Print Edition - 2014-06-08  |  Free the Words

Books across borders

- TRISHA NIYOGI
Books across borders

Jun 7, 2014-

The other day, I read an article stating that an average Indian spends over 10 hours a week reading—far more than even the British or American. The bibliophilia is unsurprising: India has a long-standing history of oral transmission of information but over time, print has eclipsed the oral tradition for disseminating knowledge. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), India has the seventh-largest publishing industry in the world

and the third-largest among English-speaking nations—behind only the

US and UK. But India is one of the few publishing markets not oversaturated with new print and digital titles. And this can mean big things for Nepali writers and authors.

The Indian publishing industry is estimated to grow at approximately 15 percent annually, with 19,000 publishers vying for the attention of 1.27 billion people. Apart from indigenous publishers such as Rupa, Roli, Westland, and Niyogi, India also boasts international publishers like Oxford University Press, Harper Collins, Penguin/Random House, and others.

Why India?

Nepalis would benefit from paying attention to Indian publishers. India’s publishing boom has inspired many authors from the subcontinent to publish their works in India. Being the largest country in the region—both in terms of land area and population—India provides a much bigger audience for the region’s writers. For example, a figure of 5,000 copies would be considered a bestseller in Nepal, but in India today, bestsellers sell well over 10,000 copies. India has become a stopping point for authors looking to diversify their audience and gain readership outside their homelands, including for Nepalis. India’s popularity abroad indicates that it is vibrant marketplace with untapped potential to grow rapidly.

But the question remains: what makes India the region’s ideal publishing hub? There are two major reasons. The first is India’s increasing literacy rate, which is currently 65 percent and growing. The second is India’s vibrancy, which is tied to its youth.

India’s youth are picking up books more than ever. A recent survey by NBT/NCAER shows that there are 83 million youth aged 13 to 35. These adolescents are picking up bestsellers like Chetan Bhagat’s Five Point Someone and Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy. Many young people develop an interest in reading from titles such as these, which are relatable and pleasurable. When Nepalis look at an Indian audience, they should note that India’s readership will range from avowed bibliophiles to first-generation and yet-to-be converted readers.

The literary bond

Nepal and India share a literary bond that can be traced back centuries. Bhanubhakta Acharya, who is regarded as the adikavi of Nepal, is credited with translating Valmiki’s Ramayana into Nepali in the mid-19th century. Whether Manjushree Thapa, Narayan Wagle or Samrat Upadhyay, India has always received Nepali authors with great interest and respect. Today, Indian publishers are signing talented authors of Nepali origin such as Mahendra Lawoti, Karna Shakya and many others. The Jaipur Literary Festival 2014 also had the privilege of hosting the author of Forget Kathmandu and The Tutor of History, Manjushree Thapa.

It would also behoove Nepal to look toward India’s book industry as titles sell better in a larger market. Sanjaya Baru’s The Accidental Prime Minister, published by Penguin this year, for example, has already sold 60,000 copies in India’s domestic market alone. This would be a huge publishing triumph in Nepal. India’s multiplicity of languages, peoples and ethnicities make it a

wonderful place to reach out to a wider

audience.

Furthermore, India’s burgeoning ‘literature festival’ culture has provided readers with a platform to meet their favourite authors. In 2013, 65 literary festivals and book fairs were hosted all over India, allowing for dialogues between authors and readers. However, these literary festivals catch heat for their ‘Englishisation,’ or emphasis on works written in the English language. A proper balance is needed among titles in English and vernacular or regional

languages.

The Government of India has further introduced schemes to promote translation projects, and translations are not limited to Indian languages. Nepali-Hindi translation activities have been ongoing. In 1982, the then-Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Narendra Jain, translated Nepali Kavitayen, an anthology of 74 Nepali poems, into Hindi. Likewise, several Nepali texts have been translated into Hindi and Bengali, as well as Assamese and English by the Indian publishing industry.

Obstacles too

But the picture is all rosy; the industry is still fragmented and unorganised. In fact, it still hasn’t been granted official industry status. The biggest challenge to the publishing industry is the lack of credible consumer statistics. It was only in October 2012 that the ‘Nielsen Book Scan’ started operating in India. But, Nielsen only measures English language trade/general book market through 24 major retailers spread across major cities only. The lack of systemic studies for the books published in India, both with and without ISBN numbers, is quite confounding.

An upward looking market with no concrete data makes India both encouraging as well as challenging. Still,

risks are worth taking as some challenges may actually be opportunities, like e-books.

In recent years, we have spoken a lot about the future of e-books and its effect on the printed version. Yet, when it comes to India, e-books are not an issue. They form a miniscule section of the market. The electronic medium for reading is still not easily available or affordable. However, we cannot ignore their presence and increasing popularity. The growing tech-savvy middle class is reading more on their smartphones, tabs, and Kindles.

Moreover, the lack of paper and shortage of storage space will ultimately be the reason for the digitalisation of all books. Nowadays, larger publishing houses like Random/Penguin, Aleph/ Rupa are simultaneously releasing e-books along with the printed ones. The smaller are likely to follow. Dramatic alterations have also taken place in traditional bookshops with online book-selling platforms like Flipkart. These e-retailers tend to have an edge over the traditional brick and mortar stores, since they are able to offer deeper discounts as they are not burdened by rocketing real estate costs. Doorstep delivery and cash on delivery are the other reasons for the popularity of e-retailers.

To sum up, though the Indian book trade is looking up, issues like these give  one enough food for thought and though I have been mostly optimistic about the Indian book publishing industry, publishing here can be difficult. But then again, there is always plenty to look forward to in India.

Niyogi is a publisher and researcher based in Delhi

Published: 08-06-2014 10:24

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