Until now, there has been little accessible data on the extent and composition of the Indian children’s book market. Existing reports either delve into publishing figures or largely comprise anecdotal recommendations. Our findings point to a lack of funding across the Indian children’s book market resulting in diminished interest from publishers, distributors, and retailers to truly push sales.

There is low visibility due to the absence of prominent voices in the media to champion good work in the sector. However, a few publishers have managed to break through and find readers in global markets.

Karadi Tales has sold international rights to approximately 40 of their titles including the Farmer Falgu series that features an Indian farmer, The Clever Tailor which talks about the culture of Rajasthan, Thukpa for All featuring the titular dish which is consumed in Ladakh. On an average, Tulika Publishers sells two to four titles abroad in a year. They recently sold the world English rights to A Saree for Ammi by Mamta Nainy to a major publisher in the US. Manjula Padmanabhan’s I am Different, We are Different, Same and Different have done well in Germany, while Chinese publishers had acquired the rights for close to a dozen Tulika titles. Tulika Publishers has also sold rights in the Korean markets. Pickle Yolk Books’ titles Manic Panic by Richa Jha and Darkless by Tanu Shree Singh were both sold in the US, while other titles have sold to France, Poland, Thailand, and Malaysia. The international rights for such books are sold for $2,000-3,000 and can go up to $5,000.

In the Middle Grade and Young Adult age group, Siddhartha Sarma’s novel The Grasshopper’s Run was published by Bloomsbury UK. Devika Rangachari’s Swordswoman! was published by Pushkin Press, while Bijal Vachharajani’s A Cloud Called Bhura and Savi and the Memory Keeper were acquired by the US-based independent publisher, Blackstone Publishing.

In the Indian children’s book market, anthologies, book series, early learning, and activity books are currently selling well, with genres like ecology and climate change also finding critical and commercial success.

A few recommendations that emerged to help the Indian children’s book industry flourish were for:

  • book awards to be built up to being a brand that could influence sales;
  • grants and fellowships for book creators;
  • regular attendance of global book fairs to understand emerging trends, and to find as well as develop partnerships

Key Findings:

Just how big is the children’s book market in India?

India’s print book market, led by the textbook market, was estimated at a valuation of Rs 720.6 billion in 2019-20, as per the India Book Market Report by Nielsen, 2022. Of this, 71 per cent of the print book market was made up of the school sector, 25 per cent by higher education while the trade segment’s contribution was 4 per cent. Within trade publishing, 55 per cent of the revenue was contributed by non-fiction for adults; 20 per cent by fiction for adults; and 20 per cent by children’s and young adult books. This would peg the value of the Indian children’s book market to be Rs 7.2 billion.

What was the best-selling children’s book in India in 2021?

According to the market data, the bestselling frontlist title in India was The Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Big Shot, which sold more than 15,000 copies worth Rs 6.6 million.

What were the top tenselling Indian children’s books in 2021?

Apart from titles by Sudha Murty, Ruskin Bond, and a collection of classics, there are no titles by the authors published by independent children’s publishers. Why might this be?

Challenges for Indian children’s book writers and illustrators

  • Limited market and low income: The children’s book market in India is relatively small, which makes it difficult for authors (and illustrators) to reach a large audience and make a living from their writing/illustration.
  • Limited international recognition: Indian children’s literature is not as well-known internationally as literature from the West, which makes it harder for Indian authors to reach a global audience. This may be attributed to Indian picture books tending to be more didactic and literal when compared to the more abstract and imaginative picture books that find greater favour with international markets. A reputed children’s book editor and publisher also opined that international publishers appeared to be more interested in mythology and folk tales for older age groups, rather than contemporary Indian stories.
  • Lack of guidelines, research, and support: Authors and illustrators remain unclear about the content that interests children due to a lack of relevant research. Content creation in Hindi, Marathi, and Kannada is hindered by a lack of writing guidelines (such as the Dolch word list) in these languages. Many authors and illustrators lack access to resources and support, such as mentorship, workshops, and networking opportunities, that could help them build sustainable careers.

“No Indian illustrator survives only by doing children’s books. They’re also doing other stuff, like illustrations for corporate websites and projects.”

— Priya Kuriyan, children’s book illustrator

Challenges for Indian children’s book publishers

  • Fragmented Ecosystem: The publishing ecosystem in India includes large, medium, and small publishing enterprises, and is highly fragmented and competitive in nature.
  • High Paper Costs: Costs of production of children’s books have skyrocketed due to a shortage of paper and inflation in printing cost
  • Long payment cycles: Customer-facing stakeholders do not pay the publishers in time for books they have sold. Independent publishers find it extremely difficult to recover payments from bookstores on time.
  • Review space and media coverage: Little space in mainstream media for children’s literature makes review space a challenge. The number of children’s book reviewers on media platforms has dwindled greatly. Television barely covers the sector.

“The cost of paper and printing per unit have gone up by 30-40 per cent which has resulted in having to raise prices. This is an issue, because old books need to be stickered with the new price, and Tulika is known for being more reasonably priced in recent times. The supply of specific types of paper that we purchase are either dwindling or getting too expensive to continue with”.

— Radhika Menon, Publishing Director, Tulika Books

Challenges for Indian children’s book sellers

  • Declining demand for children’s books: Increasing availability of other media formats for children is impacting the demand for books. Parents in India prioritise buying academic books for their children.
  • Competition from e-commerce: With the rise of e-commerce, booksellers in India face increasing competition from online retailers, who often offer lower prices and a wider selection of books.

The NLF Report on Children’s Literature in India 2022 has been compiled by the Neev Literature Festival (NLF) team using inputs from the following:

  • India Book Market Report by Nielsen, 2022.
  • Data collated by EY-Parthenon from a variety of sources, including their 2021report in collaboration with the Association of Publishers of India titled “Value Proposition of the Indian Publishing Industry: Trends, Challenges, and Future of the Industry”.
  • Primary research by Kanishka Gupta, literary agent and founder, Writer’s Side.