August 2012 Posts

Aryavarta Chronicles 1:Govinda, Krishna Udayasankar, interviewed on 9 Aug 2012, Delhi

Aryavarta Chronicles 1:Govinda, Krishna Udayasankar, interviewed on 9 Aug 2012, Delhi

Krishna Udayasankar The Aryavarta Chronicles, Book 1: Govinda
Hachette India, 2012. Pb, Rs. 350. pp. 458

Early in August I met Krishna Udayasankar in Delhi. She was here for the launch of her debut novel, Govinda. Krishna is a lawyer and based in Singapore, living with her husband and two huskies. She writes although she has a day job as a lecturer at Nanyang Business School. She has a PhD in Business (Strategic Management). According to her, “I write whenever I can – i.e. any available moment. My typical ‘work’ day starts around noon (unless I have classes or meetings in the morning) after a round at the gym, and it goes on past midnight. Of this day, whatever time is not spent on teaching, prep and other university-related duties I try to write, or do research and other things book-related. But lest I sound too hard-working, let me confess that I spend a lot of this time online on FB or mail, passing it off as ‘work’, I do however try to write every day, even for just a few minutes, as a matter of discipline.”

Govinda is the first in the Aryavarta Chronicles, a new version of the Mahabharata. The difference being that in her story, Krishna’s characters come across as ordinary mortals who have to face extraordinary challenges. Plus the women characters are far more strongly etched than ever before. She admits that there are “no passive characters” in her book. (No surprises there, especially a) the canon of contemporary literature that relies heavily upon the epics like Chitra Bannerjee Divakurni’s The Palace of Illusions did set a trend and b) meeting Krishna, who is a feisty and strong personality herself.) In her introduction the author is quick to affirm that these chronicles “are neither reinterpretation or retelling”. She would prefer to term her book as mytho-history. This is an excerpt from an email exchange where we discussed the terminology:

The most oft-quoted definitions of mytho-history trace back to Prof. Mohammed Arkoun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Arkoun ), who is credited with having developed a theory of mytho-history and mytho-ideology. Of course, while the processes that we define as mytho-history are age-old ones, in modern times Prof. Arkoun is credited with giving it theoretical definition, as well as practical application.

It is a more sociological or anthropological sense to describe the process or body of myths that have become part of the collective history of a people and their culture — particularly origin-stories or tales that explain why or how the world around them is the way it is — prevailing norms and cultures. For example, in India, many people believe — irrespective of historical evidence or otherwise — that the characters of the Mahabharata did exist, though with powers and abilities that would today be considered super-normal, such as extended lifespans. By rationalizing what may be abnormal (it was another Yuga, evil has since diminished humanity, etc.) there is an attempt to preserve a logical engagement, which becomes less necessary when we talk of ‘pure myth’.

What I try to capture when I use the word is not just the phenomenon, the attempt at logic that distinguished the narrative from pure myth, but also the rationale. I do so by asking why are the certain stories that become mytho-histories while others remain pure myth. Again, to illustrate by example, we do we never quite ‘believe’ that some of the events described in the Vedas happened the way they did, choosing instead to interpret them as spiritual verse or even mystical metaphor?; possibly because the parts of the Vedas are not historical accounts, but a collection of scientific Arcanum, carefully disguised as metaphor in a bid to protect knowledge (or the keepers thereof). The Mahabharata, on the other, contains the categorical assertion as part of its text that it is history – or was history contemporaneous to its composition.

So, what I mean by myth-history, though perhaps an anthropologist may take exception: Mytho-history is that body of narrative that may well have had enough historical evidence in support of it in the past, to find an enduring place in culture, but today lacks sufficient evidence to be presented as historical fact – even though its half-sister, mythology, is able to recollect the finer details.

Govinda is an example of commercial fiction with a decent print run. Based upon the initial reports from the market, it seems that Krishna’s fast paced story is selling well (and deservedly so!). I met a bookseller two days ago who had displayed the book prominently at his shop and was hoping the sequel would arrive soon. If that is the case, then the author has achieved her intention of getting the reader to engage with the novel even if it is to disagree.

28 August 2012

Powder Room, Shefalee Vasudev, book review

Powder Room, Shefalee Vasudev, book review

Shefalee Vasudev

In 1999, an exhibition was organised in Delhi to support artisans in cyclone-hit Orissa. At the event, I spotted a young student working with an equally young Patachitra artisan. The way the student interacted with the artisan seemed odd. While she was ‘instructing’ the man to do things, the artisan meekly obeyed her and created dull Patachitra creations. I knew the man. He had retold some classic tales beautifully on dried palm leaves, and was using his art to record contemporary events and their impact. He had an entire Patachitra telling the story of lynched missionary Graham Staines. Hence, the lack of sensitivity of the student was bewildering.

Equally or even more bewildering are stories that Shefalee Vasudev tells about the fashion industry in Powder Room. The book is a gripping narrative of the fashion eco-system in India. Vasudev, former India editor of fashion magazine Marie Claire, offers a strong perspective and weaves an excellent story about how fashion brands are lapped up by the nouveau riche and by the powerful. The bling factor is so high. Sample this: at an exclusive designer exhibition in Ludhiana, the author noticed a woman wearing six big brands, all at the same time, and wanting to buy some more.

Vasudev starts with an admission that till she was in Class 12, she had not heard of Coco Chanel. But she goes on to prove that she is arguably the best hand around to decode the glam factory. She documents the aspirations of many of those who struggle to rise to the top within the fashion fraternity and the evolution of those who stay ahead by working hard and adapting.

Vasudev interviewed over 300 people for the book, including people in small towns and big cities, well-established designers, shop assistants with dreams of their own, struggling and successful models and tailors. Statistics reeled out in the book explain the dynamics propelling the fashion market in India to the levels where it is today and beyond. For instance, clothing is a $33.2 billion dollar industry in India and accounts for the second largest pie in the country’s spending chart. In 2007, a McKinsey report — ‘The Bird of Gold’ — on India’s consumer market said there would be over 570 million middle class Indians by 2025 and India would be the world’s fifth-biggest consumer market. By July 2012, Louis Vuitton had 2,468 stores worldwide with 495 in Asia, and its growth rate in India was pegged above 20 per cent in 2011. A few months ago, consultancy firm AT Kearney said the fashion market was growing at 20 per cent and would reach $15 billion by 2015.

But the author says fashion is a labour dominated industry, which includes not just the brands, but also artisans and craftsmen who, until recently, were the second largest contributors to the Indian economy. In many cases, it is creating a dichotomy in the fashion world. Probably, much of this is set to change as is evident by the recent news of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy buying an 8 per cent stake in Fabindia.

Vasudev builds a natural narrative and creates sympathy for the profiled. She understands their ambitions and compulsions, but is emotionally detached to encapsulate relevant details. Hers is an in-depth understanding of the industry — “it is not a clean, decent industry… for those who want to hold on to values, fashion is not the easiest place to be in.”

She, too, became disillusioned with the industry, losing interest in her job at Marie Claire as she was not sure what an editor’s job meant in a fashion magazine “except for being the smartest cookie in a team”. She felt it was “brochure journalism” and you had to figure out the “least common denominator between advertisers, celebs, the marketing wish list, personal obligations, put seven cover lines out of which three had to be international and get it right”.

The reviewer is a publishing consultant

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 03-09-2012)

On book reviewing, my column in Books &More

On book reviewing, my column in Books &More

On Book Reviewing

In December 2011 journalist Mihir Sharma published a 6000-word review article about well-known PR executive Suhel Seth’s new book Get To The Top–The Ten Rules For Social Success. It was an intensely written, strong and provocative essay that caused a storm in literary circles. The opening section was the review, but the remaining two-thirds of the essay was a deprecating profile of Suhel Seth. The link to the article went viral. It resulted in some unpleasant mudslinging between the reviewer and author on twitter, with the magazine’s editor fiercely defending the reviewer. The author after a few tweets deleted the conversation string from his twitter channel and locked it from public access. But by then the tweets exchanged had been preserved and shared across all social media platforms and emailed. But my point is about the review article. Did it achieve what it meant to — sell the book? It probably did. Sure, the focus of the article was Suhel Seth and his book, but it was the quality of writing of a professional critic that created the extraordinary buzz, it did.

Book reviewing is not as easy as it looks. Today with the internet and social media platforms, it is possible for anyone to upload their point of view, opinion or comment on a book. A detailed response like Mihir Sharma’s to a book takes time, effort, knowledge and the confidence to go public with what you actually believe in, and later — to stand by your words. But 98% of the time, book reviewing– published in print or on blogs – is a regurgitation of the plot. It is more often than not opinionated (not an analysis) and tough to read. Obviously this is not a new phenomenon. In his essay, “Confessions of a book reviewer” (1946) George Orwell says, “The great majority of reviews give an inadequate or misleading account of the book that is dealt with.” More than sixty years later, this statement still holds true.

Literary Journalism spaces like the international literary review spaces (print and portals/blogs) worth reading are the New York Review of Books; London Review of Books; the Times Literary Supplement; Granta; the New Yorker; and the New York Times Books pages. In India (of the same calibre) it would be the books pages of all the main newspapers. Special mention can be made of the Hindustan Times; the Times of India; the Hindu Literary Supplement; the Book Review; Businessworld online books portal and bloggers like Jai Arjun (Jabberwock), Chandrahas Choudhary (The Middle Stage), and Nilanjana Roy (Akhond of Swat). Professional critics act as a quality filter for the readers. They help in guiding reading tastes. They also perform a valuable task for editors, publishers and even booksellers with their constructive criticism. Let me explain through a personal anecdote. Last year I reviewed a well-written narrative non-fiction, which was caught between classifying itself as a biography or a memoir; or to use David Lodge’s phrase – bio-fic. In my opinion (after much research and in-depth analysis), I felt that despite the excellent effort at garnering empirical evidence about the woman whose life (and is still alive) she was documenting, the author found it difficult acknowledge that what she had written was a bio-fic. This was even more distressing (to me) since the author admitted in her afterword she had tinkered with the data and story elements, including fudging the letters to supposedly reproduce or quote from them as is. I suspect the review did not go down too well with the author since she “delinked” from me on a social media site. But I did get a tremendous response from readers appreciating the honest and frank assessment of a book. I even heard a bookstore owner, who had till then been displaying the book prominently, wonder if he should even continue to stock copies of it.

Whatever the response a reviewer may have to a book, even if it is a knee-jerk one, it is best to be correct. Reviewers should be honest, but not nasty and vituperative, for the sake of being so. If there is nothing worth talking about in the book, then say so, but always remember that trashing a book without any valid and just reason, is not professional reviewing.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist.
Published in Books&More, April-May 2012, pg. 58

Copyright And The Publishing Industry, my column on publishing

Copyright And The Publishing Industry, my column on publishing

Copyright And The Publishing Industry: Understanding the relevance of IPR laws in the book publishing domain and how the buying and selling of rights yields a profitable revenue stream for publishing houses

It was a cozy and warm atmosphere in a bookstore in South Delhi — with plenty of cushions thrown on the floor — that I attended a delightful book launch for children. The book was displayed prominently, along with some fabulous original illustrations done by the author, from which the book illustrator had been “inspired”. I clicked some photographs with my smartphone. The publishers, based in another city, couldn’t attend the event. So, I thought why not mail it to them, they are fraternity. Soon, a newsletter popped into my mailbox from the same publisher, with a lovely write-up of the book launch accompanied by my photographs, but with no acknowledgement given to me. I was disappointed.
After pondering over it, I decided to bring it to the publisher’s notice. To me, it was the principle of recognising the IPR (intellectual property rights) of the creator and giving due credit that I felt was at stake here. This was the reply I received, “So sorry. It was a slip up as I had said that you should be acknowledged. But since that is not the usual practice — simply because no one had asked — it was overlooked.” An apology received and accepted. I did not stop at that. I requested that in the next newsletter it should be rectified and on the blog, the photographs uploaded should go with credits.

To explore larger issues surrounding copyright, and for publishers in general, management of copyright ( http://businessworld.in/web/guest/storypage?CategoryID=0&articleId=304899&version=1.0&journalArticleId=304900 ) is a very important part of their business. In May 2012, the Indian Parliament passed a few amendments to the Copyright Act. (It is still a bill, at the time of writing this column.) A victory to a large extent for the music industry, but it has made very little difference, so far, to the publishing industry. Plus, the debate surrounding Clause 2(m) of the Indian Copyright Act is still an open chapter. As per the clause, a book published in any part of the world can easily be sold here. Thus, diluting the significance or infringing upon an exclusive Indian edition. The Parliament Standing Committee investigating the pros and cons of Clause 2(m), made a “forceful recommendation” for its amendment, but it was not included in the bill. So the HRD Minister has referred it to an NCAER expert committee constituted.

However, another amendment relevant to the publishing industry has been the increase in copyright term for photographs. “This will make using older photographs impossible without hunting down the original photographer,” says Pranesh Prakash, a lawyer and copyright expert and programme manager at Centre for Internet and Society. “So far, things have worked well because sepia-tinted photographs have generally become part of the public domain. But now, only photographs by photographers who died before 1951 are part of the public domain. This has shrivelled up the public domain in photographs since it is even more difficult to trace the photographer (and date of death) than to estimate the age of a photograph, determining whether a photograph is in the public domain is laden with uncertainty. The use of historical photos in books (and Wikipedia) will be badly affected.”

Having been a publisher for years, I tend to be very careful about issues involving copyright. Dig deep and you will find anecdotes that illustrate the crying need for understanding copyright issues. For example, an illustrator submitting files to a reputed art director could be told that the illustrations are not up to mark. Unfortunately, when the book is published, the ‘new’ illustrations are pale imitations of the original line drawings submitted by the illustrator.

Or for that matter, a playwright being asked to create a script, but is never acknowledged or even paid the royalty due since the director believes that the core idea for the play is hers. ‘The playwright merely gave it a form’ is a common retort. Or, a couple of editors discovering their original research (and highly acclaimed globally) has been blatantly plagiarised by a well-known writer and published by an equally prominent publisher. Despite having marshalled all the necessary evidence, the editors are unable to file a case, since the court fee is a percentage of the damages sought and is beyond their reach. So, these cases stagnate with no redressal and the creators are left frustrated and angry.

The core issue is, how many professionals in the publishing eco-system actually know what is copyright or how to exercise their rights? After all, it is only a concept, albeit a legal one, which gives the creator of an original work exclusive right(s) to it for a limited period of time. Establishing and verifying the ownership to copyright is a sensitive issue. A good example of how an organisation can facilitate, disseminate, inform and empower a literary community on IPR and related topics is the Irish Writers Union.

According to their website, it is “the representative organisation for one of the major stakeholders in any discussion about copyright: Irish authors. While we understand that copyright legislation might be a barrier to innovation in certain industries, the IWU believes that any change to copyright law must be managed in such a way as to ensure that no damage is done to Ireland’s literary activity. …literature earns hard cash for Ireland. Both in the form of its contribution to the €2bn annual gain from cultural tourism and in the considerable revenues deriving from the success of sales of Irish works, Irish publishing and writing is an activity that should not be jeopardised by any legal change that weakens the value of copyright ownership to the creators of original literary works. …We note that if anything, copyright law in regard to literature should be strengthened to protect rights holders.”

As Shauna Singh Baldwin, a Canadian-American novelist of Indian descent, comments upon the significance of copyright in an e-mail conversation with me, “The breath of the individual creator, his/her imagination and speculation gives life to a work of art. To create something new, you take ideas from many sources, recontextualise them, find unexpected connections between them, and create something new — and beautiful. If we continue to be ashamed of our own imaginations and so fearful of mistakes that we must copy the tried and true, we will never create, only innovate.”

As for the rejoinder and photo credits I had requested for my photographs, the publisher implemented it immediately. And I was glad.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist.

My webinar with the Canadian publishers on Indian Publishing Industry, 25 Sept 2012

My webinar with the Canadian publishers on Indian Publishing Industry, 25 Sept 2012

 

Exporting to India for Canadian Publishers

Join independent international publishing consultant and columnist Jaya Bhattacharji Rose live from New Delhi for this two-hour webinar.
September 25, 2012, noon to 2:00 pm ET

The Indian publishing market is one of the most vibrant in the world with more than 16,000 publishers publishing 90,000 titles annually in 24 languages. India is the third largest publisher of English language Books after the US and UK.

With a population of 550 million below the age of 30 and a burgeoning middle class, book sales in India are expected to skyrocket. There has been an astounding increase in titles originating India, in addition to large-scale investments in retail and marketing and increasing standards of book production.

Publishing is gradually coming into the mainstream of India’s trade and commerce. As the Indian economy integrates with the world economy, more and more business activities are expected. Indian publishers are keen to explore new areas and many of them are regular participants in international book fairs.

Come away from this webinar with a better understanding of India’s opportunities as a potential export market for your books.

Join Jaya Bhatthacharji Rose for a two-hour webinar exploring the ins and outs of the Indian publishing market:

The state of publishing, reading and book buying in India
The Indian trade, children’s, and education markets for Canadian publishers
The fast-moving digital publishing market
And much more
This live webinar is 60 minutes followed by an interactive one-hour Q&A period.
Your host

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an independent international publishing consultant, columnist, and literary director with Siyahi, a literary agency, based in New Delhi. She has been associated with publishing since the early 1990s. Her responsibilities have included guest editing a special children’s and YA literature issue of The Book Review, and producing the first comprehensive report on the Indian book market for the Publishers Association UK. Her extensive editorial experience includes stints with Zubaan, Routledge, and Puffin. Her articles, interviews and book reviews have appeared in BookBrunch, Frontline, The Book Review, Daily News & Analysis (DNA), Outlook, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, LOGOS, Businessworld, Brunch, and The Muse. She also has a column on publishing in Businessworld online, the largest selling Indian business magazine, and a bi-monthly column in Books & More. More at www.facebook.com/jayabhattacharjirose.

Register Now

Register for this live two-hour webinar by September 15, 2012.

REGISTER ONLINE NOW

Sign up for this live two-hour webinar for only C$50

> Register today

For more information contact Communications and Marketing Coordinator Nicolas Levesque by email ( nlevesque@livrescanadabooks.com ) or telephone at 613-562-2324, extension 228.

Your host
Jaya Bhatthacharji Rose

On the state of Indian publishing, an interview, 5 Aug 2012

On the state of Indian publishing, an interview, 5 Aug 2012

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=4379

The Indian Publishing Industry: Matured, but Still a Long Way to Go
Posted by spark_editor on Aug 5, 2012 in Anupama Krishnakumar, August, Voices of the Month | 0 comments
In an interview to Spark, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, publishing consultant and columnist talks to Anupama Krishnakumar about interesting trends in the Indian publishing industry including the popularity that commercial fiction is enjoying in India these days, the growing trend of buying books online and the advent of e-books in the Indian market.
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an independent international publishing consultant and columnist based in New Delhi. She has been associated with publishing since the early 1990s. Her responsibilities have included guest editing the special Children’s and YA Literature of The Book Review, and producing the first comprehensive report on the Indian Book Market for the Publisher’s Association, UK. Her extensive editorial experience includes stints with Zubaan, Routledge, and Puffin. Her articles, interviews and book reviews have also appeared in Frontline, The Book Review, DNA, Outlook, the Hoot, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Brunch, LOGOS, Business World, Housecalls and The Muse. She also has a fortnightly column on publishing in Businessworld online and a bi-monthly column in Books & More. She is also advisor to Publishing Next and was advisor to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) for their conference “Business of Publishing” (Sept 2011).

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
You have been associated with the publishing industry for about two decades now. How would you describe the journey of the Indian publishing scene from the early 90s to today?

In two decades the industry has transformed considerably. There is a significant amount of professionalism that has come into the industry. It is immaterial if it is a big or a small or an independent publishing house, all of them have recognised the need to have departments for specific requirements, rather than expect one person/department to multi-task. Processes are better organised. The quality of books has improved. The range of publishing services – printing, editing, typesetting, translations, transcripts, design and layouts, self-publishing, vendors offering digital publishing services, book publicists, social media marketing – have increased tremendously to cater to the domestic and international markets.

So, definitely, it has matured, but we still have a long way to go.

There are many books, particularly works of fiction, flooding the Indian market these days. Many publishing houses have come up and we see young first-time authors climbing to the top of bestseller charts. Amidst all this, a section of book lovers feel that ‘proper literary writing’ isn’t getting its due. What are your thoughts?

First it is always important to assess the parameters of the “bestseller” charts. But assuming that these bestseller charts are an accurate picture of the market, then yes, it is true that many first-time authors are doing exceptionally well. Ravinder Singh has crossed the 200,000 unit sales in seven months with his Metro Reads title. But literary fiction or ’proper literary writing,’ as you term it, does still exist. It is simply snowed under with the deluge of first-time authors who have never had it so good –so many publishers. Within a few years this too will settle down. Right now the finer distinctions in the lists are not very apparent, but a) you never know where and when the gems are hidden and b) these books, many of which have a plot that is conversation driven, are catering to and discovering markets so far unheard of. Maybe in a few years we will see a pattern emerging in reading tastes and distinct markets being created.

Historic fiction is fast becoming an extremely popular genre in India now, with works of Ashwin Sanghi and Indu Sundaresan being some fine examples. What do you think could be the reason for this interesting trend?

Historical fiction is not a new trend. Like science fiction, speculative fiction and graphic novels, it is an eco-system that has always existed with a steady base of readers. It is only now that Indian authors like those that you mention are coming into their own.

While works of fiction seem to be selling like hot cakes, what are your thoughts on the non-fiction scene in India?

Indians writing non-fiction is not exactly on the upswing, at least in my opinion. It is yet to grow, but there are enough indications to say that the future will be brighter in this segment. Having said that, I think this genre will take a while to come into its own, given that it requires a fair amount of research, determination and an aptitude for analysis, as well as strong skills of storytelling to produce a fine piece of non-fiction. A stodgy book (although well-documented) is in equal danger of sinking as much as a poorly-researched but well-written one. For me a fine benchmark has been set by Shefalee Vasudev’s Powder Room and Ruchir Sharma’s Breakout Nations. Hopefully there are more in the pipeline.

The readership for Indian non-fiction is definitely on the rise, tremendously so. But if all the categories of fiction are clubbed together then they outstrip that of non-fiction. The readership for non-fiction, specifically business, comes second by value (after general fiction). But in terms of volume, it is probably the MBS (Mind, Body, Spirit) genre that tops the list, even surpassing fiction. Yet it remains low on the classification by value since these books are very reasonably priced. The market will only allow these books to be priced at an average of Rs. 50-60.

As someone who reviews books, what are the important characteristics you look out for in a book to mark it ‘worth a read’?

For me a book should be readable. It should be sustained, good reading till the last page. I want to be satisfied with what I have read and not feel cheated at having spent my money on something that is not worth it at all. The grammar should be perfect. Even if you make allowances for minor errors, the characters and plot lines should be satisfying and not insipid, weak or flat. Creating a weak character in a book is actually quite a tough task, but a flat character is easily achieved, if not much thought is given to the process. The internal logic of the plot should hold together well. Today it is quite easy to verify a reference by checking for it on the Internet.

Does the Indian book market differ in significant ways from the book market in say, the U.S. and the UK? Could you tell us how?

Yes, it does in many ways. Most significantly, those are purely one language (English) speaking and homogenised markets, whereas India consists of many markets within one. This holds true even for the sale of English-language books. You cannot have the same blanket strategy applicable to all regions of the country. These need to be tweaked according to regional tastes and appetites. Plus, this is a country that consists of readers who are at least literate in two (if not more) languages. Hence, they can access literature in whichever language they are most comfortable in. Another point of difference is that the Indian book market is growing rapidly in print and electronic formats. In the U.S. and the UK, the print market has reached saturation levels.

Online portals in India are making great progress, helping customers order books with the click of a mouse and shipping the books to their doorstep. We have recently also seen some bookstores shutting down in the wake of this development. Do you feel that the growing popularity of online bookstores signals the end of the traditional ones?

No. An online retail service is not an online bookstore, for I think buying books online is not akin to buying books in a bookstore. The two experiences are diametrically opposite, although the service is the same. In fact, recent studies say that the brick-and-mortar stores are a necessity, since customers like to immerse themselves in the experience of browsing and discovering books (this is not the same thing as searching online via Google Books.) But then they prefer to buy from online portals (after checking the prices) since these offer discounts. And yes, traditional bookstores and even recent chains will shut down. This is not to be linked completely to the emergence of online retail. Other factors impacting the poor performance of bookstores, especially the chains, are the high rents to be paid, salaries, ill-informed staff, poorly stocked shelves with haphazard display of titles, shoddy information retrieval from computer systems and the sheer lack of knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for books, genres etc., among the staff. Hence recommendations are not easily forthcoming. This is quite unlike traditional bookshops where it is usually the store owner who knows his customers and their literary tastes, is able to recommend titles and establishes a rapport. So in a sense these “corrections” or shutting down of stores in the supply system are inevitable. But some of the traditional landmarks in bookselling in India have shut down because the younger generations were reluctant to enter the business. So it is a tough question to answer.

Another interesting story when we talk about publishing is the advent of e-books. Penguin India too had recently announced its foray into e-books. What do you feel is the scope for the e-book market in India and what is the sort of impact you feel e-books will have on the print book space?

The scope for e-books is tremendous in India. The recent announcement of the Young Creative Entrepreneur Award by the British Council for publishing being given to Jagdish Repasawal for mangoreader.com merely confirms this. E-books are scheduled to take off in a big way. There are already many people/publishers exploring this option. The readers are there. The point to ask is does India have the requisite infrastructure? Do we have sufficient smartphone or iPad penetration in this country to facilitate the boom for e-books? More importantly, at what costs are these services being offered? Will the apps, the books, etc., for the immersion in digital publishing be cost-effective? Studies abroad have shown that creating a digital experience means a huge investment for the publisher, but there is reluctance by the consumer/reader to pay even 30% more to avail of the experience. Plus, in a country like ours where we have a “special Indian price” on the printed book, which is a reasonable price, would a consumer actually avail of the digital experience? And this in a country where reading for leisure is only just about taking off. Maybe the scenario will change once Flipkart makes its e-book programme available country-wide. Also with the entry of Amazon, it is being said that in all probability an Indian edition (read cheaper version) of Kindle may be launched here soon. All these factors may make the environment conducive for an accelerated growth in e-reading.

We have moved away from times where there were just three or four prominent publishing houses. Today, there are a host of new publishing houses that have sprung up, throwing the doors open to more authors and more reading content. I would like to know what your thoughts are about the editing standards of such upcoming and lesser known publishing houses in India.

A mushrooming of publishing houses does not mean an improvement in editorial expertise. The editorial standards are still not 100% perfect. But in any case many publishing houses (whether in India or abroad) prefer to work with freelancers rather than in-house staff. Hence to monitor and enforce quality is not always easily done. Finally editors cannot be trained in the job. Many actually are required to have an inherent feel and passion for their subject. A lot of their editorial skills depends on how much they have read (and continue to do so), how sensitive they are in listening to others, especially their authors, and how willing they are to be a part of a constructive engagement with the author.

Lastly, where do you see the Indian book market heading from here, say over the next ten years?

Oh! No one can even predict what is going to happen six months down the line. The industry is in that much of a flux. So ten years is really far too long. But in a decade hopefully there will be a streamlining of operations from evaluation of a manuscript to production, distribution, selling and marketing etc.