What worked in books in 2012?

New Delhi: A spate of non-fiction about India`s transformation as a secular nation and an emerging superpower scored yet another hit on the bookshelf this year with a flood of mass market fiction.

The troika that topped every reader`s choice on the popular fiction list was the erotic trilogy of `Fifty Shades of Grey`, `Fifty Shades Darker` and `Fifty Shades Freed`. However, four heavyweights, `Joseph Anton` by Salman Rushdie, `Casual Vacanacy` by J.K. Rowling and Chetan Bhagat`s `What India Wants` were disappoitments, publishers said.

Digital books ate a bigger slice of the market pie, drawing newersegments of readers with brisk e-commerce on popular e-shops.

The increase in new readership has been powered by the virtual explosion in literature festivals that spread from the metros to tier II cities - mostly state capitals - in 2012, witnessing a cultural synergy with foreign and Indian writers sharing space to talk books and local issues.

"The major trend in the publishing industry in 2012 has been the perpetuation of the mass market that has been on the top of the best-sellers` list. There has been a great deal of change on the digital front with e-books grabbing a bigger share of the market. The Kindle is here and it has changed the way we read," V.K. Karthika, publisher and chief editor of HarperCollins-India, told IANS.

The sale of books has seen a major shift from "bricks and mortar stores" to the online world.

Karthika puts the growth in online sales to bigger discounts and "greater comfort levels" that such reading offers.

The genre of narrative non-fiction in 2012 became far more interesting than before, said Arcopol Chaudhuri, commissioning editor of Fingerprint Publication. "Bookstore owners and distributors were actually excited about non-fiction prompted by readers` response," Chaudhuri told IANS.

India was the muse of some of the big non-fiction titles like `Pax Indica` by Shashi Tharoor, `Patriots & Partisans` by Ramachandra Guha, `From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia` by Pankaj Mishra, `Behind the Beautiful Forever` by Katherine Boos and Gurcharan Das` `India Grows at Night`, Chadhuri said.

He said four "high-profile titles including Joseph Anton and Casual Vacancy failed in India because the writers were handling a different genre".

However, eroticism lent spice to trade. Almost everyone tried to replicate the `50 Shades of Grey` effect to add "masala" to conventional mass market fiction that moved beyond the stock "chick lit" of the last few years to experiment with "queer fiction", "male fantasy books" and bolder NRI and campus romances that had new liberated globe-trotting woman as the star.

Soft romantic novels by authors like Ravinder Singh and Durjoy Dutta saw multiple print runs.

"This year has seen a major surge in erotic fiction, while last year`s dominant themes in the market was vampires. Children`s publishing, however, continued to be a thriving area," Hemali Sodhi, vice president of Penguin Books India, told IANS.

Imprints like the Puffin, Dorling Kindersley Lady Bird, Tara, Katha, HarperCollins and Wisdom Tree reached out to more schoolgoers with biographies, non-fiction, mythological tales and "desi" young adult books.

Publishers say one of the reasons why children`s books did not fall short of sales targets was e-commerce. "The Internet allowed young readers to experience the books together at first and then buy them," Shobhit Arya, publisher and founder of Wisdom Tree, told IANS.

Re-telling of mythologies and historical fiction returned this year as a popular narratve genre, with fiction built around Indian spirituality.

"I don`t think Indians can ever turn away from mythology. Everything, including television, is so rooted in myths," Arya said. The list of books that kept the tills ringing included likes of Ashwin Sanghi`s `Krishna`s Key`, Ashok Banker`s `Sons of Sita`, Sangeeta Bahadur`s `Jaal`, Amish`s `The Secret of the Nagas`, a sequel to The Immortals of Meluha` are believed to sold more than 700,000 copies together," Sodhi said.

There have been no major changes in the core business of publishing, Sodhi said adding "readership numbers increased as is the reach of publishers, increasing print run".

"Categories like mass market fiction and do-it-yourself and business books are reaching new tiers of first-time readers, especially in B-towns, which is an encouraging trend." Sodhi said.

But chain stores were on the downturn, with several closing down or limiting their inventories. "Books now have to compete with lifestyle accessories now in chain stores," Shobit Arya said.

Random industry estimates say the Indian non-publishing market is valued at roughly Rs 10,000 crore, of which non-academic books make business of around Rs 2,000 crore.

IANS / Madhusree Chatterjee