There is a niche market for Punjabi literature, which has also been grappling with changing times. Here, Harish Jain of Unistar Books Pvt Ltd shares his views on the current market trends and more. Having been born and brought up in Punjab it was natural for me to choose Punjabi as the language for my publishing venture. But even at that time, literary scene in Punjab was not in much great shape. With the partition of the country, Punjab ceased to be culturally significant. All the great names of literature either shifted to Delhi and Mumbai or remained in Pakistan. Punjab which was producing literature in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, English and many other Indian languages like Braj etc. and produced so many stalwarts which for decades shone like stars on the Indian literary scene overnight turned into a mono language state with no great name to bolster its publishing industry’s floundering fortunes. For a good time, publishing of literature was almost negligible. Though, having a very rich legacy, it took decades to build it again, but it could never attain its earlier heights. Now Punjab cannot boast of much scholarship in any other language. I came somewhere in between and could contribute whatever I was worth. However, we publish a good number of titles in English and Hindi every year but our niche remains Punjabi.

On market trends…

Present trends are scary. Market is shrinking very fast, though, not so much in terms of value but certainly in terms of numbers. Again numbers also have a wider significance. We are losing on saleable authors and their number is dwindling fast with hardly new accretion. It does not stop there. Every good saleable author is losing on his/her saleable titles. If three years back an author was good on say 10 titles, now he/she is hardly looking at three or four titles. That hits the back titles list which otherwise happens to be the life line. It also results in piling up of the inventory due to the sluggish movement, and so in effect a double whammy on the revenue. What is even more disturbing is increasing interest in nostalgia. Writings looking towards future or present are short circuited by nostalgic outpourings imaging the past as a trophy which needs to be wooed, adored, won and then held at all costs. This is almost true for all creative work which is pathetic and highly regressive. This is happening not only with fiction but also with the poetry which in Punjabi used to be very robust and powerful, not here and there but staring straight in your eye. But it is not so anymore; no challenge, just drowsing in the beguiling warmth and fading glow of the setting sun. There are so many opportunities for the new but there seems none to bite the bullet. This, more or less sums up the situation that we are surviving more or less on the past successes than on any current laurels. But past cannot carry you long.

On declining readership…

Our writing does not match the aspirations and needs of our readers. There is no chasing to capture the reader’s mind but a mad race to win awards and seats in organisations. You are not publishing for any reader but for that illusive jury who can place a piece of metal in your hand. It is not easy to wean away the potential talent from this intoxicating brew.

Other challenges…

But effort should not cease and we do not let our hope fade. Rising costs of the materials, manpower, space and logistics are sapping. Falling volumes, squeezing market and waning prospects exacerbate it to the agonizing levels. Punjabi being a very small and niche market, pinch is as much severe. Publishing is nothing if not a business of dreams and hope. So with every new manuscript you ride on a brand new wave.

Geographical reach…

Consumption of Punjabi literature is more and more in non-urban and semi-urban areas. Urban elite, which has the spending power and which has the capacity to be the leaders, have ceased reading Punjabi long back. After creation of the state in the name of the Punjabi language in 1966 and with imposition of Punjabi as a compulsory language up to undergraduate level, there should have been a tremendous increase in the Punjabi reader. Only gain has been that of employment opportunities in teaching Punjabi language and increase in the circulation of Punjabi newspapers but that also happened in the same non-urban and semi-urban areas; urban areas, on the other hand, saw a growth in English and Hindi newspapers. So, the increase in Punjabi literacy never progressed much to book reading culture. That is our bane. Our growth, whenever it happens, has always been dependent upon sporadic movements which wane with the eclipse of the respective movement, which leaves the Punjabi publishing with an uncertain and shaky base.

Our overseas readers are mainly first generation migrants but few in numbers and do not make any worthwhile market. Though teaching of Punjabi is being carried out in North America and Europe at a number of places including schools and universities but this also is not capable to create any market for Punjabi books except the teaching learning material. We have tried to develop the market but without much success.

Sale channels…

We are present online and selling through all the major ecommerce sites but the volume is very low and normally does not justify the manpower costs involved. We are there as it is important and necessary to be there but not for much commercial reason. Same goes for digital adoption. We have gone through a number of experiments and almost all the delivery modes and models but nothing seems to have worked out. Our partnering with aggregators and digital distributors has not resulted in any business except paper work and loss of man hours in arranging and supplying data.

On print vs ebooks….

Presently it is important to maintain the current levels, and if that happens new opportunities to grow will certainly emerge. In the long term it will be beneficial for the print publisher to remain in print as only the print would remain constant and all other technological forms and formats would go through rapid changes with very short shelf lives and quickly sliding towards oblivion. Printed book will remain but it would lose volumes and thus the present scale of business, necessitating shift to some new models which would emerge in due course.

On print runs…

Print run varies between 300 and 2000. But the number of titles attracting print run of more than 500 or going into reprint especially from the new titles are becoming scarce.

On translations…

Translations from Punjabi have not attracted much attention like that of from other Indian languages even where translated by celebrated names and published by the main English publishers. We have also published a number of translations but not of much consequence. However, we are regularly translating English titles into Punjabi very successfully. So, instead of selling we are acquiring translation rights nationally and internationally.



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