publishing trends

How many copies must a book sell to be a bestseller in India (and why are there so many lists?)

The truth is that there is no one accurate estimate of the sales of a book.

If you’re a reader, you’ll have noticed that in India, there isn’t a clear definition of what a bestselling book means. Sure, there are some clear leaders: the Chetan Bhagats, the Amish Tripathis, the Devdutt Pattnaiks, the Dan Browns. But why does The Asian Age carry one set of books as its weekly bestseller, while The Hindustan Times has a different set of books, and features yet another bestseller list? And what makes a book a bestseller in India?

The answer to the first query is clear: each bestseller list is collated on the basis of different datasets.

At the bottom of the Asian Age Fiction bestseller list is a small notice that reads: Bahrisons, New Delhi. This implies the list of books has been supplied by the venerable bookshop that is almost an institution in Delhi.

In Hindustan Times, the data is provided by Nielsen-Bookscan, the only quantitative dataset we have on the entire Indian book industry:

Then there’s Amazon, whose bestseller list is based on its own algorithms, and constantly checks for actual book sales, combined with historical data analysis, to come up with a bestseller chart:

Between these three, which one should you trust?

Like with most things about books, there’s no simple answer.

If you’re looking at sheer numbers alone, the most quantitatively accurate data will come from Nielsen-Bookscan, which covers online sellers like Amazon and Flipkart and physical booksellers like Crossword. Even so, industry estimates suggest that Bookscan covers about 60 to 70% of the trade book market. So it’s not a comprehensive figure, but it should give you a fair idea of how many copies a book has sold in a year. Bookscan doesn’t release numbers here in India unless you subscribe to its services, but get your hands on Bookseller magazine, which prints fortnightly numbers from Bookscan from across the world, for some benchmarks.

Amazon rankings are based on their own site sales. Considering that it accounts for as much as 40% to 50% of sales for most books, and sometimes even more (unlike mass market books that are available even in the smallest of stores)  – it can be a reasonably accurate measure of how well a book has done in India. Remember, reviews are not taken into consideration in the rankings – it’s pure sales.

The third, that of individual booksellers, is a more limited dataset, for obvious reasons. But it’s also a reflection of the customers that frequent the bookseller. For example, Bahrison’s fiction list quoted above suggests a overwhelming preference for literary titles, with six of the top ten books in that category.

Of course, the most famous bestseller list in the world does not follow any of these rules. The New York Times Bestseller List “rankings reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles”, but the exact details about the methodology, or the number of stores, remain a trade secret. The list has often been criticised as being misleading, inaccurate and manipulated, and has also been sued by William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, for his book Legion not being included in the bestselling charts. (The California Supreme Court ruled against the author in the $3-million suit in 1989.)

Now we come to the second question: How many copies must a book sell to qualify as a bestseller in India?

As someone who has worked in Indian publishing previously, I’d say this is a difficult question. It depends on the goalposts. Say your sales target was 100,000 copies, and you end up selling 70,000 copies  – fewer than what you wanted, but a significant number nonetheless. Would you consider the book a bestseller? And what about the book that you thought would sell only 5,000 copies, but ends up selling 30,000 copies?

As a commissioning editor, I’d look out for the latter. That’s the breakout hit, an unexpected bonus. A Dan Brown, if it sells less than 100,000 copies, has disappointed. But an Ajay K. Pandey, which sells more than 50,000 copies, is a definite bestseller.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about perception. If you’re a debut author, consider 10,000 copies your first barrier. If you can breach it, you’re on your way to bestseller kingdom.

It’s just that even this number is a tough ask now, especially at a time when most novels barely sell 5,000 copies!

This article first appeared on Medium.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Making two-wheelers less polluting to combat air pollution in India

Innovations focusing on two-wheelers can make a difference in facing the challenges brought about by climate change.

Two-wheelers are the lifeline of urban Asia, where they account for more than half of the vehicles owned in some countries. This trend is amply evident in India, where sales in the sub-category of mopeds alone rose 23% in 2016-17. In fact, one survey estimates that today one in every three Indian households owns a two-wheeler.

What explains the enduring popularity of two-wheelers? In one of the fastest growing economies in the world, two-wheeler ownership is a practical aspiration in small towns and rural areas, and a tactic to deal with choked roads in the bigger cities. Two-wheelers have also allowed more women to commute independently with the advent of gearless scooters and mopeds. Together, these factors have led to phenomenal growth in overall two-wheeler sales, which rose by 27.5% in the past five years, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM). Indeed, the ICE 2016 360 survey says that two-wheelers are used by 37% of metropolitan commuters to reach work, and are owned by half the households in India’s bigger cities and developed rural areas.

Amid this exponential growth, experts have cautioned about two-wheelers’ role in compounding the impact of pollution. Largely ignored in measures to control vehicular pollution, experts say two-wheelers too need to be brought in the ambit of pollution control as they contribute across most factors determining vehicular pollution - engine technology, total number of vehicles, structure and age of vehicles and fuel quality. In fact, in major Indian cities, two-thirds of pollution load is due to two-wheelers. They give out 30% of the particulate matter load, 10 percentage points more than the contribution from cars. Additionally, 75% - 80% of the two-wheelers on the roads in some of the Asian cities have two-stroke engines which are more polluting.

The Bharat Stage (BS) emissions standards are set by the Indian government to regulate pollutants emitted by vehicles fitted with combustion engines. In April 2017, India’s ban of BS III certified vehicles in favour of the higher BS IV emission standards came into effect. By April 2020, India aims to leapfrog to the BS VI standards, being a signatory to Conference of Parties protocol on combating climate change. Over and above the BS VI norms target, the energy department has shown a clear commitment to move to an electric-only future for automobiles by 2030 with the announcement of the FAME scheme (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles in India).

The struggles of on-ground execution, though, remain herculean for automakers who are scrambling to upgrade engine technology in time to meet the deadlines for the next BS norms update. As compliance with BS VI would require changes in the engine system itself, it is being seen as one of the most mammoth R&D projects undertaken by the Indian automotive industry in recent times. Relative to BS IV, BS VI norms mandate a reduction of particulate matter by 82% and of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 68%.

Emission control in fuel based two-wheelers can be tackled on several fronts. Amongst post-emission solutions, catalytic converters are highly effective. Catalytic converters transform exhaust emissions into less harmful compounds. They can be especially effective in removing hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide from the exhaust.

At the engine level itself, engine oil additives are helpful in reducing emissions. Anti-wear additives, friction modifiers, high performance fuel additives and more lead to better performance, improved combustion and a longer engine life. The improvement in the engine’s efficiency as a result directly correlates to lesser emissions over time. Fuel economy of a vehicle is yet another factor that helps determine emissions. It can be optimised by light weighting, which lessens fuel consumption itself. Light weighting a vehicle by 10 pounds can result in a 10-15-pound reduction of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Polymer systems that can bear a lot of stress have emerged as reliable replacements for metals in automotive construction.

BASF, the pioneer of the first catalytic converter for automobiles, has been at the forefront of developing technology to help automakers comply with advancing emission norms while retaining vehicle performance and cost-efficiency. Its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Mahindra World City near Chennai is equipped to develop a range of catalysts for diverse requirements, from high performance and recreational bikes to economy-oriented basic transportation. BASF also leverages its additives expertise to provide compounded lubricant solutions, such as antioxidants, anti-wear additives and corrosion inhibitors and more. At the manufacturing level, BASF’s R&D in engineered material systems has led to the development of innovative materials that are much lighter than metals, yet just as durable and strong. These can be used to manufacture mirror brackets, intake pipes, step holders, clutch covers, etc.

With innovative solutions on all fronts of automobile production, BASF has been successfully collaborating with various companies in making their vehicles emission compliant in the most cost-effective way. You can read more about BASF’s innovations in two-wheeler emission control here, lubricant solutions here and light weighting solutions here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.