The monsoon has just left Goa and you see greenish splendour splashed over: still wet-fresh green leaves on damp soil and rock. The verdant cover dips your heart in joy as you head to the second day of Publishing Next ’12. Panel discussions on academic publishing, language publishing, reconfiguring the book (in the digital age) and preserving oral traditions; insight talks by Badri Seshadri (New Horizon Media), Dr. Ganesh Devy (Goan scholar dedicated to preserving tribal and lesser known languages), Ashish Goel (formerly with Amar Chitra Katha) and Shobha Vishwanath (on experiments with audio/ebooks); and workshops on graphic books, developing ebook version, developing books for mobiles, and art and science of book production (printing technologies) filled the day. A long, exhaustive list for sure. Parallel sessions meant choosing one over the other – settling for rose when jasmine was also enticing. A convenient way was to peep into the other discussion occasionally not to miss it wholly.
Where is digital headed? No answers yet
A common feature of panel discussions was active interventions by audience when the panellists put up a point of view – it was either contradicted or questioned. Or another view given. The panellists in academic publishing discussion (executives from SAGE, Springer, and Pearson along with a publishing consultant) painted a glamorous picture of academic publishing while the audience sought to know the challenges they were facing. Academic publishing seems to be having a smooth run into digital age unlike the Indian publishing sector grappling with change, still groping for directions.
The adoption of technology and the wide divide between publishers and technologists was obvious in the panel discussion on reconfiguring the book. Brij Singh (Fliplog), chairing the panel consisting of two young techie entrepreneurs and a graphic book entrepreneur, tried to answer as many questions but the overwhelming concerns about the publishers were still left unanswered. The divide was more on the understanding of technology by publishers and technology providing return on investment for technologists. The problem is the absence of a digital market in India as yet where these offerings such as ebooks, mbooks, or enhanced books (interactive books) will be massively consumed. Experimentation will continue following global trends in digital publishing until the local market is ready to take these offerings. The overwhelming point was that content is the major driver and form is only a supplement. If the content is appealing, it would be consumed.
Brave New Experimenters and Successes in Publishing
Badri Seshadri can be called a serial entrepreneur. After cofounding cricinfo.com and exiting it, he went on to dabble with Tamil language publishing. Now New Horizon Media, the publishing house he cofounded with Sathyanarayanan, is a name to reckon with in Tamil publishing. Badri, in his insight talk, narrated how his experiments either yielded good results or none at all. But what kept his endeavour is the ability to try various experiments and then looking for success in them. He listed 10 of his experiments, with audio books going nowhere and dial-a-book becoming a huge success.
When Amar Chitra Katha was revived, Ashish Goel tried to infuse new way of thinking in the form of presentation and storytelling, which met with resistance from the traditional customers or customers who associated ACK with tradition and mythology. So the experiments were to be abandoned and reconfigured along the lines of earlier ACK. Ashish sought to understand the new technologies and innovations that are working as of now from the audience during his insight talk.
Dr. Ganesh Devy, advisor to Government of India on languages, weaved a story around the need to preserve languages and publisher’s role in it. His view was that only written languages have survived and oral languages have been outlawed, or effectively taken out of the system. The Government of India census figures only recognized languages that had written literature and that which was spoken was not considered a language by law. Dr. Devy found this foolhardy and the traditions and rich heritage they possess should be tapped, he added. The publishers are the only last post for reviving them, in his opinion. He quoted a case of an Andaman tribal speaking her language to birds as she was the last surviving member of that language. He also recalled how tribals gave crumpled notes to buy a tribal language magazine he published and distributed to the tribals. Just to sample, out of 6000 languages that are known at present, only 300 will survive at the end of the 21st century and dying languages is a global phenomenon.
Ebooks, App Books – What is the Future?
Shobha Vishwanath of Karadi Tales narrated her journey into mobile apps and books from pure audio books and even changing formats of audio books. When audio books were sold on CD, they did not reach children effectively as there were no compatible devices. Then a print book was given along with a web link to the audio book, recreating the experience of reading for the child by indicating end of a page and flip format to turn pages. When the child opens a specific page, it was read out in the digital medium. Shobha’s concern was discoverability of her apps on the marketplace and the audience gave varied solutions as making it a freemium app and bundling it inside a parent app. This is a sure challenge.
Jibin Thomas (Great Minds Media) made a presentation in the workshop on how to develop ebooks and Brij Singh told the audience about technologies used in making a mobile book. The overarching question was the return on investment and the market for these offerings. Still the questions were plenty and answers few, in the direction of ‘let’s try and find out if it works’.