Academic Publishing Scene in India
D.P. Pattanayak

Book publishing in India has come a long way both in contents and physical get up.  There is a steady improvement in editorial standards of Indian books and Indian printing has also made considerable headway in quality as well as speed.  Having broken away from the traditional parameters, the Indian book industry is producing today books on almost every discipline.

Historical Perspective

       Ironical though it may appear, book publishing was started in India by foreign agencies.  Printing came to India alongwith the Christian missionaries in Goa in the second half of the sixteenth century.  The first proper book printed in India was the Portuguese Catechism Doctrina Christaa in 1557.  This was followed by a first nonreligious text again in Portuguese in 1563 said to be the first great work by a European on Indian botany and medicine.  In Indian languages, Tamil took the lead in which translations of some religious texts were published in the quarter of the sixteenth century.   Printing then gradually spread to other centers and the earliest printing presses were established in Bombay in 1974, in Tranquebar, Madras in 1712 and in Hooghly , Bengal in 1778.

       Book publishing remained mainly religious in content until the close of the eighteenth century.  It emerged as a commercial activity in the nineteenth century when it received a two-fold impetus: (i) as the educational system was standardized after the colonial government's acceptance of Maculay's report on education, there was need for books to meet the requirements of the new educational system and (ii) as the Indian renaissance gained roots, especially in Bengal publishing began to assume its rightful role in the country's in intellectual life.  A sizeable educated middle class soon appeared on the scene, which was both a contributor to and a consumer of the Indian book publishing industry.  A network of booksellers also started emerging with the establishment of a modern book shop in Calcutta in 1830.  Most of the booksellers, however, subsisted through selling imported books and magazines.  The colonial government was not keen on the growth of indigenous publishing.  The limited requirements of educational books and  books for general reading were met by the British owned subsidiaries.  It redounds to the credit of some local publishers that in spite of stiff competition from the strongly entrenched foreign interests, they were able to produce several series textbooks well adapted for Indian students and got them approved by the powers that be.


Post-Independence publishing

       In 1947, when the country attained political freedom, literacy was as low as 15 per cent, education was confined mainly to liberal arts and the books needs were met largely from foreign sources.  At the school level, the process of what is known as nationalization of textbooks got accelerated and the State Governments charged with the responsibility of compulsory primary education  and adult literacy had to involve themselves directly with the publication of educational books with a view to combining high quality with low prices, so that essential reading material of the requisite quality was within the reach of the average pupil.

       Within three and a half decades after independence, the literacy rate was more than doubled (from 16.7% to 36.2%) and public expenditure on education increased from Rs.550 in 1947 to Rs.51,860 in 1983.  The number of educational institutions rose from 1,65,000 to 7,88,000 and the student population swelled from 15 million to 120 million during the corresponding years.  Educational explosion on the one hand and cultural renaissance on the other generated great thirst for knowledge and information and created an enormous demand for books.  With the establishment of technical and scientific institutions of higher level in all parts of the country, whose intake capacity over the years from 6,610 to 1,18,792, there was also unprecented demand of university level book in science and technology.  A large number of private publishing houses appeared all over in the fifties and the sixties to meet the growing book needs of the country.  For historical and other reasons, foreign books continued to dominate the higher levels of educational particularly in scientific and technical disciplines.  A new feature of this period was proliferation of American textbooks and a programme of Indo-American collaboration for university level books which led to the setting up of many subsidiaries of the U.S. publishing houses in India .  In order to make standard university books and reference material of foreign origin available to the Indian students at low prices, the Ministry of Education entered into reprint/translation agreements with the governments of the UK , the USA and the USSR separately.  So far about 700 British, 1600 American and 400 Soviet titles have been covered under these bilateral programmes.  Government also launched a programme of subsidizing indigenous university level books so as to avoid unfair competition which an Indian book without subsidy would have not survived alongwith foreign low priced editions.  Apart from bringing expensive books within the reach of an average Indian student, most of these subsidy schemes also benefited the private publishers in India .

A stab at figures

       In terms of number of titles produced annually, India is among the ten largest book producing countries in the world.  The number of titles received by the National Library, Calcutta under the Delivery of Books Act in 1982-83 was 16,650.  As the following table will indicate, India has held this position for a pretty long period, the highest figure being for the year 1975-76:

Annual book production in India



Number of titles produced

























These figures are in under-estimate, since the information about many titles do not reach the compilers of the National Bibliography.  Even if India 's average annual output is taken as 25,000 titles, the figure will not be so impressive in relation to the size of the population of the print-run.  Having nearly 15 percent of the world's population, India accounts for barely 3 percent of the world's book titles.

       Again the subject-wise classification of the titles indicates that although India produces books on a variety of disciplines, the largest percentage (over one-third) consists of literature, followed by politics and economics (about 18%) while natural sciences account for over 5% and medical sciences and technology about 2% each.  Textbooks apart, the average print-run is between 1000-2000 copies.  Some years ago, a popular Hindi novel ran into a record edition of 5,00.000 copies.  But this was an exception rather than the rule.

Language-wise break-up

       As for the languages in which books are produced, the largest number of titles continue to be in English.  According to the language break-up for 1982-83, English accounts for about 35% of the titles produced, followed by Hindi (17%), Marathi (7.5%), Tamil (7%), Telugu and Bengali (6% each) and so on.  The following table indicates the language-wise production for 1982-83.

Book production language-wise (1982-83)


Language of publication

Number of title





























Other languages





India is the third largest producer of books in English.  For historical and economic reasons, English is still at a premium compared to Indian languages.  It is the language of the elite with a strong educational background, who can also afford to buy books and is therefore a safe market for publishers.  Books in English are generally superior in get-up and despite a wider market and larger print-run, have a higher price level than the books in Indian languages.  They cover mostly scientific and technical disciplines and social sciences, while Indian languages have active written expression mostly in literature, religion and cultural commentary.  The language publishers, essentially book-sellers, are not so well-organised and have meager technical and financial resources.  They are often entrenched into the vicious circle of high production cost, low production standards and limited sales.  The English language book publishing industry in India is dominant because English is still the major language of all Indian communication and higher level national and international scholarship.

Publishing houses

Publishing in India began mostly as a by-product of book selling and printing activities.  To begin with, book selling was confined to a large extent to imported reading materials which were required specially in large towns where the first Indian universities were established., Calcutta , Bombay , Madras and Allahabad , Publishing received its first impetus in these towns.

       Since independence, a large number of booksellers and publishers shifted their operations to New Delhi , the capital of independent India and a seat of increasing number of universities, research institutes and their large funding bodies.  Today, New Delhi is the country's most active publishing centre.

       According to an old estimate, thee are about 11,200 publishers in India including about 1300 author-publishers.  Besides nearly 1,000 government organizations and other semi state government/autonomous bodies are publishing books.  However, a recent survey of the Indian book Industry reveals that there are about 3,000 active publishers.  Of course, about 100 large firms publish 50 or more titles a year; about 200 medium publishers 10 to 49 titles and 2,700 small publishers less than 10 titles a year.

University level books

       While the school textbooks are more or less nationalized and managed by the State Governments/Union Territory Administrations, the university level books continue to be dominated by the private sector.  A survey of the tertiary level books published in India since 1965 in all languages and disciplines was carried out some time back to identify the gaps that had to be filled up in indigenous books.  A reference collection of these titles is being maintained by Raja Rammohan Roy National Educational Resources Centre, New Delhi for the benefit of Indian students, scholars and publishers.  The centre brings out up to date supplements of these titles periodically arranges on-the-spot evaluation of these books and organize their exhibitions at the university campuses.

       In order to bring the prices of university level books within the reach of an average Indian reader, the Government has launched a programme of subsidizing indigenous university level books both in Indian languages and in English.  The subsidy programme for State language books is being implemented mainly through the State Governments which have set up their own textbook production agencies with substantial financial assistance from the Centre.  So fare more than 6000 books have been published under this programme, nearly one fourth of which are translations.

       Government subsidy scheme for university level books in English and Hindi is operated by the national Book Trust, New Delhi .  The Trust also operates a scheme of producing subsidized core books (e.g. on medical subjects) for use throughout the country.  The NBT subsidy ensures a square deal to the author and a break-even point to the publishers when about one-third of the print-run is sold.

Imports and Exports

       In keeping with the spirit of free flow of information of knowledge.  India has always had a liberal book import policy.  There has never been any censorship or custom duty on the import of books.  With effect from 1977-78 the import of educational, scientific and technical books was brought on the Open General Licence, while other categories of publications such as fiction and children books were subject to licencing which again was not too rigid.  It is estimated that more than 75% of the imports are from British or American publishes or their subsidiaries.  In order to encourage re-printing/translation rather than imports, the Import Policy does not allow, without government's specific permission, the import of more than 1000 copies of a single title by a single importer during a financial year.  Re-export of books imported is also prohibited so also the import of unauhorised editions of foreign reprints.  Import of publications containing pornographic material or depicting sex, violence, etc., is also not allowed.  The following table indicates the value of international trade in books and publications from 1972-72 to 1982-83.

International trade in books (1971-72 to 1982-83)



Value of export of books, journals etc.

(Rs. in millions)


















































         In the matter of  exports, Indian books reach out to more than 80 countries of the world and the value of export of publication has increased from Rs.11.8 million 1971-72 to Rs.150 million in 1982-83 (the export figure for 1983-84 was Rs.200 millions).  The largest buyers of our books are the UK , USA and West Germany where these books are widespread among in dividuals concerned with South Asia .  The neighbouring countries like Bangladesh , Nepal , Singapore and Malaysia and those which have population of Indian origin also account for substantial imports of books and magazines from India .  While there has been a visible change in the attitude towards our books abroad, the impression still persists in many quarters in the West that there is need to turn to Indian books only for what used to be called "orientalia" books on India's classical heritage, its religion and its philosophy and at the most, on its history and languages, perhaps an occasional book on its tribes and its people or on yoga, palmistry or astrology; hardly ever for books on the cotemporary scene.  Indian publishing is still very active in these traditional fields.  But it has much more to offer, particularly to the English-knowing reader.

       An important field of activity is the reprinting by a number of Indian reprint houses of some of the classics of `Indology' by Indian and foreign authors notably British and German which have long been out-of-print.  These are usually brought out in facsimile editions and are meeting the needs of libraries and individual scholars both in India and abroad.

       A substantial amount of Indian fiction is now being published in English much of it originally written in that language and some of it translated from outstanding creations in Indian languages.  Some contemporary Indian authors are also being published in English abroad but a number of equally talented writers have so far been published only in India.

       India has always been on the world's tourist itinerary.  Today's tourists are eager to have literature giving them the background of what they are going to see or giving them a deeper understanding of the places they have seen and the people they have met.  There is a growing number of publications in English on India's historical monuments, Indian history music, dancing and painting.

       India is increasingly producing books on developmental studies particularly in social and economic planning, international studies and relations especially o neighbouring countries and of west, south and south-east Asia and on researches and re-examination of its history and the freedom movement.

       The phenomenal increase in our export has been due largely to the export promotion efforts and incentives providing by government, e.g., import replenishment licences, excise duty drawbacks, cash subsidy, market development grants and facilities provided by Capexil through its books parcel.  Today India participates through National Book Trust in all important international book fairs held in Frankfurt, Moscow, London, Singapore etc.  Besides organizing special exhibitions and fairs of Indian books in several countries in cooperation with the Indian Missions abroad.  The NBT has itself a programme of hosting of World Book Fairs in New Delhi on a biennial basis, the latest being the 7th World Book Fair held in February, 1986 11th World Book Fair, January 1994.  A number of market surveys have been undertaken and publications brought out to boost the export of Indian books.  With India's adopting of the liberalized system, the export of books from India is bound to have a shot in the arm.


       India has a domestic copyright law and the Indian Copyright Act of 1957 protects original literacy, dramatic, musical and artistic works, cinematographic films and gramophone records.  The general term of Copyright is for the life time of the author and a period of 50 years after his death.  A Copyright Board has been constituted under the Act which resolves disputes regarding copyright and royalty matters.

       The Indian Copyright Act has been amended twice recently.  The first amendment was made in 1983 with the main objective of meeting India's educational requirements and making foreign books available at reasonable prices.  The other objectives were safeguarding author's rights and removing administrative drawbacks.

       Although India is a signatory to both the international copyright conventions, viz., the Berne Convention for the protection of literary and artistic works of WIPO and Universal Copyright Convention of UNESCO, it could not avail itself of the 1971 Paris revision that provides for certain facilities to the developing countries.  The 1983 amendment enables the Government of India under certain conditions to grant compulsory licences for translation and reproduction of works of foreign origin required for purposes for purposes of teaching, scholarship and research and for systematic instructional activities.  As regards safeguarding author's rights, the amendment provides that the Copyright Board will decide disputes arising out of the manner of assignments of copyright from authors to publishers.  The Board has been authorized even to give permission to the owner of the copyright to revoke its assignment if its terms are harsh to him or if the publisher unduly delays the publication of the work or the payment of any royalty due to the owner.

       Close on the heels of the first amendment, the second amendment to the Indian Copyright Act was introduced in 1984 with the main objective of curbing piracy wing to the rapid advancement of technology, the problem of piracy of books and other materials came to light both at national and international forums.  The main feature of the 1984 amendment was to increase the punishment for copyright infringement and enhance penalty particularly on second and subsequent convictions.  Thus, instead of the punishment on the first conviction being imprisonment for a term extending to one year, or with fine or with both, the punishment has now been increased to a period of imprisonment for not less than six months and up to three years and to find of not less than Rs.50,000 and up to Rs.2,00,000.  In other words it is now mandatory to impose a minimum imprisonment of six months and a minimum fine of Rs.50,000 at the time of first conviction.  The 1984 amendment also declares piracy a cognizable and non-bailable offence which means that any police officer not below the rank of a Sub-Inspector may seize without a Magistrate's warrant all copies of the work and all plates used for the purpose of making infringing copies.  Another provision made in this amendment is to declare the offence of infringement of copyright as an economic offence so that the period of limitation provided in the law will not be applicable to this offence.  It is to be hoped that these amendments will curb piracy and help our writers, publishers and readers.

Public sector publishing

       Apart from publishing nationalized textbooks at the school level, a major contribution of government is to provide funds or subsidies for the publication of research monographs and scholarly material for which the private sector will have neither the resources nor an adequate margin of profit to provide any incentives.  Yet, these publications are an essential requisite to expedite the developmental process in our country.

       Besides educational and research materials, the public sector brings out informative literature on government policy and programmes.  These publications are not merely restricted to statistics and reporting about developments and current problems, but extend to imparting to the citizens and to the world outside a genuine understanding about India the land and the people, art and architecture, history and culture, philosophy and traditions, politics and economics.  A case in point is the publication divisions of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which is the largest publishing wing in the public sector.  The National Book Trust is another important public sector publishing house which was set up with the dual objective of producing good reading material at low cost and promoting book-mindedness among the people.  In this connection mention should also be made of the valuable contribution made by the Sahitya Akademi to the promotion of creative literature in Indian languages.  Apart from its excellent literary publications, the Akademi every year gives cash awards  to outstanding authors of literary works in Indian languages.  There are many other semi-government or autonomous publishing organizations which along with government publishing houses are really engaged in those ventures which fulfill a national need.  They add volume and variety to the Indian publishing scene.  Most of their publications are slow-moving by nature and many of them are not commercially viable and would not, in any case, have been undertaken by private sector publishers.

       No less significant is the role of government as promoter of books.  Book publishing is a complex industry, the development of whose infrastructure depends upon Government support in a variety of ways.  The revival of the National Book Development Council has no doubt revived hopes for the promotion of the Indian book industry on sound lines.  Apart from other vital problems of the book industry being tackled by the Council a National Book policy has been formulated in consultation with book experts and educationists to serve the interests of all the components of the Indian book industry and trade including the readers.