publishing trends

Decoding a bestseller: How Nielsen BookScan is changing some aspects of Indian publishing

An interview with Vikrant Mathur, director of Nielsen BookScan India shows how accurate data is indispensable for publishers.

The publishing industry in India tends to play fast and loose with the term “bestseller”. From Amazon to Crossword to individual newspapers and bookstores, everybody has a list of their own, allowing authors and publishers to gleefully declare their books a bestselling success. Among the multitude of rankings however, Nielsen BookScan India remains the only quantitative dataset in the industry. In an interview with Scroll.in, Vikrant Mathur, director of Nielsen BookScan India, revealed how accurate data helps Indian publishing, how much fiction really sells and how Nielsen’s entry changed the way publishers think about sales and books. Excerpts from the interview:

How reliable was the data gathering for book sales in India in the Pre-Nielsen days
Before BookScan in India, there was no robust statistical methodology driven data available in the market. “Guesstimates” were in vogue and bestsellers were created by prominent book stores. The publishers and retailers were using their own sales data but they had no idea about the competitor’s data, or their share in the entire market. Basically, there was no one aggregating the data in the market.

What were the kind of challenges faced by Nielsen in the early days? Was there a lot of resistance from publishers and retailers?
Nielsen BookScan was launched after a request from a group of publishers in India to make the services available in the country. We started with organised retail stores in India and gradually expanded our panel from nine critical retail groups (including all the top ones, such as Crossword, Landmark, Flipkart, Om Bookshop) to almost 43-44, as of today. We have expanded our retail panel eight times since 2011. Publishers and retailers have understood the benefits of using BookScan data/ reports over the years.

How much of the trade market does BookScan cover?
Nielsen covers 40%-45% of the English trade book market in the country.

Some mainstream publishers still don’t subscribe to Nielsen. Why do you think this is so?
It is eventually a publisher’s decision to subscribe to BookScan reports. But the benefits associated with the data are immense – be it strategic or understanding of the competition in the market.

Does Nielsen have discounted packages for individual clients such as authors? Do any bestselling authors subscribe to the BookScan?
Yes, we do consider niche publishers and authors and we have tailor made subscriptions for them named BookScan Online Sales Summaries (BOSS), which is essentially a subset of the bookscan. At present, we often get calls or emails from authors and we support them accordingly. Many of these requests come from self-published authors or authors who are just one or two books old. We usually provide them with the figures without charging any fee.

Have you thought of sharing category-wise bestselling lists, so that genres which are known to be slow sellers, such as literary fiction, poetry and translations, are not completely overlooked?
We have the relevant information available with us for all the genres and it is at the discretion of the media houses to decide what they want to publish. For instance, in the UK not only are the bestsellers published by sub-genres such as romance and crime but also by the format of the book, i.e. paperback or hardback.

Should publishers and aspiring authors worry about the dwindling market for fiction?
I don’t think so because the trend in the last couple of years suggests that Indian authors, especially in the fiction genre, are performing well. It is an opportunity for publishers to add new Indian authors. I see an opportunity for example, in the genres of romance, historical fiction and mythology.

Do you plan to offer more analytics and insights to your clients in the future, such as the break-up of book sales between urban and rural, organised bookstores and other retail outlets?
The scan already provides data by region, ie, North, East, West and South. However, we are now planning to break down data by individual states. I don’t think we’re looking at urban/tier two and three/rural immediatel,y because the latter mostly sees the sale of educational books.

What is the share of English trade publishing in the book publishing market in India?
Going by the Nielsen India Book Market Report, the English language covers 55% of the total trade book market in India.

What are your plans to tap into the regional languages book market?
We capture the sales of all books that have been sold from the panel retail stores. So any regional language book sold from these counters will be tracked in our system, but it should have a valid ISBN.

In conformance with our global research methodology, we track valid 10 or 13 digit ISBNs only and from those retail counters that have Electronic Point of Sales (EPoS) systems in place. I think regional books are largely selling from the fragmented market which does not necessarily have the EPoS.

Nielsen data has started shaping the way books are acquired and published in India. On many occasions, editors and publishers cite Nielsen figures to justify their decision about a particular manuscript. What is the feedback that you’re getting from clients?
It’s fantastic. Publishers and retailers use Nielsen data for taking strategic decisions such as author acquisitions, reprint and even the future direction of publishing based on the sales figures of different genres. BookScan has introduced a lot of transparency in the system.

When do you think you’d be able to cover most of the Indian market like in the West?
In India book publishing is intricate and unorganised, hence different from the Western markets. Many retailers in our country are still not equipped with EPoS systems. But I believe in the changing economic scenario in the country. The retailers are beginning to understand the importance of EPoS and we are more than happy to introduce them in our BookScan retailer panel.

Which year has been the best for Indian publishing since Nielsen started tracking sales? And who is the highest-selling Indian author according to the scan?
2016 was the best year in terms of volume and value. Chetan Bhagat is the highest selling author according to BookScan data.

How has the book market performed so far in 2017? What trends do you see?
The performance is negative compared to the same period last year. As we know India is a backlist-driven market and the list has not performed like last year. It is mostly fiction titles that make it to the top of the charts – versus nonfiction and children’s books. Typically, the nonfiction genre contributes to 50% in the BookScan-covered market, fiction is one-third, and the rest is children’s books.

Indian authors mostly dominate the fiction category, while nonfiction is a mix of both Indian and international writers. The children’s genre is mostly composed of international authors.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.