From 11-13 February 2018 the 32nd International Publishers Association (IPA) Congress was held at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. The International Publishers Association (IPA) is the world’s largest federation of national, regional and specialist publishers’ associations. Its membership comprises 70 organisations from 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. The congress was organised in Delhi along with the collaboration of the Federation of Indian Publishers ( FIP).
It was a wonderful congress with multiple panel discussions that fortunately ran in succession rather than in parallel and many fascinating conversations were to be had on the sidelines. It was a phenomenal gathering of publishers from around the world. The full programme can be accessed here.
Day two the discussions continued as energetically as before. The highlights of the events on this day were the panel discussion on “The threat of self-censorship in publishing”. It was chaired by Kristenn Einarsson, CEO Norwegian Publishers Association; Chair, IPA Freedom to Publish Committee and the panelists were Trasvin Jittidecharak, Silkworm Books, Thailand and Jürgen Boos, President and CEO, Frankfurt Book Fair, Germany.
The Keynote speech was delivered by Norwegian publisher William Nygaard. On 11 Oct 1993 he was shot three times in the back outside his home. Although the crime was never resolved it is widely believed that this was linked to the fatwa William Nygaard received for publishing Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Both before and after the attack he has been a great defender of the freedom to publish and of free speech. His speech begins at 2:49:41 in the YouTube link given below:
Kristenn Einarsson during the course of conversation remarked that through libel laws economic sanctions are being imposed so allowing not necessarily governments but also people in power to really hit you economically if you publish something they don’t like or go to court with. So just a threat of that is hindering publishing.” Juergen Boos confirmed that the perception of self-censorship is on the rise particularly with the more and more populist governments being elected to power. At 3:32:12 Kristenn Einarsson remarks that the panel should have included an Indian publisher who could not make it and then opened the discussion to the floor except that once again no Indian stood up instead Edward Nawotka, Bookselling and International News Editor, Publishers Weekly spoke. He can be heard speaking off camera. ( Another equally telling observation is that while composing this blog post I discovered that Amazon India does not sell Rushdie’s Satanic Verses despite selling all his other books! )
Later in the day the 2018 IPA Prix Voltaire award ceremony was held. The award was given to Chinese-born Swedish scholar Gui Minhai who is a prolific writer often commenting on Chinese politics and political figures. He is one of the three shareholders of Causeway Bay Books in Hongkong. He went missing in Thailand in late 2015. It was received on his behalf by his daughter Angela Gui. “I think that my father’s version of optimism is perhaps precisely the kind that Voltaire describes. It’s an optimism that in the face of unimaginable cruelty still believes in change. And it’s an optimism that isn’t crushed by lies, force and humiliation.”
Bangladeshi Publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan was given a posthumous Special Award. He was brutally hacked to death inside his office at the hands of suspected religious extremists for his association with secular science writer Avijit Roy and other freethinking, secular and atheist writers on 30 October 2015. His widow, Razia Rahman Jolly, told the audience, “We have sacrificed our sunshine. We are in darkness,” but she promised to continue her husband’s work and keep publishing books in Bangladesh. In fact 12 July 2018 was Dipan’s birthday and Jose Borghino, Secretary General, IPA tweeted:
Today we celebrate the birthday of Faisal Arefin Dipan, the Bangladeshi publisher who was brutally murdered by religious fanatics in 2015 and was awarded the IPA's Special Prix Voltaire this year. His wife, Razia Rahman Jolly, says: 'Dipan was murdered and we lost our sunshine.'
Months after the panel discussion was recorded at the IPA in Delhi, prominent Tamil publisher Kannan Sundaram, Kalachuvadu Publications, who is known for publishing Perumal Murugan, delivered a talk at the May Sahitya Mela in Dharwad, Karnataka, on May 26. It was published as an article for Scroll “As intolerance grows, India needs a brand of secularism that keeps a distance from religion, caste: Today, majoritarian fundamentalism is the biggest threat to a writer and an artist’s free expression.” ( 9 July 2018) This is what Kannan Sundaram says:
If one truly believes in freedom of expression, one has to fight to preserve the right of expression for ideas that one cannot stomach. For many people who consider themselves progressives, freedom of expression is often about fighting for the right to express only ideas they believe in. Some argue that freedom of expression is allowed only for rational thought. For ideas they consider regressive, they demand a ban and prosecution by the state. This strain of thought we know has led to the imprisonment and murder of writers throughout modern history by various regimes claiming to be revolutionary. Fascism can come from the right, left or centre of the ideological spectrum. It may come from any ideology or even from an ideological vacuum if people blindly and reverentially follow a demagogue.
In today’s context, majoritarian fundamentalism is the biggest threat to a writer and an artist’s free expression. If the Bharatiya Janata Party rules for another term, with full majority, it is sure to cause untold harm to the idea of India.
Intolerance is not a Hindutva creation. All ideologies, and political, religious movements and political parties in India have contributed to increasing intolerance. There is not one political party in India that has ever endorsed freedom of expression except mouthing it when it suits them. It is part of no political party’s manifesto. This soil was nurtured by intolerance over the decades by all political formations. Now, Hindutva has sown its seeds, watering it with blood and reaping it electorally. Yet, few have learnt the lesson. Hindutva intolerance cannot be met by anti-Hindutva intolerance. The real counter is to meet it with tolerance, discussion, debate, peaceful demonstration and campaigns – which are all, of course, relatively tougher options. We have to draw on the positive aspects of our tradition that have nurtured strong unifying points for different milieus and cultures.
Writers have always faced intolerance from family, neighbourhood, religion and caste. No government or party has ever supported their right to write. What is different now is that Hindutva organisations have been able to knit together multiple castes under their platform and launch major campaigns against writers or simply bump them off with hired killers.
A new definition of secularism in India has to define secularism as maintaining equidistance from all religious and caste formations.
The next important thing is to prepare a policy paper on freedom of expression and convince all secular parties to discuss and accept it.
(My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 4 April 2015) and will be in print ( 5 April 2015). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-columns/literati-of-books-and-launches/article7067754.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )
Last week I attended a book launch at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. A small distinguished
(L-R) Mrs Sumitra Mahajan, Speaker, Lok Sabha, Indian Parliament, HE Pranab Mukherjee, President of India and Mrs Meira Kumar, former Speaker of Lok Sabha
audience gathered in the Yellow Drawing Room to witness the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, launch former and first woman Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar’s Indian Parliamentary Democracy: Speaker’s Perspective in the presence of the current Speaker, Sumitra Mahajan, and senior-most Parliamentarian, L. K. Advani. This volume — published by the Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi — contains selected speeches delivered by Kumar at various multilateral conferences and during bilateral visits to several nations in India and abroad during her tenure. It was a book launch that ran with precision, partially due to protocol but also in a large measure due to professionalism of the politicians. These people have known each other for decades, yet made the effort to spend some time reading the book, offering their personal perspective on the importance of speeches to negotiate issues of government policy and to strengthen Indian diplomacy. Listening to the frank conversation made a ‘dry’ book about the efficacy of parliamentary diplomacy as an evolving medium of communication among nations seem worth reading. It was an effective launch as it interested the audience in the book and was not just another occasion for a photo-opportunity.
Book promotions are a two-pronged affair. One is a planned strategy to promote a book: an author tour, book launches (preferably with a celebrity launching it), circulating review copies, book trailers on YouTube, interviews and interactions on all media platforms, the author participating in literary festivals, writing articles discussing and describing the writing process threadbare … all in a very short span of time. With the explosion of social media platforms, the variety of ways in which books and authors can be promoted is staggering — podcasts of interviews and literary salons, online book clubs, using photograph-based websites such as Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram to showcase book covers and promote reading experiences.
According to Publishers Weekly, “HarperCollins is working with Twitter Commerce, the social media platform’s effort to offer ‘native commerce’, or offering firms the ability to send out tweets with buy buttons embedded in them.” The new promotion allowed fans to purchase a hardcover edition of theInsurgent movie tie-in edition at a 35 per cent discount, direct from HarperCollins Publishers US, without leaving the social media site with a buy in-tweet available only on March 23, 2015. Both HarperCollins and Twitter sent out a series of promotional tweets directed at fans talking about the Veronica Roth book series and movie adaptation.
This is similar to a recent partnership between the Hachette Book Group and Gumroad, an e-commerce venture that enables creators to sell content via social media, to promote and sell Hachette titles via Twitter. In August 2014, Amazon ‘buy it now’ buttons were embedded in Washington Post articles about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, assuming impulse buying will propel sales, but these were quickly pulled down after a massive outcry on Twitter (http://mashable.com/2014/08/18/washington-post-amazon-buy-button/). Amazon and Washington Post are both owned by Jeff Bezos. All these publicity efforts by the publishers, authors and vendors are to boost sales.
A second and crucial component of book promotional activity is the preview critic and book reviewer. A good review is fair and unbiased. For instance, Neil Gaiman’s review in The New York Times of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new and oddly fascinating novel, The Buried Giant, says it is “a novel that’s easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love.” It is a balanced, constructive and informed critique by the superstar of contemporary mythographers of another exceptional storyteller.
With the democratisation of social media platforms too, bloggers (word and video) and online reviewers have made their mark. Many are professional and their opinion is valued tremendously. But there is a tiny core in the online community offering “book reviewing plans” to promote a book, by publishing reviews on specific websites, blogs and online vendors — for a price. Unfortunately these reviews gush hyperboles. The mistake often made is that a paid promotion needs to be positive. This does not sell a book; only honest and constructive engagement with the book does.
My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 3 January 2015) and will be in print ( 4 January 2015). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-bytesized-reading/article6748610.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )
The past year was a watershed year in publishing. In January, the buzz was around the importance of digital publishing, e-books and self-publishing and how technology had made it “easier” to produce books. There was a fear of radical disruption of traditional business models of publishing. For instance in India, indie publisher Arpita Das co-launched a self-publishing platform called AuthorsUpFront, coexisting with her Yoda Press.
As 2014 progressed, news filtering in from “saturated” book markets like U.S. and Canada indicated that e-book sales were stagnating. In an interview with Publishers Weekly in September, author Margaret Atwood maintained, “There are neurological reasons why e-books did not take over everything. There’s an eye-brain thing that is related to why you can’t read in-depth as easily on any form of screen,” referring to some scientific studies. “In France [e-reading] is three per cent. It’s not taking over the world there at all.”
All though with rapid evolution of technology and new generation of digital devices being created, a reader who is familiar and customises their e-reader/smartphone will not find it easy to keep pace with the changes. (Not to mention the expense involved in upgrading the hardware!) In December, a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) claimed that light-emitting e-readers “negatively affect sleep, circadian timing and next-morning alertness” when used in the evening. However this study did not take into account e-ink e-readers, where the illumination is front-lit, using small LEDs around the screen, pointing inwards rather than outwards. Yet 2014 saw the expansion of readers moving online. E-books sold, but it also marked the establishment of digital long-reads such as DecaStories, The Latterly and The Long Read of The Guardian.
Despite health concerns and technology, according to The Global eBook Report, online learning in schools has started to boom and “techno schools” are mushrooming in all major cities. India is now the world’s third largest Internet user, after the U.S. and China. Of these Internet users, 75 per cent are below the age of 35. Many content-service providers are offering bundles of material (sometimes even the infrastructure too) fine-tuned for schools and university course packs. Jill Abramson, ex-NYTexecutive editor, is willing to pay $100,000 to writers to produce stories longer than long magazine articles but shorter than books.
2014 saw the demise of some innovative publishing start-ups such as Byliner (subscription model) and Paperight (to legally print and copy books using photocopiers). Content creation, discoverability, price points and deliverability are aspects that are being discussed but there is no doubt, irrespective of whatever fears publishers may have, digital publishing is here to stay.
Stocking books (whether via online retail or brick-and-mortar stores) that a customer demands is not always easy to fulfil. This was evident during 2014 the stand-off between Hachette and Amazon when even Roberth Galbraith a.k.a J.K. Rowling’s The Silkworm was not available online. By December three publishers — Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette — had signed contracts with Amazon, agreeing to put their books for online sale. Business considerations forced partnerships that were previously unthinkable. In publishing, these deals mark the transition from multiple players existing in a globalised publishing ecosystem to an integration of service providers. 2014 proved that with the increased penetration of Internet, geographical territorial boundaries are being eroded, especially evident in the sale of rights by publishers. The emphasis is now not necessarily on making books in English available, but those in translation too since readers exist across the world, in multiple languages. India alone is home to one of the world’s largest book markets, with an estimated value of at least €2.5 billion (no precise statistics available).
2014 also marked the year of debut novelists. It was also the year of customising the reading experience. Given the poverty of time that people are constantly combating, reading is the first casualty. So the phenomenal success of Serial (the podcast) and the popularity of Audible and Whispersync for voice that allows switching between reading and listening to Kindle books in the Kindle App, across platforms is a step towards convergence of audio, text and visual formats, and keeping reading habits alive!
‘Actions lie,’ Agnes retorted quickly. ‘Sometimes people never stood a chance in the beginning, or they might have made a mistake….’ ( p.107 Burial Rites )
Burial Rites is Australian Hannah Kent’s debut novel. It is historical fiction about Icelander Agnes Magnusdottir who was condemned to death in 1829 for having killed her lover. The novel opens with the announcement of shifting the convict from prison to the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife, Margret and their two daughters. The story is very clearly divided into two sections — the first half consists of Agnes talking to the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson about her childhood, her life, staying on different farms till she met her master and lover, Natan; the second half is of her long conversation with Margret. The conversation with the priest happens in fits and starts, before they become sufficiently comfortable for the priest to be a patient listener, like a confessional. When he falls sick and is unable to come regularly to meet the prisoner, inadvertently Margaret who absolutely detests the idea of having the murderess under her roof, has a long conversation one night. Woman-to-woman, heart-to-heart talk. One week later Agnes is hanged. The last death sentence in Iceland till date.
In an article published on 4 June 2013 in the Guardian, Hannah Kent writes of the “loneliness of being a long-distance writer”. ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/australia-culture-blog/2013/jun/04/burial-rites-writer-hannah-kent) . She wrote this novel as part of the creative component of her PhD. She had a idea what to write about but not sure how to go about it. She first “first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir when I was an exchange student in the north of Iceland. It was 2002, I was 17 years old, and I had left Adelaide for Sauðárkrókur an isolated fishing village, where I would live for 12 months. This small town lies snug in the side of a fjord: a clutch of little buildings facing an iron-grey sea, the mountains looming behind.” ( A longer version of this article is in the literary journal, “Kill your darlings” of which Kent is an editor. http://www.killyourdarlingsjournal.com/?post_type=article&p=9217 )
The story is based on true facts but the manner in which it is told leaves the readers wondering whether the the death sentence carried out was correct or not. Another powerful novel that concluded with the hanging of a woman prisoner is Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles ( published in 1891). Burial Rites is written sparingly, without too many details and layers, and if first fiction with a new voice. There is the lightness of touch in the writing, where the research is obviously deep so as to create a landscape that is as authentic as can be to nineteenth century Iceland.
The manuscript was bought in summer 2012. According to Publisher’s Weekly, of 12 July 2012 ( http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-deals/article/52967-little-brown-pays-seven-figures-for-debut-novel-by-aussie-author.html) Judy Clain, editor-in-chief at Little, Brown, paid seven figures for North American rights to the novel, in a two-book deal. Dan Lazar at Writers House brokered the deal with Clain on behalf of Pippa Mason, the author’s Australian agent at Curtis Brown. Picador bought the book in Australia, and rights have also been sold in France, Italy, Brazil and The Netherlands. By June 2013, translation rights had been sold in 15 countries. Kent’s manuscript won, in 2011, the first Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Upon publication the novel has sold tremendously well in Australia and UK. Hopefully its presence on the longlist of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 announced earlier this month. ( http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/2014/baileys-womens-prize-for-fiction-announce-their-2014-longlist ) It is a novel that deserves to be recognised, for the style of writing, for the detail and maturity that Hannah Kent shows in her story. She is now working on her second novel, set in Ireland. Her website is: http://hannahkentauthor.com
Hannah Kent Burial Rites Picador, Pan Macmillan, Australia, 2013. Hb. pp. 340. £12.99
( I had posted the “Best of 2013” on 22 Dec 2013. To which I have a few more links to add. Here they are. Of the Indian newspapers I have only been able to locate a couple of links online. If anyone can send me the missing urls, I would add them to the list.)
(Early December is when the “best of” lists begin to make their presence. There are many to choose from. Mostly while reading them, I feel I have barely read anything at all! But here are a few of the lists that I found interesting to dip into and will bookmark for 2014. It would be interesting to do a similar list for South Asia in English, the regional languages and in translation.)
From new voices like NoViolet Bulawayo to rediscovered old voices like James Salter, from Dave Eggers’s satire to David Thomson’s history of film, writers, Observer critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2013. And they tell us what they hope to find under the tree … The Guardian