The sky is the limit for Children’s Publishers!
Om Books International publishes around 180-200 titles in the Children/YA category every year in English, Hindi and international co-editions in close to 30 languages. While, Tulika Books publishes 25-30 books every year across all categories, with about 15 or more of them in 9 languages. What are the opportunities and challenges in publishing and distributing children’s books in langauges, finds out All About Book Publishing.
Om Books International, a 60-year-old company is one of the leading trade publishers in the Indian subcontinent. It’s children’s imprint OmKidz has a very varied publishing list: Early Learning, Baby Record Books, Workbooks, Graded Readers, Reference Books, Encyclopedias and Dictionaries, Brain Teasers, Picture Storybooks, Large Print, Indian Epics, Illustrated Classics, Comics, Graphic Novels, and more.
While, Tulika Publishers is a South Indian multi-lingual children’s books publishing house. They are possibly the only independent, mainstream children’s publisher in India or anywhere in the world publishing picture books simultaneously in so many languages. In 2019, they were conferred with Excellence Award for Literary Translation Initiative at the London Book Fair. Their books can be found in prestigious international libraries like the New York Public Library as well as in small rural community libraries in India.
Here, Ajay Mago of Om Books and Radhika Menon of Tulika Books talk about the books they publish in children’s segment.
On published books…
“We publish around 180-200 titles in the Children/YA category every year,” tells Ajay. “These books are published in English, Hindi and international co-editions in close to 30 languages. Some of our titles have been published in Marathi as well. These books are categorised in various age-groups like 0-3 years; 3-5 years; 5-7 years; 7-9 years; 9-12 years and 12+ year.”
While, Radhika says, “We publish about 25-30 books every year across all categories, with about 15 or more of them in 9 languages. Most of our picture books are published in 8 Indian languages – Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarat and Bengali – apart from English. Sometimes, when there is someone interested and willing to take and market them, we publish in other languages too – such as Nepali and Odia. Some of these languages have few or no children’s books at all – for example, Mundari, Khasi, Miju Mishmi, Bodo, Adi, Apatani, Nocte and Nyishi.”
On asking about the kind of books sold most, Ajay replies, “Most children’s books till age 12 sell very well because pedagogically, they are crafted to instruct while entertaining. Starting from early learners (alphabet, first words, counting, colouring, drawing, pop-ups, touch-n-feel, sound books, etc.) to those designed to increase the child’s vocabulary, general knowledge, analytical skills, knowledge about world mythology, classics, personalities, events, phenomena, STEAM, and more, all books do very well. At the 12+ range, the YA taste fans out in different directions, but the perennial sellers still seem to be detective/crime thrillers, horror, paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy, comics, romance, war, mythology, to name a few.”
While Radhika says, “Our list caters to children till the age of 16 years. It includes picture books, bilingual picture books and fiction and non-fiction. Picture books sell the most.”
Challenges for children’s publishers in India…
“Marketing and distribution are the major challenges. The Indian book market is so vast and disorganised that negotiating it is difficult even for the big distributors,” tells Radhika.
“Apart from textbooks, upholding the importance of reading books vis-à-vis succumbing to the lure of the Internet, iPad & Television; conceptualising novelty books; making books available in multiple languages at competitive prices since most of them tend to be investment heavy picture books; distributing books across the length and breadth of India, in a variety of languages; tapping into the regional language market; tapping into two-tier, three-tier cities and into the hinterland; are few of the challenges children’s publishers face,” tells Ajay.
Challenges in distribution…
“Some of the challenges in distribution include high distributor’s discount; stock transfer paid by publisher; copies damaged during stock transfer; limited warehousing facilities of distributor; paid displays in stores; and focus only on sure-shot revenue earning titles/authors,” tells Ajay.
According to Radhika, distributing and marketing regional language books is the huge challenge. “We have had to build the markets ourselves as the kind of picture books we publish, both in terms of quality and content, are non-existent in the regional language markets, except perhaps for Hindi. Regional markets are also very price-sensitive and our books are seen as high-priced compared to locally published books – even though the quality of our production may be superior. So we have had to build alternative distribution channels for each language through NGOs and organisations working with reading literacy,” she says.
Other challenges include a weak retail market which still stocks more of imported books supplied by the multinational publishing houses and big distributors. Also the lack of organised, professional distribution which results in non-payment and extended credit periods. This affects the small and medium sized publishing houses really hard,” she adds.
“In India, most of us are polyglots—we speak and write more than one language. We read in multiple languages. So there is a vibrant market for writing in English, writing in regional languages, translations from one regional language to another and English; translations of literary giants in English and other Indian languages too,” tells Ajay.
“Multilingualism has been driving our publishing programme from the very beginning. Our very first book was the bilingual Line and Circle, way back in 1996. More than 75 per cent of our catalogue comprises books published in 8 Indian languages along with English,” says Radhika.
Om Books International has translated the entire series of Tintin in Hindi and is in the process of translating the entire series of Asterix comics in Hindi. It has translated Tales of Yoga—a series of eight books for children. It also publishes many children’s books both in English and in Hindi simultaneously. Om Books International has also bought the rights for Chinese author Bi Feiyu’s Man Asian Award winning novel, Three Sisters; Judie Oron’s Cry of the Giraffe, Sharon E Mckay’s Thunder over Kandahar, to name just a few. “We have sold rights of our books, including children’s/YA, across genres, and done co-editions in over 30 foreign languages,” he adds.
“We primarily sell rights internationally. We have been selling rights since 1998, a couple of years after we started. The challenge was to sell rights for books created for Indian readers to other countries. Some of the titles are: Mukand and Riaz (picture book) to France; Mathematwist (fiction + information) and My Gandhi Story (picture book) to Korea; several titles including a few series like Baby Bahadur, First Look Science (picture books) and Aditi Adventures (fantasy) to China; Andamans Boy (fiction) to Korea, Netherlands and Germany. Manjula Padmanabhan’s remarkable picture books in the Different series have also found many takers. I Am Different has been so popular in Germany that after the term of our contract with one German publisher came to an end, another acquired it! The series rights have been sold to China,” tells Radhika.
“My Mother’s Sari, What Shall I Make? and Ismat’s Eid have been taken by the US and Japan, Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Canada, and the bilingual titles Line and Circle, Takdir the Tiger Cub by the UK to name some. We are also talking to Spanish and Turkish publishers who have expressed interest in specific titles,” she adds.
Plans for regional language publishing, post implementation of National Education Policy 2020…
“Yes, there is likely to be a greater market for regional language publishing going ahead. We already have a strong presence in Hindi – given India’s diversity all languages are regional. Om Books would love to make inroads into other languages. We have published in Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, and some others. We were planning for further expansion, before the pandemic intervened. It will require a well-thoughtout strategy, but it’s very much in our vision to expand in other languages,” tells Ajay.
Bookstores vs online: which channel most popular for children’s books?
“Both bookstores and online bookshops work for us, for online and retail, it is roughly 60–40 for us. In fact we started our own online platform in the late 1990s, before e-commerce became so big,” tells Radhika.
“Regular bookstore visitors like to buy books mainly from brick-and-mortar stores, and occasionally online too, since online stores often offer interesting discounts. Having said that, online stores can never replicate the ambience and experience of a bookstore, nor can they replicate author visits, book signing, other book-related events, bonding with other book-lovers across age-groups and genres, a reading corner and, above all, the experience of touching, feeling and opening a book amidst the welcome smell of paper,” shares Ajay.
Importance of social media in marketing…
“Social media certainly helps disseminate information on all kinds of books including children’s and YA, children’s book awards and children’s literature festivals. The target audience may be a parent/a decision-maker/a relative, an elder sibling, a friend from a different age group but the information certainly percolates down to the target reader,” says Ajay.
While Radhika says, “Today, a lot of people, both parents and children, use social media – it’s free, easy to use and extremely accessible. There are many popular online groups and sites that review children’s literature and give recommendations. A strong social media presence, across platforms, is a must-have for any publisher today.”
On Indian authors and content generated in India…
“Children’s publishing is growing at a rapid pace especially over the last 2-3 years. There is a great demand for good writers and illustrators and we do see a lot of new talent. But the scene has become quite competitive and books are being published in quick succession. The publishing process itself is fast tracked as a result. There is no time or space to nurture talent or skill, which is worrying. Perhaps it is a transitional period and more and more talent will emerge, which will give Indian children’s publishing a character. It is still a young industry,” opines Radhika.
While Ajay says, “Indian authors writing both in English and the regional languages are doing commendable work in practically every genre one can think of. Every age brings in new forms and genre of writing, new talents, etc. What they bring to readers from different social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds and tastes is admirable.”
Books will always be cherished…
“Trends seem to suggest a big growth in children’s publishing. Urban, educated parents want to reduce screen time for their children and encourage reading, which is a big plus. Many children’s literature festivals have cropped up around the country. Several are organised by schools. All this has been a positive for the children’s book market. The popularity of genres tends to be cyclical the world over, from mysteries to fantasy to real life adventures and so on. Good non-fiction for children has also been well-received. Ultimately, it all boils down to good stories that find the right publicity and resonate deeply with readers,” tells Radhika.
“As long as reading as a habit is not totally supplanted by any other equally significant habit, the sky is the limit for publishers: this is just the tip of the iceberg,” concludes Ajay.
Bestsellers from Tulika Books
Picture books (stories)
- Gajapati Kulapati – a series by Ashok Rajagopalan
- The Why-Why Girl – by Mahasweta Devi, pictures Kanyika Kini
- Where is Amma? – by Nandini Nayar, pictures Srividya Natarajan
- Ammachi’s Glasses – a wordless picture book by Priya Kuriyan
- Fakhuruddin’s Fridge – by Meenu Thomas, pictures Tanvi Bhat
Picture books (non-fiction)
- Bhimrao Ambedkar: The Boy Who Asked Why by Sowmya Rajendran, pictures Satwik Gade
- Dancing Bees by Ranjit Lal, pictures Ashok Rajagopalan
- My Gandhi Story by Rajesh Chaitya Vangad, Nina Sabnani & Ankit Chadha
- Wings to Fly by Sowmya Rajendran, pictures Arun Kaushik
Bilingual picture books
- I Am Going to the Zoo by Narendra Kumar Jain, pictures Alankrita Amaya
- Follow the Ants by Amrutha Sathish, pictures Soumya Menon
- Neelu’s Big Box by Nandini Nayar, pictures Shreya Sen
- Purple Jojo by Sameera Zia Qureshi, pictures Jaikar Marur
- Four Friends by Kala Sashikumar, pictures Proiti Roy
- The Mayil series by Sowmya Rajendran and Niveditha Subramaniam
- Andamans Boy by Zai Whitaker
- The Boy with Two Grandfathers by Mini Shrinivasan
- The Forbidden Forest by Kay S.
- Parthiban’s Dream translated by Nirupama Raghavan
- India Through Archaeology: Excavating History by Devika Cariapa
- Picture Gandhi by Sandhya Rao
- India Through People: 25 Gamechangers by Devika Cariapa