US$ or INR terms?
  • How much of India’s publishing is actually digital?     


Vivek Mehra comes from a family of textile manufacturers who pioneered silk screen printing in India. His business education began in family owned textile mills long before formally beginning in New York. On his return to India in 1987 he spent four years working closely with the Central Food Technology Research Institute of India, Mysore and helped setup India’s first commercial fruit dehydration and preservation unit. The Government of India acknowledged his efforts and thanks to him thousands of farmers across the grape growing belt of Central India today reap the benefits. In 1990 he was awarded the ‘Vijayshree’ by the Government of Maharashtra for simplifying complex dehydrating technology thus ensuring a brighter future for even small farmers. His work on minimizing the use of Sulphur based preservatives in dehydrated food has been acknowledged as a first in India. In 1999 he left the field of food processing to spend time on researching chemical formulations that had thus far remained the preserve of large corporations in the developed world.  His work on ultraviolet detectable inks and gel based stamping systems laid the foundation for these product lines in India.

He pursued his passion for writing by joining hands with IDC Technologies, an Australian company and a market leader in providing workshop based training to engineers and technicians. He set up an India based unit to support the growing need of producing courseware for the company. In 2003 he became a trainer and exclusively handled workshops in New Zealand, Canada and UK.

He joined SAGE India as Deputy Managing Director in September 2005. On 1 December 2006, he officially became Managing Director and CEO of SAGE India. Today the company has close to 400 employees across 6 offices in India.

In July 2013, he self-published his maiden novel, ‘Seven Shades of Grey’ a fictional story of lives intertwined and reality blurred, written in 1999, which no publisher wanted to publish.

He is visiting faculty at the Ambedkar University Delhi and teaches courses at Post Graduate level. Vivek is also the Vice President, Association of Publishers in India and is on the committee for CII and FICCI.

He has an MBA in Marketing from Columbia University, New York and a B.Sc. in Textile Technology from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York.


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