Mumbai: The runaway success of a novel about a love triangle among a teenager, werewolf and vampire stands to tilt the balance of power in the publishing industry and bring release dates in India in line with global standards.
Surprise success: The cover of Stephenie Meyer’s latest book.
Hachette Book Group USA, the publisher of Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the “Twilight” series by Stephenie Meyer, has sold 23,000 copies of the book since it released on Thursday, with 17,000 snapped up in pre-orders by retailers and bookstores around the country.
The unexpected bestseller, which has won teenage fans around the globe, comes in second on the book charts in the category only to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which sold 270,000 copies in hardback in India. Its sales help strengthen the hand of Indian distributers seeking to standardize release dates across the globe. In the US, the book released on 2 August, but in India a full 12 days later, on 14 August.
Here, Breaking Dawn also differed as it was released in trade paperback format, which gives it the same dimensions as a hardback book, but the benefits of the discounted cost of being a paperback — in line with contractual agreements with the publishers.
“We are in dialogue with the publishers to take books straight to the small format,” says Thomas Abraham, managing director of Hachette in India. He refers to the paperback format in which novels appear when released simultaneously around the globe, as opposed to the costlier hardback format. “We wanted this book early, but it did not happen, because India is not a fully mature market.”
A staggered release, which in this case saw Breaking Dawn retail at Rs550 in bookshops, against the Rs350 price tag of regular paperbacks but cheaper than the $22.99 (about Rs990) US hardcover price, ensures that publishers can split the market between formats of novels and maximise their margins.
But the drawbacks of such a release include the probability of piracy, as the book falls into the hands of black market operators, and a heightened probability of readers accessing the books through alternative markets, in addition to the cost and effort of having to maintain momentum for more than one publicity campaign.
“Best-sellers are released on the same date around the globe so publishers can make the most out of the hype and the marketing,” said Abraham. “We expected the book to be successful, but not quite to this scale. It did take us by surprise.”
Indeed, anxious to find out how the four-part series concludes and read the book at the same time as their American teen counterparts, Indian readers petitioned relatives from abroad to send them copies of Breaking Dawn, while others put in pre-orders at stores nationwide.
Nehal Swaroop, a 13-year- old from Delhi, says she had been counting down the days to release since June. She pre-ordered at a bookstore, after plans to get an early copy through a relative in the US were scuppered after bookshops there ran out of stock.
“I had asked several cousins to bring it from the US, but it had sold out,” says Swaroop. “I have read the whole series. They are really nice books and they are different to other books.”
Sana Hassan, 12, borrowed a friend’s copy of Breaking Dawn ahead of its release in India, and then bought her own copy when it hit shelves here. “My friend’s aunt brought the book from America, and so I borrowed it,” she says. “I like the way the book is written; I like the romance. And it is deeper than most other books. It is my most favourite book at the moment.”
Meyer’s first novel, Twilight, spent 49 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list and will be released as a film in December. Meyer, 34, has been likened to J.K. Rowling, the writer behind the Harry Potter series.
Hachette India, which said it had expected the book to sell up to 15,000 copies in pre-orders and the first weekend, said demand was strongest in Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore.
Hachette India had expected the novel to gradually gain momentum, rather than take India by storm.
“Stephanie Meyer is uncharted territory in India,” explains Abraham. ”We have no precedent or parallel. We did not expect teenage vampire fiction to take off, so the buzz is gradually spreading.”
In the first four days of release, Crossword, the bookstore chain of Shoppers Stop Ltd, said it had sold around 400 copies of Breaking Dawn, in line with expectations, while Tata retail arm Trent’s Landmark, a rival with stores mainly concentrated in the south, said it had recorded sales of around 800 copies, and had ordered 1,500 copies across all its branches.
“The book is largely an urban phenomenon,” said one retailer, who asked not to be named. He added that sales had been boosted by a promotional campaign, including posters and coasters for drinks at the in-store cafes carrying images referring to the book. In addition, Crossword applied a 20% discount to the entire series in order to attract buyers.
The book has created a publishing sensation in the US, with teenage girls queueing in line for hours on the day of release.
Artemis Fowl, a young adult-fantasy novel, sold up to 12,000 copies in India within the first two months of its release, coming in third behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn. In adult fiction, among local authors, Chetan Bhagat has broken records with his books, including One Night @ The Call Centre and The Three Mistakes of My Life, which have both sold more than 300,000 copies within the first year of release.