At the recently concluded 43rd edition of the New Delhi World Book Fair, held from January 9 to 17, the big names in the publishing world were hard to miss: Cambridge University Press, HarperCollins, Random House, Sage, Scholastic, and Taylor & Francis, for instance, had prominent booths. The companies were attracted by the size of the Indian book market, which is estimated to be the sixth largest in the world (valued at $3.9 billion, according to Nielsen), and the second largest in terms of English-language publishing (after the U.S.). The major force leading the Indian market is educational publishing, driven by the third-largest higher-education system in the world.

India’s higher education institutions receive substantial government funding, which is now focused on acquiring electronic resources. Unfortunately, the lack of information on the timing of disbursement, application, and allocation of the funding often creates confusion. However, players in the academic books and journals segment seem to be able to navigate the chaos. “Sales for our print and electronic titles are growing simultaneously, and our approach is to get the relevant content to users based on their needs, irrespective of the format,” said Nitasha Devasar, managing director of Taylor & Francis India. “Traditional marketing strategies no longer work in this market. Nowadays, we work on customized catalogues and marketing campaigns that are institution specific and data driven. While this takes more effort, it makes the title selection process focused and hence faster.”

Big data and analytics therefore play a major role in understanding consumer needs. “Content marketing is the need of the hour. It is about helping end users make informed choices and meeting those needs,” added Devasar, who is also the general secretary of the Association of Publishers in India. “The Indian market is Taylor & Francis’s third-largest for print books, and we continue to invest in our resources here.”

As for challenges, open access is a big issue. One particular regulation is being considered that would make research freely available with much shorter embargo periods than in the western world; it’s aimed at government-funded institutions and therefore affects 95% of Indian institutions. “This could impact research and authorship from India,” said Devasar, who is looking to increase the visibility of Indian authors and content abroad.

Another yet-to-be-enacted regulation requires publishers to sell journals at lower prices to all government-funded institutions. But an even greater concern to overseas publishers working in India is the state of piracy (which is rampant) and copyright awareness (little to middling). “This is where our road shows, with librarians and publishers getting together to work on topics such as digital trends and copyright, come into play. The Indian marketplace, as you can see, is challenging but this makes it even more exciting—and gratifying—to rise up to those challenges,” Devasar observed.

Trade publishing, which accounts for only 30% of the Indian book market, has its own challenges (and opportunities). Piracy is common, and often, bestselling trade paperbacks have their sales cut in half by pirated editions. E-books have yet to find a strong foothold; this was made loud and clear when Flipkart, India’s answer to Amazon, decided to stop selling e-books last month.

In India, where cultural, historical, and geographical diversity offers an abundance of new content, shifts in its arts and illustrated book segment have taken place over the past four years. Bipin Shah, owner of art and illustrated book publisher Mapin, said, “The number of art and illustrated books have declined even as more new titles are entering the market, especially now that many art galleries, photographers, and institutions are becoming publishers.”

Sales volume, and therefore the print runs, has gone down, he said. The new average run is about 1,500 copies, down from a high of 3,000 in previous years. But unique titles straddling several categories often have higher print runs. “Our latest, Maharanis: Women of Royal India, for instance, is a first of its kind: a 19th-century photography title, a historical title, and a special volume on the royal family. We also have a traveling exhibition in association with Tasveer Gallery on the exquisite photographs to further promote the title,” Shah said.

Events and social media are fast becoming crucial marketing tools for generating buzz and sales. According to Shah, reviews in traditional media tend not to reach consumers for illustrated books, who are between 25 and 35 years old, and who are digitally savvy. Shah also expects the number of bookstores that specialize on illustrated titles to decline. To offset those trends, Mapin supplies its catalogue to around 45 online bookstores and works with bricks-and-mortar distributors such as Variety, UBS, and Atlantic, some of whom also have their own portals. “We are now digitizing our entire list to ensure that none of our unique titles are ever out of print, and to prepare the groundwork for print-on-demand,” Shah explained.

Co-edition publishing is becoming increasingly important for Shah “and for our overseas counterparts, as they also face the same challenges that we have.” New Mapin titles such as Directing Art, Maharanis, and Water Treasures of the Himalayas are being prepared for co-editions. “About half of our revenues come through publishing projects with companies such as Reliance, Air India, and Coca-Cola, and with those that have amassed unique or important art collections,” Shah said. “We have also entered the educational market with design and architecture books. We are uncovering new ways—offering packaging services to local regional language publishers, for instance—to publish and generate sales, and we look at market challenges as opportunities to break new grounds and test unique strategies.”

Click here for more of PW’s coverage on the publishing market in India.