Thoughts on economics and liberty

Breaking Free of Nehru – one of India’s most widely read, if not “best selling”, books

When I found a publisher for BFN during my 2007 visit to India (Anthem Press), their CEO told me that they would be very pleased if they sold 500 copies. I was amused to learn that in India the most "famous" best selling authors usually manage to barely sell 2000 copies in all.

But that's the sad reality, as seen from this article (and data provided below). There are so few book readers in India. Newspapers is the most our "educated" people read.

In the case of BFN, the first print run of 500 quickly sold out (and reached "best selling" (!) status on Oxford books). After the first paperback copy was released, Anthem Press restructured and told me in mid-2009 that they won't publish any more copies. I therefore got the full copyrights back and put it out (full version) on the internet.

In the meantime I learnt that after about another year Anthem Press published a hardback version of the book which I presume sold around 500 copies (or so) as well, since very few copies of the book now remain, being found among a few online publishers.

So how many copies of BFN have been "sold" so far?

To the nearly 1000 hard copies that were sold, one should add the following:

a) Over 24,000 copies downloaded from my website.   [Detailed record here]

b) The Slideshare copy has had about 1000 views, Google books copy has another few hundred views/downloads, and there are numerous "mirror" websites which have copied the PDF file and made it widely available.

I'd therefore estimate that at least 26,000 copies have been "sold"/downloaded so far. This would make BFN one of the most widely read works of non-fiction in 2009-11 in India.

How many copies does a best-seller sell in India?

Extract from India Today's best selling list. Note the extremely few copies that typically sell in India. 

RANK

AUTHOR

FICTION TITLE

PUBLISHER

MEAN PRICE

TOTAL

COPIES SOLD

1

Aravind Adiga

The White Tiger

Harper Collins

Rs. 395

2797

2

Chetan Bhagat

The Three Mistakes of My Life

Rupa & Co.

Rs. 95

1546

3

Durjoy Datta / Maanvi Ahuja

Of course I love You….Till I Find Someone Better

Srishti

Rs.100

919

4

Chetan Bhagat

One Night @ the Call Centre

Rupa & Co

Rs.95

850

5

Amitav ghosh

Sea of Poppies

Penguin / Viking

Rs.599

765

6

Chetan Bhagat

Five Point Someone : What Not To Do At IIT

Rupa & Co / Simon & Schuster

Rs 95

681

7

Sam Bourne

The Final Reckoning

Harper Collins

Rs.295

648

8

Christopher Paolini

Brisingr

Doubleday

Rs.600/$699

570

9

Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Bloomsbury / Arrow / Penguin

Rs.599/2.99 Pounds

439

10

Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner

Penguin India / Harper Collins India

Rs 275/470/Pound 3.50

435

11

Jhumpa Lahiri

Unaccustomed Earth

Random House India

Rs.450

345

12

Aravind Adiga

Between The Assassinations

Picador

Rs.295

221

13

John Le Carre

A Most Wanted Man

Hodder & Stoughton

Rs.275

215

14

Tarun J. Tejpal

The Alchemy Of Desire

Harper Collins/ Picador India

Rs 500/195

180

15

Elizabeth Noble

Things I Want My Daughters to Know

Penguin

Rs.419

175

16

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan

You Are Here

Penguin

Rs. 199

172

17

Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram

Penguin / Times Warner

Rs 515/5.5 Pounds

162

18

Karan Bajaj

Keep off the grass

Pan McMillan / Harper Collins

Rs.195

148

19

David Baldacci

Divine Justice

Macmillon

Rs.522/6.99 Pound

131

20

Eric Van Lustbader

The Bourne Sanction

Orion Books

Rs.275

120

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5 thoughts on “Breaking Free of Nehru – one of India’s most widely read, if not “best selling”, books
  1. Supratim

    Sanjeev,
     
    First of all, many congratulations on "selling" 27,000 copies of your book – by any standards, that is an excellent number. I do hope that all 27,000 readers read, at least, some parts of your book.
     
    However, the India Today list has to be wrong – between my friends alone, I can find more numbers of readers for David Baldacci than the numbers suggest! I think that is just their sales through their network, and does not represent all-India sales, through all channels. Flipkart and Indiatimes, for example, are major online retailers – and, I am sure that they would have sold more copies of Harry Potter or David Baldacci or Dan Brown than the numbers suggest.
     
    Cheers
     
    Supratim

     
  2. sabhlok

    Thanks, Supratim. I agree – but in part. The system of compiling total sales is very poorly designed in India at the moment, so the India Today data aren’t representative. The sales of some English books in India have dramatically increased over the past 2-3 years. I know that Gurcharan Das’s “The Difficulty of Being Good” has sold well over 40,000 copies.http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Hinduism/?view=usa&ci=9780199754410.

    Chetan Bhagat’s books also sell very well.

    However, the vast majority (90%+) languish well below 500 copies. And if you exclude some massively advertised books (less than 1 per cent of all books), then possibly 98% of English books sell well below 500 copies, even now (I’m excluding text books).

    Anyway, what I really wanted was the ability to have my book freely available online, and that has happened. That’s pretty good.

    S

     
  3. Jay

    Hi Sanjeev,
     
    Thanks for posting these numbers. I find them shocking, almost to the point of disbelief. 
    I would be interested in seeing a study of the reading culture in India.  How many books do middle class Indians read a year, what kinds of books are they reading, what is the state of the nation's public libraries, and questions of that sort. I would hope that  such a study would find they are reading more than school textbooks, and newspapers. I also wonder about pirated books. How many pirated books are sold  or read online. Of course the reading culture is changing in the west even as one might lament whether Indians are reading enough. Philip Roth and Martin Amis have both commented that they believe the novel is a dying medium. The internet's websites and blogs, cough cough, take away time that might of otherwise have gone to reading a book.  
    I'm not sure if you have recommended reading list on site. But if not, maybe you should have one. What books do you believe should be in the homes of all Indian citizens so that they can fully participate in the democratic process, maximize their potential and contribute to Indian Society, and work toward building a less discriminatory society. 
    Thanks,
    Jay

     
  4. sabhlok

    Jay

    The reality is that 99 per cent of middle class Indian households don’t have a SINGLE book apart from textbooks and maybe a copy of the Gita. I speak from personal experience, coming from a middle class family with most of my relatives from the lower-middle class. Even abroad (e.g. in Australia) where such Indians can readily afford books, 80 per cent never buy ANY book. Nor do they go to libraries.

    I don’t have statistics on this but anyone who wishes to conduct a survey will readily confirm these facts.

    Re: a recommended book list, my books cite numerous references – many of which are excellent sources of valuable information. In addition, I’ve got a set of 16 recommended books at page 6 of the FTI magazine: http://www.freedomteam.in/mag/GreatIndia-17.pdf

    Also, I’ve got a links to resources here: http://sabhlokcity.com/my-organisations/primer-on-liberty/ and here: http://sabhlokcity.com/resources-on-freedom/

    I’d hope that the STINGY middle class (who would rather spend on a good meal in a restaurant than on a book) would find it possible to read my free book!

    S

     
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