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By August 16, 2018No Comments

Source : The Pioneer

With books fighting for space at stores, publishing is nowhere close to being a dying art. Powered by new genres that have developed as an offshoot of the digital revolution, reading is here to stay, says Chahak Mittal

Youngsters do not read.” “They are hooked on to mobile devices.” “Gadgets are the go-to play things of the new gen.” Descriptions that we hear often. But despite financial challenges and the current go-online trend, publishing in India still remains a popular business. The silver bullet for the industry is that a major share of population is still digitally behind. Though metro cities are embracing online spaces, hard copies still remain the readers’ choices. Even in regional languages, readership is increasing in tier II and tier III cities in India, making the translation industry boom.

Poems vs popular fiction/non-fiction

They say, “Poetry doesn’t sell.” Is that why platforms like Instagram and social media blogs are taking over the spaces meant for poetry books? Insta-poems are filling the lacuna as they are quicker to comprehend, save time, and are easily accessible anytime and anywhere. Poets like Rupi Kaur, Sarah Kay are vying for attention from teens. Their admiration for authors like Durjoy Dutta, Chetan Bhagat, Nikita Singh, Ravinder Singh, and Sudeep Nagarkar may not be fading but is being diverted towards poetry. Gaining immense popularity, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, a collection of prose and poetry about survival, love, loss and violence, has been rated among the New York Times Bestseller. However, poetry is not really viable in publishing business. Shreya Chakraborti, editorial manager at the Bloombsury Publishing India, says that investing in poetry is not a good business decision. “Poetry as a genre has always struggled to find sales. Even before Instagram and Facebook, poetry was never a favourite among publishers. Rupi Kaur, for example, has numerous followers on social media, which is an exception. It’s great to see these poets flourish, but traditionally the genre is a risky proposal.”

Getting published was once considered a milestone that would be accompanied with several other risks even after it was achieved. However, today among the social media-influenced generation, young talent is acknowledged due to accessible self-publishing platforms. Milee Ashwarya, editor-in-chief (commerce and business), Penguin Random House India, believes, “Poets like Rupi Kaur did break the myth that poetry doesn’t sell. She has built a connection with the audience and readers through her poetry. Also, social media platforms are now helping publishers to discover new talent. It is helping authors to get noticed and to promote their works.” The publishing house recently printed Ninety Seven Poems in collaboration with Terribly Tiny Tales, another popular short-fiction/poetry platform.

Even though short-fiction and poetry are gaining an upper hand among the youth, biographies and self-help books continue to be popular. As per the New York Times No. 1 Bestselling Author list, Jen Sincero’s You are a badass: How to stop doubting your greatness and start living an awesome life has become an overnight sensation. Other examples of the same genre could be Mark Manson’s The subtle art of not giving a F*ck: A counterintuitive approach to living a good life, a book that has flooded Instagram stories and people’s shelves. The two books are current successors to the much-loved Indian author Robin Sharma’s books like The Monk who sold his Ferrari and Who will cry when you die?, which were about self-discovery and embracing one’s own worth.

Sachin Sharma, senior commissioning editor at Harper Collins India, says that in non-fiction, “self-help is a hot area. At any given point, five out of the top 10 bestselling books belong to this genre. The price range of these titles is very interesting too. The lowest price could be as low as Rs 99 and the highest could be as high as Rs 599, which implies that we have readers across various income groups buying them. Even mythological fiction and biographies have been in demand.”

Credibility of content vs a renowned name

The aim is to get a book not only published, but to be successful as well. Good content is definitely a winner, though established names are always any publishers’ first choice. How does a first-time author get published then? On what basis is a book generally promoted? For Milee, “The content is the king. If the book isn’t good, it doesn’t matter whether the author is new or established. However, the credibility of the author is important too.” She adds, “If a book is good it will find a home. The basics of a good book proposal are quality and style of writing, unique voice, research, new and interesting material, topicality and appeal for an audience.”

With today’s online marketing strategies, people can advertise their books without the support of a leading publishing house even though it takes a lot to bring a work into people’s notice especially if its content is not remarkable. However, Sachin says that “A good idea translates into a good book and that deserves great promotion. The popularity of an author helps but ultimately it’s the merit of the content that works.”

For Shreya, “Any new author while pitching her/his book to a mainstream publisher has to understand that this is their first chance to tell a story, so they have to make it as good as they can. Don’t forget that the editor has to look at an average of 10-15 manuscripts in a week. The synopsis needs to be catchy and crisp. Who can forget Rowling? It was great content which led to a great author brand.”

Indian vs Western publishing industry

India being the seventh largest book publishing country has more than 16,000 publishers. According to the Nielsen Book Report, the Indian book market in 2015 was estimated to be worth US $3.9 billion, which is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 19.3 per cent until 2020. Ahead of the Philippines and the United States, India topped the Nielsen’s Consumer Confidence Index, which also reflected growth in book sales, in February 2017. With a boom in book sales, it’s fuelling India’s publishing success.

“Indian publishing in English is right now a huge market, after the US and the UK. With a lot of multinational publishing houses opening businesses in India, its norms and demands are becoming universal with the world. However, the Indian market has a dearth of good literary fiction. There is a bigger commitment to literary fiction in the West where editors find new ways to sell pure literary work,” says Shreya.

Are regional languages gaining readership?

As per the Nielsen India Book Market Report 2015, sales of English books are 55 per cent, whereas, books in Hindi account for 35 per cent of the Indian language sales. Publishing houses do prioritise English books and content, but other languages are still in the line of good sales.

Sachin talks about the ever-booming translation market, “Hindi and regional languages have a great, captive readership. The market for translations is growing steadily.”

The report also said that the largest share of sales is taken by the ‘others’ language category in the Indian publishing sector.

“Indian language publishing is picking up. Reports from tier II and tier III cities reveal that with migration, people are also going back to their languages. It’s a limited market but will grow. Bestseller English books are translated into Hindi, Telegu, Gujarati and Bengali at Bloomsbury, as there is a demand,” says Shreya.

Milee shares her opinion, “Language publishing will be growing in a big way in India. There are talented writers as well as translations in various Indian languages.” Penguin Random House India has just announced the acquisition of Hindi Pocket Books. Milee says, “We’ll be rolling out a new publishing strategy for the Hindi market.”

Hardcopies vs e-books

The archaic fragrance of books and the feel of old shelves might soon vanish due to e-books, but publishing houses continue to print books with heavy sales. Many editors and publishers see it as a very distant phenomenon, especially in India.

For Shreya, “When Amazon launched Kindle in 2012, it was predicted to be a huge market disruptor in publishing. There was prediction of the hardcopy dying the hard way. Six years later, it seems the doomsday prophecy didn’t come to pass. E-books didn’t cannibalise hard copies; what has happened now is that e-books have now found a comfortable space in book sales. At Bloomsbury, all trade titles are digitised and the e-book is available along with the hardcopy. Significantly, this has contributed to overseas sales. The e-book sale has grown by 30-50 per cent in the last one year across India. E-books exist along with hardcopies and together publishers hope to reach more readership. Also, India doesn’t have much of internet penetration and physical books are still the first choice. Of course, this might change after a few years.”

Undoubtedly, e-book gadgets  are easier to carry while travelling or shifting but there are still those who love a paperback or hardcopy.  Sachin says, “Hardcopies have always had their lovers. It’s the readership (including me) that loves the smell and feel of a physical book. But shrinking residential spaces in urban India have led to smaller book shelves. Kindle gives us the flexibility to buy e-books when our bookshelves are full. Travellers also love to read on a tab.”

Milee says, “Kindle sales are just an add-on. The physical book market is flourishing and I feel it will continue to grow. Readers like the feel of a physical book, which I hope never changes.”

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