Digital Transformation of Navajivan Publishing House

-Optimizing and future-proofing vernacular publishing with technology

Apurva Ashar, Executive Director of Cygnet Infotech Pvt. Ltd., traces the journey of this publishing house, which has successfully embraced technology in vernacular publishing.


With the first issue of the weekly Navajivan in Gujarati language published on Sep 7, 1919, Gandhiji initiated a publishing journey that is still going on. What was considered as worth publishing was already published in the century-long activity of the publishing house. When we—Cygnet Infotech team—were invited to head the publishing activities in 2013, at first our role was perceived as to take care of re-printing the existing catalogue and perhaps redesigning and re-branding the books to appeal the present generation of readers. But even before the century was over Navajivan, had a distinction of becoming an ‘Inclusive Publisher’—publishing print and fully validated accessible ePubs simultaneously even in vernacular languages. In other words all the books were ‘Born Accessible’.

Fonts and more…

Today when we look back, we find that we have achieved much more than just reprints! In his autobiography Gandhiji uses an expression ‘A Himalayan Miscalculation’ for some other reference, but our industry is guilty of this huge miscalculation of using non-standard fonts for more than 3 decades now. I entered the field of DTP systems in 1991. Most publishers adopted the change and have been using the digital computers for Indian language books since then. So technically books published in last 30 years in Indian languages already exist in digital format. But do we actually have that data?

Everyone in the field knows this bitter truth. Number of different Indic software and fonts, not compatible with each other, have been used. This has made most of the wealth of content useless unless we find a way to convert that to the current standards. Today we are struggling to recast our old publications in more reusable and universally acceptable Unicode format. Sometimes resorting to retyping and proofing or using OCR. Everyone experiences that the number of quality proof-readers and editors is reducing and the need for digital content for the consumption of web and mobile format is increasing with alarming speed. The end result—hurried and unacceptably erroneous versions of precious literary text on the internet and also in print.

Adopting Unicode fonts for universal use…

Navajivan adopted Unicode fonts for Gujarati and Devnagari scripts and we built workflows consisting of software tools and defined methods to convert all the books available as digital files. We had files from software like Ventura Publisher and various versions of PageMaker using a variety of Gujarati and Hindi fonts. Today, all that data is being converted to InDesign in Unicode fonts without any loss of accuracy or even formatting. The result—we have gold standard, searchable, achievable data in future-proof HTML, XML and ePub format. We have developed spell-checking dictionaries including names and places of Indian origin using the wealth of words from the proof-read books produced from conversion. The books that were not available in digital format are being scanned and converted using OCR. The quality and the editing of such books is superior than the raw OCR results. For us books are not merely words printed in black on white paper…they are so much more!

Bringing entire Navajivan catalogue alive…

Another revolutionary decision was to establish a digital publishing platform in-house. This allows us to reprint in very small quantity the books that were out of print for years. We plan to reprint and recast the entire Navajivan catalogue in coming years.

Gandhiji’s words put together becomes one of the largest literary corpus by a single person in the entire world. Instead of ‘re-digitizing’ the already digital content, we strive to create a well curated, authentic digital archive for the readers and researchers.

If these methods are replicated and used by our publishers—specially publishing literary content of eternal value, we will soon have a great wealth available to generations to come.

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