Review in Economic Times:

The Economic Times


Indian authors' book sales in health & management categories steadily growing

Ranjeev C Dubey doesn't sound like your average self-help guru. He doesn't speak of the world with saccharine optimism, nor does he offer any instant rope tricks for success. 

"In much of life, everything is projected differently from what it is," says Dubey, managing partner with a Gurgaon-based corporate law firm. Neither does his upcoming book, Bullshit Quotient: Defining India's Corporate, Social and Legal Fingerprint, sound anything like a self-help book. 

Yet, in bookstores, Dubey's book will most probably be stacked along with titles like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Who Moved My Cheese and One Minute Manager. How does Dubey feel about it? "Seven Habits said nothing that affected your intellectual applecart. I don't plan to be politically correct," says Dubey. 

Bullshit Quotient will educate readers about the grease and grime of how things really work in India — from the stock markets to politics — and therefore navigate these world's better, argues Dubey. "In that sense, it's a self-help book," he adds. 

Help on Your Shelf 

Dubey's book is symptomatic of the change that's happening in the self-help books category in India. In the past, the self-help book segment could be broadly classified into three large sub-categories: spirituality, personal/business skills and health. 

Not anymore. Indian publishers are now looking beyond the standard 'get rich quick', 'unleashing your kundalini' or even 'cracking the big interview' formats, even though these themes continue to be as popular. More interestingly, they are looking for India-based authors. 

India has always been a big market for self-help books. "The genre is a steady seller and has a solid backlist that doesn't go out of fashion," says Arunima Roy, a spokesperson for Hachette Book Publishing India. "Essentially, it is the backlist that sells steadily and most of them have been motivational speakers, successful businessmen with their rags-to-riches stories, and so on," adds Roy. 

So how big is the self-help segment in India? Numbers are tough to estimate as the definition of a self-help book is pretty nebulous. However, most book store chains and publishers agree that this segment is among the fastest growing in the publishing business. "The segment is growing rapidly, almost 10% year-on-year. This is largely lead by business and health self-help books," says Kinjal Shah, COO, Crossword Book Stores, adding that of the top 30 bestsellers of 2011, six were self-help books. 

Data from Nielsen BookScan, Nielsen's book sales tracking service, reveals that sales of self-help books grew 31% in volumes and 25% in value across the panel of retailers it monitors in the first six months of 2012 compared to a year ago. 

"The self-help books category is at double the pace of other book categories," says Sanjay Bhatnagar, general manager, Times Group Books. Bhatnagar believes that there is a great demand for books that extract 'practical management lessons' from Indian mythology. 

Potter and Weight loss 

Self-help books though have a long way to go before they catch up with sales of genres like fiction, not just in India but also abroad. "Whilst fewer books from the self-help genre immediately reach the phenomenal sales figures of some popular fiction like a Dan Brown, Harry Potter or even Fifty Shades of Grey, there are still some standout successes which continue to sell worldwide," says Caroline Newbury, a spokesperson for Random House India.

However, self-help books have a different sales trajectory. "Many sell by word of mouth and therefore continue to sell solidly and at a consistent level for years and years. For instance, How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published in the 1930s but still sells well today," adds Newbury. 

In the past, books penned by international writers like Dale Carnegie, Paulo Coelho and Indian writers based in the West like Deepak Chopra and Robin Sharma have dominated sales in this space, with the few exceptions like Shiv Khera. 

But in the past four years or so, sales of self-help titles from Indian authors have taken off. Books like Rashmi Bansal's Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish, Rujuta Diwekar's Don't Lose Your Mind, Lose Your Weight and more recently, Anupam Kher's The Best Thing About You is You have sold tens of thousands of copies. For instance, Diwekar's book on weightloss has sold over 2,50,000 copies since 2009. 

New Voices 

Does this mean that Indian authors are ready to upstage sales of the Dale Carnegies and the Paulo Coelhos in the self-help segment? Not yet. A new Paulo Coelho book sells about 1,00,000 copies in India. 

The average bestselling Indian author on the other hand tends to sell about 30,000-50,000 a year, says Lipika Bhushan, head of marketing, Harper Collins India. But that's changing as Indian author book sales are steadily growing, especially in the health and management categories. 

"India is a different country, socially, culturally and in the way we live. We need authors who understand how we live and what our specific aspirations are. It's hardly surprising that self-help books by Indian authors are doing well," says an editor with a foreign publishing house, who's not authorised to speak to the media. 

Keeping this in mind, Harper Collins is launching an imprint that will specifically cater to this genre. And who are the authors that publishers are looking for? "Our editors' look for achievers and people who know their subject matter well," says Bhushan. What about literary prowess? 

You don't have to write like the bard to get a self-help book published. As publishing consultant Vinutha Mallya puts it, "People don't buy self-help books for the joy of reading. Self-help books are bought to acquire a specific practical skill or knowledge." So, don't be surprised if that section of your neighbourhood bookshop gets bigger every year.