A reader for every book

As we hear time and again these days, the Indian book-publishing industry is booming. The numbers of books coming out is up significantly compared to previous years, and in languages offering a bigger footprint, particularly English and Hindi. Yet amidst all this, what is the state of 'alternative' publishing – those non-mainstream, often not-for-profit, publishers typically focusing on causes rather than money? In fact, since the beginning of India's economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, alongside the 'discovery' of the Indian market by international publishing conglomerates there has been a notable parallel profusion of small-scale publishing houses. Recent years has seen massive growth in independent publishing, helped on in particular by technology having lowered costs, enabling better-quality printing and making outsourcing and tapping freelance work easier. At base, publishing has become far more accessible for all. Yet one issue in particular has continued to dog these independent operations: distribution.

'Alternative publishers in India basically face the same challenges that publishers face everywhere – selecting content, adding value, making public,' says Joseph Mathai of the Independent Publishers' Distribution Alternatives (IPDA). 'But these challenges are made more acute by the relative small size of the operations of alternative publishers.' With the exception of some small publishers, such as Zubaan, which now has a tie-up with Penguin Books, most distributors who supply to retailers do not want to use publishers that are either not established or are publishing titles that do not seem likely to result in high sales.

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Himal Southasian