It’s that time of the year again. No, we don’t mean that time when everybody makes resolutions for the year ahead. That’s next week. This week, it’s time to take a look back at 2016 and the major reading and book sales trends in India. We spoke with some of the top Indian book retailers for their take on 2016’s trends, which books topped the charts and which didn’t, and how things changed through the year.
Here’s the gist if you’re the “too long; didn’t read” type: anything related to Harry Potter still sells a lot; the classics, young adult novels, romance, and children’s fiction did really well; growth in sales of long-form non-fiction as a category continued to be more or less flat; more people are reading fiction by Indian authors; and a huge number of adults are using colouring books as a way to relax and unwind.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, fiction continues to be the best-performing category for retailers across the country. A spokesperson for bookstore chain Landmark says that children’s books, especially anything related to Harry Potter or written by JK Rowling, sold “extremely well” this year, while books based on mythology also saw a lot of traction. Kinjal Shah, CEO of bookstore chain Crossword, says, “Children’s and fiction books are the largest contributors to Crossword’s business, with romance novels and classics also attracting a large number of readers.”
One heartening trend is that there are more fiction books being written by Indian authors than ever before, and these books are finding readers as well. According to data from Crossword, books by Indian authors now make up about 25% to 30% of its sales in the fiction category. Key names here include Ashwin Sanghi, (The Sialkot Saga), Amish Tripathi (Shiva Trilogy), Chetan Bhagat (One Indian Girl), Anand Neelakantan (Asura: Tale of the Vanquished), Durjoy Datta (The Girl of My Dreams) and Ravinder Singh (I Too Had a Love Story). Shah says the share of Indian fiction in Crossword stores in India is the highest to date, and fiction books by Indian authors sold more than those by international authors in 2016.
If anyone had told you in 2010 that a lot of grown-ups would choose to fill in colours in various patterns on a book to relax and unwind, you would have laughed it off. But it’s 2016 now, and adult colouring books are, as Landmark puts it, “the rage”. Adult colouring books exploded internationally in 2015, and both Landmark and Crossword said colouring books for grown-ups were one of the fastest growing segments at their stores this year. “The no. 1 category for us in terms of growth this year was adult colouring books. That category has grown significantly and contributes about 3-4% to our business. It’s picking up strongly in India and we see huge momentum going forward,” says Shah.
Graphic novels, comic books and manga were also a bright spot this year. Graphic novels and comic books sold well, mostly owing to the high-budget Hollywood movies and TV shows based on DC Comics and Marvel comics’ characters.
Long-form non-fiction may not be in peril just yet, but growth in the genre appears to be somewhat limited to certain categories such as biographies and health and fitness. Part of the reason behind this is the fact that non-fiction as a genre is “driven by content”, says Shah. He illustrates his point by citing an example: Crossword saw a jump in sales of non-fiction books when Sachin Tendulkar’s biography was published.
Shah also points out that it’s much harder to market and communicate what a non-fiction book is about than it is with fiction. “Fiction sells more because of the sheer volume and the number of books that are released. For non-fiction, the retailer, the author and the publisher have to do a lot more in terms of communicating what’s in the book. There are also so many categories, and each category appeals to a particular part of the population, and you need to put in that much more effort to get to your target audience. On the other hand, fiction is more mass-oriented. The customer base is unique with non-fiction. And as you narrow down on a particular segment of the population, communicating what the story is and communicating what’s in a book that the customer should buy, becomes more of a challenge,” he says.
Of marketing and younger readers
This year proved a lot of people wrong, particularly those who said Donald Trump wouldn’t win the US elections or that Brexit wouldn’t happen. It also proved that marketing and promotions are more important than ever if you want your book to sell. A book’s success now hinges on how much effort the author, publisher and retailer put in to promote it on various platforms and through events. Shah says, “No longer can an author sit back and say, ‘Hang on, let me just print and publish it and let the publishers and retailers do the job.’ Any author, who has actually come in and helped to promote the book through social media and events at stores, or has done innovative marketing with retailers, has done significantly better than authors who have resisted doing events or interacting with the media or customers.”
Lastly, the average age of people shopping at bookstores went down in 2016. In fact, Shah says the number of millennials shopping at Crossword has doubled since 2015, and the average shopper is now around 24 years old. Shah says last year, the average age of shoppers was about 28-32 years old.
Note: All data about the bestselling books has been provided by Crossword and Landmark.