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BW Businessworld

A Local Flavour

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I must confess that my understanding of the book publishing industry is more as an author than a publisher. So I must request readers to take my forecasts with more than a pinch of salt. I think it is a great time for the Indian publishing industry (especially the English language section of it) as it is finally aligning itself with the real India, and benefitting from it.
The Numbers Game
As the Indian publishing industry has begun targeting the domestic market, rather than the western market, new genres are being attempted and many of them are succeeding. There are books emerging in genres such as feminist fiction, new romance, campus escapades, corporate office politics and some based in small town India. Genres such as the one I write in, mythology and philosophy, have also found acceptance in the English language. I would love it if the genre of narrative non-fiction emerges stronger in India.
Earlier, a sale of 5,000 or 10,000 copies would turn a book into a bestseller. Now, a book needs to sell at least 40,000 to 50,000 copies to make the grade. There are a few books which even cross the 100,000 mark. It’s a brave new world. My forecast? We will start seeing many books crossing the ‘1 million copies sold’ mark, comparing favourably with the sales numbers in the West. 

When Reviews Go Social
The power of the traditional reviewer is coming down. People are buying books based on what their friends are recommending on Facebook or any other social media network. And anyone can put up a review. This is genuine democratisation. This change is only going to gain pace in 2013. Now, I’m not saying that word of mouth did not matter before the age of social media. Even in pre-Internet days, people, to a great extent, bought books based on recommendations. But what social media has done is turbo-charge the power of word of mouth. In addition, reviewers outside of traditional media — that is bloggers — with their loyal band of followers, have gained tremendous influence, directly affecting the fate of a new book. This will only gather pace.

Culture Customisation
I am often asked about the revival of mythology in book publishing. This is only a phenomenon in English language publishing. In regional languages, mythology never really went out of style. Its popularity never flagged. Look at Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjay in Marathi (I have read the English translation of it), or S.L. Bhyrappa’s Parva in Kannada (which was also translated), or Narendra Kohli’s Mahasamar in the North; these books are hugely popular. 
However, what has been happening at a broader level is that as the country becomes richer — currently, India is among the top 10 economies of the world — and as we rediscover our historical self-belief, we are also becoming confident of our own culture. Therefore, there is a whole new generation that wants to discover its heritage, but in a modern idiom. This trend reflects in the kind of movies being made, television serials being broadcast and, yes, in the books being published. Perhaps, I have been lucky to be born in the right place and at the right time, since my books have, perhaps, found resonance with this zeitgeist, which may have played a role in their acceptance by Indian readers.
Self-Publishing Will Grow
There is an unfortunate tendency in publishing to look down upon self-publishing; it’s disparagingly called vanity publishing. But I don’t see it as an issue of editorial quality control. Self-publishing is about freedom of expression. Every author has the right to make her voice heard. New technology is making it easier. Print on demand has become cheaper now with minimum print runs coming down to even 50 or 100 books. Also, the Internet makes sharing much simpler. An author can avoid physical books completely, convert her manuscript into a PDF file and upload it on the Web for free reading. The money is not important. What’s important is your self-expression. Self-publishing will continue to grow. 
Smart Reading To Catch Pace
Indians have shown, over the years, that we are exceptionally smart when it comes to using technology. In the mid-1990s, when I was working with a bank, we thought the ATM revolution would take 10-15 years to set in. Many thought much the same of cellphones. As many know now, it happened a lot quicker in both cases. This is applicable to e-reading too. Only, the price of gadgets should come down to affordable levels. The e-reader revolution took off in the United States because the iPad had not arrived then. But here we will leapfrog straight to iPad/tablets. E-books as a proportion of sales will also go up. That doesn’t mean physical books will start de-growing. There is enough of a market for printed books and e-books. They will co-exist.

Importance Of Literary Festivals
The most amazing thing about literary festivals is so many of them have emerged in the past few years, and yet all of them draw crowds. It shows that our literary culture is becoming more rooted and is not as elitist as it used to be. I see this as a very good sign. The media too has given strong support to literary festivals. What I would love to see in these literary festivals is more space for regional language authors. This will allow people from other parts of the country, and the world, to get to know the depth and variety of the literary traditions in each region of our great country. All in all, I don’t think there has been a better time in the history of independent India to be a writer, reader or publisher. May the force continue to be with us!
As told to Sanjitha Rao Chaini 

Tripathi is the author of The Immortals Of Meluha and The Secret Of The Nagas
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 14-01-2013)