The Great Hindi Story!

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“The history of publishing in Hindi still awaits to be written,” quips Prof. Francesca Orsini in The Hindi Public Sphere (1920-1940). True for a language that changes its dynamics with each financial quarter, one does desire a pause button to capture the slice-of-life of its universe, shares Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal, Director, Copyright and Translation Department, Vani Prakashan and Managing Trustee, Vani Foundation. The Indian publishing sector is data-starved and experiences lack of analysis and meaningful insights. The only data available for reference is that provided by Nielsen in“The India Book Market Report,” published in October 2015. According to the report, India’s print book market—which grew at a rate of 20.4 percent, compounded annually between 2012 and 2015—is estimated to be worth INR 26,060 crore.

As industry expert Vinutha Mallya wrote in her 2016 published Numbers and Letters, “Last known comprehensive industry report was “The Survey of Indian Book Industry,” published in 1976 by the Delhi think tank, the National Council for Applied Economic Research. With the release of Nielsen’s report, the industry has new figures of its worth to replace the oft-quoted but unverifiable ones—INR 14,000-crore growing at a rate of 15 percent, compounded annually. Various official bodies, including the Federation of Indian Publishers, have used these very numbers over the last few years. The release of Nielsen’s report provides us with an opportune moment to take stock of the industry as a whole.” We are still trying to estimate the size of Hindi publishing in this gamut, with more than 9 states in India using it as their dominant language of communication, and with 650 million speakers globally and 450 million who use it as their mother tongue. The big question is – are they also reading it?

Hindi publishing: then and now

Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal
Aditi Maheshwari-Goyal

From being one of the stagnant markets,largely dependent upon institutional sales of the late 90’s and early millennium years, to being most robustly changing business models of South Asian publishing community today, Hindi publishing has come a long way. Hindi has evolved from being the language of heroic vir rasa of 11th to 14th century, Bhakti era of 14th to 18th century, to the sublime shringarrasa for next two centuries, merging in modernist expression adhuniktavad of 20th century to the contemporary post-modernism of uttar-adhuniktavad of 21st century. The language has been a catalyst in unifying the public consciousness during the struggle for independence and continues to being the language of popular culture and Indian political rhetoric today.

“We have evolved from being publishers of Hindi,that was usually considered a regional language to being global players. We are producing our books that are read all around the world, in topics that cater to most age groups in world-class print and digital quality,” says Arun Maheshwari, MD, Vani Prakashan. “Until early 2000s, we used to rush to the printer who was 20-25 km away with the lithograph to replace, add or delete a character from the page in case of typo. It used to take at least 2 years to complete a book and get it published, but now it has changed. The digitisation has reduced the turnaround time for making a book to six to seven months,” reminiscences Atiya Zaidi, Publisher, Ratna Sagar Pvt Ltd.

The digital revolution…

Atiya Zaidi
Atiya Zaidi

The times have changed, and so have the publishing models. From traditional print-runs and distribution, Hindi publishing is witnessing something like a ‘disruption tipping point’. The digital revolution has drastically altered the way a book is defined. We are no longer referring to an intellectual property between the covers, for it is interactive, mediated by the virtual reality and has become easy for consumption on multiple platforms for all age groups. The Print-On-Demand (POD) program formalized by INGRAM, special eBook editions on Kindle, Juggernaut and other domestic players, new wave of Audio Books introduced by Swedish giant Story Tel is making the contemporary times a very exciting phase for Hindi publishing. The thrust has shifted towards monetizing the channels towards the intellectual property that has become the new queen everyone is bowing to.

Changing genres & subjects…

The range of topics that Hindi publishing is embracing has widened in last three decades of post-liberalisation. From kavita, kahani and upanyas, the Hindi readership is switching towards popular and academic non-fiction, graphic books, travel writing, environment, self-help and ethnographies. With this, even the use of language has undergone a systematic socio-linguistic metamorphosis. The Laprek- Laghu Prem Katha or flash-fiction is one of the experiments that gave a breath of fresh air to the existing narrative form. The Shaharnama series is an attempt to talk about our cities and their histories in a new way. The Kavi ne Kaha series published by Kitabghar Prakashan brought together Hindi poets, Dastan Kehte-Kehte is a series that brings most ustads of sharayi under one roof. The ‘nayi wali Hindi’ campaign of a relatively new publishing house Hind Yugm has created a buzz among the youth. The books they published dominated the first Dainik Jagran Bestseller list presented in association with the global player Nielsen in August’17.

Leeladhar Mandloi
Leeladhar Mandloi

“We are reinventing the way even classics are read for the younger generation. Dastan Ke Barah Baras, written by Solomon Arthur more than a century ago has been translated into Hindi and published by us. The book has done very well in market. Similarly, our novel about the Indian classical music Jaltarang by Santosh Chaubey has done incredibly well and has undergone 4 imprints within one year of its publication,” recounts Leeladhar Mandloi, Director, Bhartiya Jnanpeeth, a part of the Bennett Coleman Group. In the similar league, Rajpal and Sons, the 100 plus-year-old publishing house has acquired younger authors to cater to the youthful readership. They also published books of APJ Abdul Kalam, Ruskin Bond and many more for catering to the young readers. Prabhat Prakashan has an eclectic publication list on Sangh sahiya, politics, translations and original Hindi writing. Echoes Alind Maheshwari, Director- Marketing and Copyrights, Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh, “Content curation is very important for us. We have selected our books very carefully in last 70 years and the goal has always been a large reader community.”The noteworthy recent tie up with the Chinese publishers to translate their books in Hindi has brought Prakashan Sansthan to everyone’s focus. The choice of writing for independent publishers, however, remains largely different from those of conglomerates. While the former encourages the discovery of the new voices, the latter acquire time tested names for their Hindi lists.

Translations in Hindi…

Dr Sugata Ghosh
Dr Sugata Ghosh

The selection of books that are getting translated in Hindi have also widened in last three decades. The language has attracted major global corporations for setting up editorial and operational offices. The world’s oldest publisher Oxford University Press’s recent announcement about entering the Indian languages market and having Hindi as one of its focus has underlined its scope. “If you go by numbers, then Hindi is the fourth largest spoken language in the world. The Hindi belt is equally big like English, so there is substantial market for Hindi. Additionally, a lot is happening on all fronts in Hindi. The number of authors shot up. Also, the demand of quality books in Hindi is increasing. We find more and more people aspiring to resources in Indian languages as they lead the cultural, socio-political, and economic growth engines of our country. This gives a good hope to see Hindi publishing flourishing,” says Dr. Sugata Ghosh, Director, Global Academic Publishing, OUP.

Adds Vaishali Mathur, Executive Editor & Head language publishing, Rights, Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, “We have been publishing in Hindi for more than a decade now. We’ve published both translations and originals in these years. Our focus has always been strong content. We are working towards making more and more of our books and authors available in Hindi translation as well as continuing to promote our original books. I would imagine the next five years would bring in many more genres and authors for the readers.” Penguin has tied up with Indian independent publishing company Manjul Publications to produce, market and distribute their Hindi publications. The relationship has worked out well for the author, publisher and readers.

Alind Maheshwari
Alind Maheshwari

The Hindi originals and translation list of Harper Collins Publications has also brought forth big names like Surendra Mohan Pathak and Ibn-e-Safi. Same with Yatra Books that produces Indian languages translations with Westland Books Pvt. Ltd., now taken over by Amazon company. “We work with Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Odia and Bangla in translation. Having said that, Hindi titles are our biggest sellers and thus get our maximum focus,” says Neeta Gupta, Publisher, Yatra Books with an experience of publishing authors like Amish Tripathi, Cristopher C. Doyle, Ashwin Sanghi and Rashmi Bansal.

Vani Prakashan has been publishing translations from over 18 global and 8 Indian languages from decades, the latest being Latvian that is spoken by barely 13 lakh people. Also, the organisation’s not-for-profit arm Vani Foundation recognises unsung heroes of Indian languages who have been translating meaningful literature through the Distinguished Translator Award presented at the Jaipur BookMark. In addition, the award institutionalised by Bhatiya Anuwad Parishad under leadership of Neeta Gupta has been tirelessly doing the same since 33 years in memory of the founder of the Parishad and academician Dr. Gargi Gupta.

Impact of social media…

While most Hindi publishers co-exist in the dual world of traditional publishing and digital operations, the ripples of transition are experienced far and wide in this ecosystem.“I have been running my bookshop since last 42 years. The readers used to take time in assimilating the importance of a book and weren’t as informed before buying it. Premchand, Krishna Sobti, Nirmal Verma, Dharmveer Bharti, Mahasweta Devi, Mahadevi Verma, Bhisham Sahaniwere all hot favorites in those times. But, these were established names. Today, the readers are well informed about reviews, price and author’s biography, way before the book hits the bookstore. This is because of the social media. Nevertheless, the book sale of general books category has definitely dropped, and that of textbooks and reference materials stays intact at my store,” says Akhil Kumar Rwar of Gyanbharti Bookstore on iconic University Road of Allahabad. The social media campaigns have opened a sea of opportunities for publishers and authors to reach out to new readerships and therefore, markets. Rwar has sold hundreds of copies of Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja in the 90’s, APJ Abdul Kalam’s Agni Ki Udan in 2000’s, and Ravish Kumar’s Ishq Mein Shahar Hona in more recent times. Harivansh Rai Bacchan’s Madhushala is an evergreen, so is Shrilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari.

The access to hybrid social-media platforms has undoubtedly undercut the importance of print advertising and promotion that ensures only limited outreach for Hindi books and authors. Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram, YouTube, Google hangout, Blogs etc. have become handy tools for literary exchange. “Some of the Hindi publishers are taking phenomenal steps to reach out to consumers through digital marketing. For the upcoming Hindi publishing program of OUP, we are relying on digital initiatives a lot along with traditional marketing,” adds Sugata. Most independent Hindi publishing outfits are actively using these platforms to talk to their readers, and intently listen to them too.

Impact of online bookstores…

The online bookstores, one of the most comprehensive innovations of the digital revolution to hit the banks of global publishing industry with the new millennium, brought with them an enhanced lifespan for books. They created fertile contexts for rethinking about making a book travel and find its readers globally. With it, however, came the biggest bane for the traditional bookselling business. The online booksellers bargain for heavy discounts with the publishers that get transferred to the readers largely due to online retail’s low operational costs.

Says Anupam Kumar of Anupam Booksellers in Patna, “The business for trade booksin Hindi has dropped drastically due to the free home delivery offered by the online bookstore. We depend upon textbook sales to run the show now.” The corporate bookstore chains are in tougher times compared to the independents due to heavy overheads and operations costs. The independents like Kumar or Rwar bypass these heavy overheads by multitasking and keeping the overall profile of their bookstores low budget. Perhaps, it would have been desirable to have the government of India moderating this situation, by probably taking cue from the French counterpart. In July 2014, Aurelie Filippetti, the Culture Minister of France had banned free home delivery of books by Amazon government to protect the small booksellers.

Other challenges…

To add to the list of hardships for Hindi publishing, the recent introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) complicates book publishing and selling operations at various levels.

Although the government has placed books in the zero-tax category under the new regime, this has not translated into good news for booksellers and book buyers.The cost of book-making has gone up by 10%-28% (excluding the overheads) and this will have to be paid directly by the publisher unless it is passed on to the reader, because there is no provision to claim Input Tax Credits (ITC) – taxes paid by suppliers – like in the erstwhile Value Added Tax (VAT). While the decision may be with the idea of making educational material easily accessible, the subtext, for Hindi and Indian languages publishers, for instance, has been largely unnoticed. Besides lack of policy driven decision making and delayed credit cycles, the dearth of trained human resource is the top teething problem Hindi publishing industry faces today. However, introduction of publishing courses in Hindi and English at National Book Trust, Seagull School of Publishing, Institute of Book Publishing, College of Vocational Training, Indraprastha College for Women (in association with Vani Foundation) and Kalindi College- University of Delhi has helped in opening gates to one of the most rewarding, if not organised, industry of letters and literatures.

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