The New Delhi World Book Fair organized annually by the National Book Trust, India in collaboration with India Trade Promotion Organization opened on 4 January 2020 at Pragati Maidan. As a part of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, the theme of this year’s edition was ‘Gandhi: The Writers’ Writer’. The intention is to highlight the various facets of Gandhi’s life and his influence on writers of all ages.
“Given the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, we’ve set up a theme pavilion in Hall 7 where we not only displayed his contributions by his writings, to society and the freedom movement in general, and about his multifaceted personality, but also his role as an editor, a writer, a publisher, and a printer. We have curated the letters that he wrote to well-acclaimed writers such as Leo Tolstoy and Rabindranath Tagore,” says Neera Jain, director of the National Book Trust of India.
Apart from this, there’s an interesting anecdote of a copyright-related issue where Gandhi published the written work of the British Socialist, women’s rights activist, writer, orator, and philanthropist Annie Besant without her permission. “How Gandhi later managed to get the permissions is very interesting. These kinds of anecdotes have enriched this pavilion,” Jain emphasizes.
Although English is also acknowledged as an Indian language and India remains the third-largest country in the world publishing books in the English language, there is now a greater emphasis on Hindi as well at the book fair. Most of the work in the government sector is being increasingly pushed to Hindi.
“India is a place where each person speaks at least two languages. For me, that is a very nice cultural effect. If you go to the south where maybe Tamil or Telugu are just two of the very popular languages, you may see a lot of people talking in three languages. In the theme pavilion, one can witness the writings of Gandhi in English, Hindi, and Gujarati. So regional languages have always had their importance, they are increasing their share in the publishing industry,” explains Jain.
Vani Prakashan on Hindi language publishing
One of the oldest Hindi language publications, Vani Prakashan is also participating at the NDWBF. Vani Prakashan has in the past published numerous well-known authors as well as new authors. It has also re-published several ancient cultural works for today’s audiences.
Talking about Hindi language publishing, Arun Maheshwari, managing director of Vani Prakashan says, “Since Hindi is an Indian language, it is not known to many all around the world. Nevertheless, more people have started reading manuscripts published in Hindi and it is increasing its share in the publishing market. It is a progressive language but it is still not global. The growth of a particular language in the publishing world has a lot to do with its promotion and publicity. Even though it is not as big as English in India, the trend reflects a huge growth among Hindi readers soon.”
Self-publishing to be the next big thing in the publishing industry
Self-publishing is a huge business and a growing platform taking away market share from the traditional publishing industry in the US and UK with the help of web platforms such as Amazon. Most Indian authors didn’t know about self-publishing as a concept until a few years ago when self-published authors such as Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi made it big. When the Indian market looked at the possibilities and the success of self-publishing, it started becoming receptive to it. Notion Press, based in Chennai, is now a major publisher that provides aspiring writers a platform to publish themselves. When we talked to Notion Press last year, they said they would publish 600 titles each month. Currently, Notion Press says it publishes close to 1,000 titles monthly.
“We call ourselves a guided publishing platform. When we started, we realized that a lot of good books are being missed out on. In India, it is not easy to get published. Even the most renowned Indian authors were once rejected by one publication or publisher or another. The publishing system in India is editorial driven. What most conservative publishing professionals don’t realize is that it should be marketing driven.
“Self-publishing has caught on quite well in India. Many traditional publishers also maintain their self-publishing wings. For instance, Penguin Random House had Partridge Publications for the longest time, Penguin’s self-publishing division. This is mainly because, in traditional publishing, one has to rely mainly on the big-name authors to generate revenue. Hence, self-publishing pans out as an efficient revenue generation stream in case the bigger authors fail. This, originally, was the idea behind offering self-publishing services in India,” explains Sushant Satish, a business strategy specialist at Notion Press.
Both eBooks and self-publishing are to a large extent driven by the new technologies of the past 30 years including the use of computers for word processing and page-making and then the internet followed by digital printing that makes it possible to produce short-run books and books on demand. Thus, more and more publishers are now offering self-publishing services and authors have also started taking these up, as they have witnessed a couple of success stories in the past. Every month, Notion Press gets 20,000 queries of which 3,000 finally show interest and close to 1,000 titles are published in a month.
“For me, the printed books have a larger market share as compared to eBooks and it will continue to be so for a long time, without a doubt. eBooks in India have a market share as low as 3% only, which is expected to rise to 7% in the next couple of years. But the dominant format is and will be printed books, mainly because a lot of work needs to be done on the eBooks as it is still in its nascent stage,” Satish concludes.
It is interesting to see that the current government has retreated from its initial stance of mistreating Gandhi. Soon after it came to power, Modi on his frequent trips to present himself as the face of Indian democracy encountered statues being erected of the Mahatma and was perhaps surprised by the depth of Gandhi’s global recognition. Now that the BJP has been forced to accept the Gandhi brand without accepting his views on tolerance of the minorities, it is in a quandary as it tries to ‘cleanse’ all cultural and educational institutions of ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ influences.
This is deeply ironic because book publishing and reading are emblematic of Indian democracy and its multiplicity of languages, religions, and ideas. How can this government use its national book fair to put back the genie of democracy and rationalism in the bottle of fascism?