Increasingly Online and Regional, that’s the Future of Book Publishing in India


Indu Chandrasekhar of Tulika Books speaking at the conference. Credit: Chryselle D'Silva Dias

A scene from the conference. Credit: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

Panaji: Here’s some good news: The publishing industry in India is thriving and regional languages is where the readers are.

In Goa last weekend, the sixth edition of Publishing Next took place with 38 speakers, 160 participants and two full days of discussions and analysis of all things publishing. While the book publishing industry and its nuances dominated the sessions, the underlying theme seemed to be technology and its impact on the industry.

Leonard and Queenie Fernandes, owners of CinnamonTeal Publishing founded Publishing Next six years ago to address the need for a dialogue within the industry and to explore new technologies and innovation. This year’s conference panels and speakers explored podcasting, conversion of manuscripts from text (or images) to digital, copyright and contracts, piracy, self-publishing, library trends and social media marketing.

The rise of the regional language publishing industry dominated several sessions. Daily Hunt talked delegates through how the bulk of their services, and indeed, readership, is now coming from 10 regional languages. Offering magazines, books, newspapers and ‘singles’ – one article or a chapter instead of the entire issue or book – at very reasonable prices (Rs.12- Rs.50), the website reaches an astounding 90 million users with over 2.3 billion pages consumed monthly.

Ravanan N heads the ebooks division of Daily Hunt. “We can get a book ‘live’ in half an hour on the Daily Hunt system”, he says. That kind of prolific output is partly responsible for their success. Mindful of scraggly phone download plans, they also keep their downloads limited to under 1MB or less. Readers are gobbling up news, fiction and pulp-fiction. With mobile internet users in India predicted to touch the 314 million mark by 2020, apps like Daily Hunt will only see an increase in popularity.

The ebook market in India, on the other hand, has not seen a very steady increase in numbers, remaining at a very sluggish 2-3% growth rate. Flipkart no longer sells ebooks, but other outlets remain optimistic about growth. Traditional publishers, interestingly, continue to focus largely on their print imprints. Bloomsbury and Harper Collins, for example, will bring out smaller numbers of books every year, but devote more energy and resources to these.

The self-publishing panel saw a forceful discussion with a variety of experiences across the board. Self-published novelist Rasana Atreya has over 800 downloads every month of her books, a number that is high by Indian standards. Atreya does all her marketing herself and attributes her success to the attention to detail she puts into her book, including hiring American editors for the books.

Self-publishing is also where big retail houses like Crossword are moving into. Kinjal Shah, CEO Crossword announced the entry of their new self-publishing venture called ‘The Write Place’ that has signed on six books with two already available at their stores across the country. As part of the contract, the books will be displayed in a special ‘gondola’ for three months before moving to the bookshelves. An author pays a handsome price for the privilege of publishing a Crossword book, the assumption being that editing standards will be high.

The role of editors and curators in self-publishing led to a heated debate with some publishers arguing that it is not for them to separate the wheat from the chaff. Publishers like CinnamonTeal however disagreed, emphasising the responsibility of publishers to bring out “good books” that are properly edited and proof-read.

Noted Arunachali author and poet Mamang Dai gave the keynote address and shared what it was like to write in seclusion and isolation. Being cut off to write (or read, for that matter) is an unusual experience in this age of constant connectivity and distractions. “Writing is a technique in concealment,” she said. She was referring to the stories writers tell – to what they reveal and hide. This conference on the other hand, held back nothing.