reading culture Posts

Fostering a reading culture / Happy Mother’s Day!

(C) Sudhanva Deshpande

(An extended version of this article was published on Bibliobibuli, my blog on Times of India, on Saturday 12 May 2018. Bibliobibuli focuses on publishing and literature.) 

Every Labour Day, the May Day Bookstore & Café holds a big book sale. It consists mostly of second-hand books being sold at reasonable prices and customers flock to the store. This year was no different. Later Sudhanva Deshpande, Managing Editor, LeftWord Books, posted a picture on social media platforms he had taken of a mother holding a tiny pile of books while her daughter stood by watching expectantly. It is a very powerful picture as it works at multiple levels. It is obvious the mother is in charge of her daughter’s education and is keen she learns further. She is the primary force. She is determined to buy the books for her child even though she can ill-afford the small number of books in her hand. The mother had only Rs 10 to pay for the books. She was short of money and unable to pay the billed amount. The unfortunate seemingly admonishing finger in the picture is not really doing what it seems to be doing according to the photographer. The bookshop attendants were telling the mother to take the books away and pay later, whenever she could!

(C) Mayank Austen Soofi

Books are respected all over the world but in India they are revered. Few can afford them and those who can, treasure what they possess. This picture by The Delhi Walla, epitomises it splendidly where the few books owned by the security guard are placed on the same shelf as the portrait of the god. It is understandable that the mother in the picture wishes her daughter to be literate as with it comes respect. For her to be in a bookstore is a path breaking moment. It symbolises the crumbling of a notional barrier of what is traditionally perceived as a popular middle class cultural space — the bookstore. Brick and mortar stores by their very definition tend to be exclusive even if some owners do not desire it to be so. Whereas the reality is that footfalls are restricted to those who are comfortable in these elitist spaces.

This is a sad truth because a thriving reading culture is critical for the well-being of a community and by extension the society. The Scholastic India Kids and Family Reading Report ( KFRR) found that “Parents and children agree by a wide margin that

John Travolta’s house with the airplane parked in it. (Image taken off the internet)

strong reading skills are among the most important skills children should have.” Undoubtedly reading opens a world of possibilities. When Hollywood actor John Travolta gave an interview to magazine editor Priya Kumari Rana ( Outlook Splurge, November 2015, Vol 6) he recalled reading Gordon’s Jet Flight (1961) as a child. It was about a little boy who took his first flight on a 707. At the time the 707 was the last word in aviation. It triggered an ambition and a dream. Today, Travolta not only is a trained pilot but owns a 707!

Buying books continues to be a dream for many individuals and families across the globe. American country singer Dolly Parton likes to give away books with her Imagination Library. In Feb 2018 she crossed the 100 millionth book. Writer Jojo Myes has pledged to save UK Charity Quick Reads ( Reading Agency ) from closure by funding its adult literacy programme for the next three years. Outreach community programmes are critical for fostering a reading culture particularly if access to existing cultural spaces are restricted.

Recently HarperCollins India organised an innovative book launch for children’s author Deepa Agarwal’s Sacked:Folktales You Can Carry Around. It involved a reading for children with hearing loss. So  while the author spoke there was a person standing next to her using sign language to translate what was being said. Recognising this need to foster reading, the nearly 100-year-old firm Scholastic  ran a very successful Twitter campaign in India (Sept 2017) where every retweet ensured a book donation to a community library. The publishing firm donated approximately 2000 books. Now they are running a similar campaign for Mother’s Day 2018 (Sunday, 13 May 2018) where a picture uploaded of a mother and a child reading will get one lucky family a book hamper.

Reading is a social activity. New readers need role models and encouragement. This is captured beautifully in feminist Kamla Bhasin’s nursery rhyme ( available in Hindi and English).

It’s Sunday, it’s Sunday

Holiday and fun day.

 

No mad rush to get to school

No timetable, no strict rule.

Mother’s home and so is father

All of us are here together.

 

Father’s like a busy bee

Making us hot cups of tea.

Mother sits and reads the news

Now and then she gives her views.

 

It’s Sunday, it’s Sunday

Holiday and fun day.

Kamla Bhasin, “It’s Sunday”

Noted Karnatik vocalist T. M Krishna in his book Reshaping Art makes an important point where he argues art has to break its casteist, classist and gender barriers and be welcoming to all particularly if cultural landscape has to expand. He asks for the inner workings of the art form to be infused with social and aesthetic sensitivity.

T. M. Krishna practices what he preaches. In December 2017 he sang a Tamil sufi song of Nagoor Hanifa which T.M. Krishna performed in a British-era Afghan Church in Colaba, Mumbai. He ended his performance with an invocation to allah in the church. Since then he has done other such performances.

Breaking cultural barriers and making books readily accessible and contributing to the growth of readers is exactly what the publishing ecosystem has to strive for. And as Kamla Bhasin rightly says the personal is political. There is nothing purely private or public. Every personal act of ours affects society. The act of reading and encouraging their children to read by mothers is not always welcomed in households, even today. Literacy empowers women with ideas, the ability to think and question for themselves, an act that is most often seen as defiance especially within very strongly patriarchal families. This act was captured beautifully in a wordless poster designed many years ago by a Hyderabad-based NGO, Asmita. It shows a woman with her feet up, reading a book, a television set in front of her and the floor littered with open books. Majority of women who see the poster laugh with happiness at the image for the peace it radiates but also at the impossibility of ever having such a situation at home.

So mothers like the one in the photograph are excellent role models and must be celebrated!

Happy Mother’s Day!

11 May 2018 

Emma House, Deputy-CEO, Publishers Association UK, speech on Indian publishing industry ( 13 February 2018)

Emma House, Deputy-CEO, Publishers Association UK, gave the following speech on 13 February 2018 at the 32 International Publishers Association Congress held at Hotel Taj, New Delhi. The congress was held in collaboration with the Federation of Indian publishers.  Emma House’s speech has been published with her permission.  The quotes are from the book — Publishers on Publishing — and statistics from Nielsen

WELCOME TO INDIA

For many of you this is your first time to India and although we are on Day 3 of the Congress I hope you will have got a good feel for what India has to offer beyond the world of Bollywood, Cricket and Curry.

I’m going to give you a quick run through of some of the publishing insight I feel visitors to India should know about.

Over the past few days you will have heard some impressive statistics about India which I can add to with further impressive figures about the publishing sector here.

India is the sixth largest economy in the world with a nominal GDP of $2.45 trillion.

India recently overtook China as the fastest growing large economy and is expected to jump up to rank fourth on the list by 2022.

India’s GDP is still highly dependent on agriculture (17%), compared to western countries. However, the services sector has picked up in recent years and now accounts for 57% of the GDP, while industry contributes 26%. India is very much moving towards a knowledge economy.

India has 22 official languages – English is one of them but Hindi is the most common. Marathi, Malyalam, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil languages also have a strong culture of reading.

PUBLISHERS on PUBLISHING: Inside India’s Book Business Edited by Nitasha Devasar is a new publication specially developed for this congress and on sale here at the back of the room, and will provide everyone with valuable insights. Some of the information in my presentation comes from this book.

The publishing industry in India has a long history which has really boomed in the last few decades. It is now behind only the US and UK, ranking 3rd in the world in English language publishing. Many successful Indian publishing companies are family run businesses passing through the generations. In the last 20 – 30 years however we have seen many multi-national publishers set up their Indian offices, firstly as joint ventures but over time becoming wholly owned subsidiaries.

For many years Foreign Direct Investment into India was limited, however this began to change with economic reform in the 1990s leading to real movement in journal publishing from around 2003. The market has opened up since then. We now see over 9000 publishers, in at least 16 languages other than English forming a colourful publishing industry which accommodates the multinationals, independent and family run enterprises publishing in the English and Indian languages. English language publishing in India stands at around 55 per cent of total publishing, 35 per cent is constituted by Hindi, and other Indian languages make up the remaining 15 per cent. The Book Market is estimated to be around 7 billion dollars dominated by academic and K-12 publishing, and important to note – consumer publishing forming only a small percentage of sales.

To give you a flavour of the types of consumer books which are popular in India.

By genre – Children’s Books,  Romance and sagas, Crime Thrillers and literary fiction, Popular Psychology Mind, body and spirit as well as economic and management

BEST SELLING BOOKS 2017:  From both imported titles with world famous names like Harry Potter, Dan Brown, John Green but also home grown Indian voices, many of whom have great standing on the international stage

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Book 12
  • Dan Brown – Origin
  • Turtles all the way down – John Green
  • Harry Potter
  • This is not your story – Savi Sharma
  • I do what I do – Raghuram G Rajan
  • The boy who loved turtles – Durjoy Datta

These impressive statistics about the population, the economic growth, the size of the publishing industry would all encourage those who look at India for the first time as a market destination for either publishing, selling rights or exporting books as a market of GREAT POTENTIAL.

  • Population – 324 billion and growing
  • Increased literacy rates
  • Increased investment in education
  • Fast growing middle class
  • Much greater promotion of books and reading

However the industry faces many challenges, some common to us all, some unique to India:

  • The size of the market is under-estimated with many book sales unrecorded due to sales through pavement news stands and smaller outlets
  • A large number of publishers, especially in Indian languages do not use ISBNs
  • The pricing model is squeezed in every direction from big increases in property prices and rentals as well as staff salaries, but importantly a challenging supply chain and distribution system which often sees high discounts and extended credit coupled with low levels of pricing and minimal increase in book prices. As a result it’s easier to make sales than make profitable sales, and to be paid promptly
  • Piracy and photocopying is common place

Moving on to what I feel is an incredibly exciting feature about India which needs to be showcased – and that is Online retail. India is in a rare situation of having what The Hindu Business Line called in a recent headline  “A two Horse Race In India – Flipkart Vs Amazon”.

First to the ecommerce market was Flipkart which began its life in 2007, founded by 2 ex-employees of Amazon with venture capital funding. Starting out with books, and addressing the nascent ecommerce market by introducing a cash on delivery model that is still used today, it’s been a turbulent journey for Flipkart, including a phase of when they faded out of the bookselling picture especially with Amazon entering the market. It has however managed to attract investment from Microsoft, Tencent and Ebay. Ten years on from it’s launch, in August 2017, Japanese internet giant SoftBank invested over $2.5 billion in Flipkart to become one of its largest shareholders, with rumours that Walmart could be its next significant investor.

Looking at the ebook market – this remains a small percentage of sales, hovering at around the 5% mark. Flipkart launched its ebook store in November 2012, however the ebooks catalogue was bought by Rakuten (Kobo) in 2015 and customers were transferred to the Kobo platform in recognition of the overwhelmingly dominant nature of the physical book market and Flipkart’s decision to focus on this strategic direction.

Amazon took its first step in the Indian market 5 years after Flipkart in 2012 when it launched Junglee.com, a site which allowed customers to compare prices online but not purchase items directly. At that time, Amazon was not allowed to stock and sell its own products due to Indian regulations preventing multi-brand retailers from selling directly to consumers online.

In June 2013 Amazon launched its marketplace selling books and video content – the model which is still in operation today. And in 2016 it made its move into publishing and purchased Westland (which was a major distributor but started publishing in 2007 and fast became one of the top five English language trade publishers in the country.

The two ecommerce giants now compete fiercely, not only in books, but notably in the mobile phone market. With a fast-growing market of smart phone users, the online market place in India is one which is amongst the fastest growing in the world – so we watch this race with keen interest.

The Book Culture in India

I take a quote from the publication I mentioned at the beginning from -Thomas Abraham, MD, Hachette India who says “There is a need to develop a book culture first and then the retail culture”.

Certainly here in India, the book culture is changing and growing. Firstly with a boom in bookstores across the country including major chains Crossword and Oxford Bookstores as well as fantastic independent bookstores. More recently however is the rise in popularity of literary festivals and book fairs. Anyone who has visited the Delhi World Book Fair or the Jaipur Literature Festival will have seen the hunger for and love of books that is being fostered here in India.

The National Book Trust of India also plays a major role in encouraging reading and literacy, and especially in the more remote places in the country and can be commended for their campaign “Har haath, ek kitab” (one book in every hand), which is a nationwide online books donation drive especially targeting underprivileged children, and aims to build a reading habit among them.

General view all these things really have helped foster the reading culture and there is always more to do.

Self-publishing is increasing in popularity in India  – Kindle Direct Publishing is now possible in a range of Indian languages as well as the emergence of a range of other self-publishing platforms.

Another issue which has been featured over the past few days is the matter of “Freedom to Publish”, a topic which is being hotly debated here in India. India which whilst being a fiercely democratic country has defamation laws, which make publishers, not just authors, subject to criminal prosecution. A section of India’s penal code criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Such acts, which the law says can be spoken or written, are punishable with up to three years imprisonment and fines.

This played out in a very public case in 2014 with a book by author Wendy Donniger The Hindus: An Alternative History, which was banned for its controversial content, following an extensive legal battle. This case and other similar cases have prompted huge concerns for Free Speech in India

Despite the challenges that the Indian publishing industry faces, there is much to be optimistic about. It’s certainly never a dull moment in this land of opportunity and I for one look forward to seeing how the market develops, how is continues to address the challenges and seize the vast opportunities to continue to build a book loving country that produces world leading content.

 

15 February 2018