PublishingNext ‘13 highlights regional publisher challenges

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The Indian publishing industry is a vertical division of English language publishers and regional or language publishers. While there are international publishers such as Penguin, HarperCollins, and Sage having their presence in India, the diversity of India is represented by so-called basha publishers or regional/language publishers. The vibrant publishing industry is on an upward tick, as reported by many monitoring agencies such as Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) and is registering a growth of 20% year on year. While the figures of 19,000 publishers and the growth rate may be disputed by some, it is evident that publishing is growing in India, as opposed to the West where it is still caught in the flux between the print and the electronic worlds.

Inaugurating the conference

PublishingNext, organized by the passionate couple Leonard and Queenie Fernandes, founders of CinnamonTeal (a self-publishing company), has emerged over three years as the voice of the small publisher. This conference, which was inaugurated in 2011, sought to know the future of publishing in India to begin with but in its third edition, held in Krishnadas Sama Central Library in Goa on September 20 and 21, largely addressed the challenges of regional publishers. The conversations over the past two years had been how the publisher community would face the change brought on by technological advances, especially eBooks. The Indian English language publishing fraternity had a significant presence seeking answers to technological challenges. But this year, the focus shifted to regional publishers who are still fighting their battles, without much notice. The ecosystem for publishing comprising publishers, authors, distributors, printers, readers, and retailers remains fragmented. Already small publishers find distribution to be a huge bottleneck and adding to their woes is the fast-changing digital publishing world. The discussions at PublishingNext clearly reflected the collective voice of regional publishers who poured their “minds out.”

Discussions on content, future of regional publishing

Inaugurating the conference, Vishnu Surya Wagh, Kala Academy chairman, eminent Konkani playwright, author, and Goan legislator, regretted that publishing has not been given industry status yet by the government. In the panel discussion on Indian Content and its Global Future, Namita Ghokale, author and Jaipur Literary Festival Co-Chair, sought to define Indian content as one written about India irrespective of author’s ethnicity. She cited the example of best Gurmukhi published in Canada. Arpita Das, founder of Yoda Press, felt that LGBT literature is beginning to find its appeal not only in India but also in rest of the world. She was surprised to hear from her friend who found a Yoda’s book in a Ghana bookstore. While the panellists differed in their interpretation of Indian content, Ghokale sought to emphasize that measuring global reach within the ambit of Anglophone West is not appropriate. In her view, Southeast Asia and Latin America could be markets closer to home in terms of cultural similarity. The other panellists explained their experiences of taking content outside India. The view to let the story travel on its own like the epics Mahabhatha and Ramayana did was effectively countered by publishers on the panel who explained their methodical approach to taking their books to other languages and countries in the world.

Session on Understanding Print

In another interesting panel discussion on Way Forward for Indian Language Publishing, the panel comprising publishers and poets sought to paint a bright future for regional publishing. Mamta Sagar, Kannada poet and playwright, felt that Kannada publishing scene is monopolistic, with the presence of only a few publishers. Vani Praskashan, a highly successful Hindi publisher, is finding demand for its books not only in India but also in other parts of the world. Paramita Tripathi, Oriya poet and an IRS official, has read popular books in published in languages like Hindi and Bengali translated to Oriya. She added that in another year eBooks will be published in Oriya. V.C. Thomas of Olive Publications in Kerala finds new authors from literary magazines. Subhabrata Deb, a publisher from Tripura, said that passion is the sustaining force for him with no access to funding from outside sources.

Challenges of digital technology for regional publishers

Venkatesh Hariharan is an open source activist engaged in developing fonts for various regional languages. “Many languages have only one font in the digital version,” he said. The non-availability of fonts remains a handicap for publishers to go digital as the cost of developing or procuring proprietary fonts is prohibitive. Venkatesh’s efforts in creating open source fonts may prove to be a boon for regional publishers. “Unless they have a compelling need, publishers may not be inclined to come together on this initiative [of developing fonts],” feels Sathyanarayanan, co-founder of New Horizon Media.

For publishers who are ready to hit the digital marketplace, Kobo’s launch in India may prove to be beneficial. Malcolm Neil, the veteran in publishing scene for over 25 years and who is heading the push of Kobo into Southeast Asian markets, seems to have a clear understanding of the digital landscape. He is convinced that digital push is slow at the beginning and within a couple of years we are in for an explosive growth in this space. Marathi publisher Sunil Mehta is a forerunner among regional publishers for digital conversions. He has betted big on digital initiatives already and is raring to go on eBooks, which he feels has enough demand among Marathi readers.

There Is Something for Everyone

There were presentations by HP on digital printers and iThenticate on their plagiarism software. The conference featured Insight Talks by Sangeetha Mamgain on CRM for publishers, Anusha Yadav on Indian memory project, Santanu Chowdhury on e-distribution in Indian language content, Dhruvank Vaidya on TV adoptions of books, and Greg Acuna on social media for authors and publishers.

The workshop on Understanding Print by Indu Chandrasekar (Tulika), Bipin Shah (Mapin), and Appadurai (HP) provided insights on design and print. Architect Gerard de Cunha’s publishing initiatives were intuitive, innovative and heart-warming.

Discussions on retail, cultivating readership in Indian languages, and changing readership resulted in interactive exchanges between panellists and participants. The workshop on acquisition of rights (Manasi Subramaniam, Robin D’Cruz, Kannan Sundaram, V.C. Thomas) was an eye opener on challenges Indian publishers face when they buy and sell international and other language rights. Despite various initiatives by KSICL under D’Cruz, the translation between Indian languages continues to elicit poor response.