An untapped market

<p>Take a roll call of top books and writers from the past decade or so and South Asians or British Asians certainly seem to punch above their weight. From Salman Rushdie to Arundhati Roy, Monica Ali, Hanif Kureshi and Vikas Swarup to Aravind Adiga, books with South Asian themes and by authors of Asian descent have garnered prizes and hit the top of the bestseller lists. And it goes on in the new generation: in the Costa Book Awards first novel shortlist, revealed last week, three of the four titles have South Asian themes: Kishwar Desai&rsquo;s Witness the Night (Beautiful Books); Nikesh Shulka&rsquo;s Coconut Unlimited (Quartet); and Aastish Taseer&rsquo;s The Temple Goers (Viking).&nbsp;</p>
<p>But what are the views of the South Asian community in the UK? Is the British book trade reaching out to this growing demographic&mdash;and publishing enough books with a South Asian theme? The answer may be that the industry is not doing enough to attract South Asian readers and that there is a need to have more books geared towards the South Asian community. Perhaps publishers are&nbsp; missing out on an untapped market?</p>
<p>Those, at least, were the views of both readers and members of the book trade in the first full-scale UK survey into the reading and book buying habits of British South Asians&mdash;and how the trade serves that community. The online surveys were carried out by researchers BML, on behalf of the DSC South Asian Literature Festival (SALF) and sponsored by The Bookseller.&nbsp; The surveys were conducted following the conclusion on 31st October of the inaugural SALF, 15 days of readings, debates and workshops held in London and throughout the UK.&nbsp;</p>
<p>The survey consisted of two strands: consumer and book trade. Respondents on the consumer side were contacted by BML&rsquo;s BookZone (a panel of about 12,000 book lovers), SALF, The Bookseller, plus South Asian-geared websites and In all, 1,881 people responded to the consumer survey, of which 238 identified themselves as Asian/British Asian. The trade survey generated a perhaps not overwhelming, but certainly indicative, 95 responses. <br />
<b><br />
The market</b><br />
One of the questions asked in the trade survey&mdash;to gauge knowledge of the region&mdash;is what exactly is meant by South Asian? The term generally refers to the sub-Himalayan part of the continent: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Most trade respondents identified these five countries as South Asian&mdash;India at 79% the highest, Nepal the lowest at 55%. Yet trade respondents also identified a large number of other countries&mdash;17 in all&mdash;as South Asian, including Burma (49%), Bhutan (44%), Thailand (44%) and Indonesia (42%).</p>
<p>If we just confine ourselves to the five countries of the Indian sub-continent, that community is a significant one in the UK. There has not been a census since 2001, and the Office of National Statistics&rsquo; most recent population estimates by ethnicity are from 2007 and confined to England and Wales&mdash;but they suggest that the South Asian population at that time was around 3.2 million out of 54 million people, or 6%. In&nbsp; 2010, ONS&rsquo; overall UK population estimate (including Scotland and Northern Ireland) is now at 61.8 million. If the South Asian population is still about 6%&mdash;and many South Asian groups say it has grown more rapidly than the rest of the UK in the past three years&mdash;then we are talking about at least 3.7 million. In short, a lot of people to sell books to.<br />
<b><br />
Genres</b><br />
To gauge British South Asian views on books and buying habits the consumer panel was split ethnically into two groups: those who identified themselves as Asian/British Asian and white/British. When questioned on their tastes in genres, it is clear that there is an ethnic divide between fiction and non-fiction. British whites were far more likely to read fiction, South Asians read a wider range of non-fiction genres.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Respondents were asked to tick as many of eight fiction genres they liked to read. British whites were far more likely to tick all eight, and on average mentioned four fiction genres, compared to South Asians&rsquo; three. Of the eight fiction categories, British whites were more likely to mention them in all but one, poetry/plays, which 29% of South Asians mentioned, compared to 22% of whites. There was also a statistical dead heat for romance: 32% of whites mentioned it, compared to 31% of South Asians.</p>
<p>There were some huge variatiions. At a 69% mention overall, crime/thriller was the most popular genre in fiction and non-fiction. But 75% of whites said they liked crime, compared to just 33% of South Asians&mdash;a gap of 42 percentage points. There were double-digit gaps in historical fiction (56% whites to 39% South Asian), classic, pre-20th century literature (64% to 50%), science fiction/fantasy (36% to 24%) and &ldquo;other fiction&quot; (46% to 22%). <br />
Yet there is an almost complete reversal in non-fiction. Of nine non-fiction categories, South Asians come out top in six of them, with a dead heat for autobiography/memoir at 59%. South Asians were far more likely to read religious/spiritual books (52% to 12% for whites), self-help motivational titles (43% to 13%) and politics (29% to 12%). <br />
<br />
<b>Buying habits</b><br />
Both South Asians and whites had similar percentages for their main source of books read, which was buying new (54% for South Asians&nbsp; to 51% whites), followed by borrowing from libraries (both at 20%).</p>
<p>But when purchasing new titles, South Asians were far less likely to go to chain shops, supermarkets or direct mail/book clubs. Whereas 71% of whites said they would go to Waterstone&rsquo;s for a new book, only 51% of South Asians said they would do so (see table 1). There was a similar, though slightly less steep divide with regard to W H Smith (42% whites to 27% of South Asians). Only 22% of South Asians say they buy books in supermarkets, compared to 50% of whites. Yet independent bookshops seem to be serving the South Asian community better: 43% of both South Asians and whites say they shop in indies.</p>
<p>The data from the consumer side chimes with the trade survey with a rather honest assessment of how booksellers are doing. Asked how booksellers were addressing the South Asian audience only 3% of respondents said &ldquo;very good&quot; and just 16% said &ldquo;fairly good&quot;. Interestingly, breaking it down further by sector (publisher, agent, librarian, bookseller), not one bookseller respondent said they or their fellow booksellers were doing a &ldquo;very good&quot; job. Thirty-three percent of all trade respondents thought booksellers were doing a &ldquo;fairly poor&quot; (21%) or &ldquo;very poor&quot; (12%) job. <br />
<br />
<b>Crossing barriers</b><br />
The bottom line when looking at why South Asians are not going to the chains or supermarkets is that British Asians clearly feel that the book trade under-represents books with South Asian themes and &shy;influences.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Almost all of the South Asian respondents read books with a South Asian influence and only 2% felt there was a sufficient amount of South Asian books available already. And they indicated, in particular, that they would like to read more books in the literary fiction, religious/spiritual, historical fiction and auto/biography genres with South Asian themes.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />
When asked a question about whether there were any barriers to purchasing books with South Asian themes an astonishing ethnic disparity emerged: 89% of South Asians mentioned some sort of barrier, compared to just 13% of whites (see table 2). The main barriers were seen to be &ldquo;not easy to find in bookshops, even when they are available&quot; (42% of South Asians to 8% whites); &ldquo;bookshops don&rsquo;t stock them&quot; (41% to 6%); and &ldquo;not readily available in libraries&quot; (30% to 6%).</p>
<p><img width="727" height="72" src="/userfiles/image/table1.jpg" alt="" /></p>
<p><img width="415" height="145" src="/userfiles/image/table2.jpg" alt="" /></p>