Pre-London Book Fair Seminar on Indian Publishing

Posted on April 7, 2009 in Uncategorized

The SYP’s Pre-London Book Fair Seminar took place at the British Council, and was introduced by Group Exhibition Director of the LBF, Alistair Burtenshaw with an overview of the fair. Now in its 38th year, the London Book Fair is a ‘global publishing platform’ for all those working in the trade, and is, according to Burtenshaw, ‘primarily about trading foreign rights’, as well as domestic selling and networking.

 Last year, the fair saw 906 official exhibitors, and over 28,000 publishing professionals from 110 countries, which gives an idea of the ‘scope and scale of possibilities for doing business’ at the LBF. Alistair went on to speak about the fair’s market focus programme, the aim of which is to ‘strengthen cultural relations between the focus country and the rest of the world’. The idea came about six years ago, and enables publishers to take advantage of trading links, business possibilities end education opportunities, as well as exposing new writers from the focus country.

This year, the focus country is India (past focus countries have included Australia and New Zealand, Mexico and the Arab world). A partnership of organisations, including the Association of Publishers in India, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, the Federation of Indian Publishers and of course the British Council, has facilitated five official pavilions and 86 Indian companies to attend the LBF.

But, as Alistair went on to discuss, ‘why India, why now? India is the second fastest growing large economy in the world, with great linguistic diversity (23 official languages), and the Indian diaspora in England also provides lots of opportunities. Moreover, India is the sixth largest book market in the world, and the third largest English language book market in the world.’ He encouraged SYP members to experience India at the LBF, through the professional seminars, cultural events, author sessions and networking opportunities provided. See the British Council website for full listings.

Next to speak was Kate Arthurs, from the literature department at the British Council. She spoke about the 45 writers who are coming over from India to attend the LBF this year, some well-known and some up-and-coming. ‘Many haven’t yet been published in English, but we hope they will be,’ Kate told us. The British Council have organised a series of 10 seminars at the LBF, covering the main issues in Indian publishing at the moment – subjects include fiction, identity, cinema, diaspora, translation, conflict, different genres, the battle for the Indian reader, the literature of ideas, bestsellers and popular writing. Kate concluded by urging the audience to visit the four literary cafes, which will all involve Indian authors.

Andrew Senior, Head of the Creative Economy Unit at the British Council then gave us a brief introduction to the UK Young Publisher of the Year (UKYPE) award. The international young publishers award has been running for six years, and the UK version is now in its third year. It resulted from ‘a demand from senior figures in the publishing industry to recognise talent and innovation’. Twelve finalists were whittled down to a shortlist of six, who took part in a study tour of the Indian publishing industry, about which they would speak to us tonight. These finalists, Andrew told us, are also part of a larger scheme of ‘new ways to create interaction, meeting with finalists in other creative areas, such as film, performing arts and design, thus ‘bringing together engines of the creative economy’.

Simon Littlewood, International Director at Random House, introduced the core of the evening – the UKYPE finalists. Unfortunately, James Bridle, founder of London-based Bookkake, was unable to join us, but the panel comprised of the five remaining finalists – Peter Collingridge, Founder of Apt Studio in London; Lucy Luck of Lucy Luck Associates; Davy Nougarede, Director of Heavy Entertainment in London; Nii Parkes, Senior Editor at Manchester-based Flipped Eye Publishing; and Jessica Purdue, Rights Executive at Orion Publishing Group.

Peter was first to speak about his experiences of both publishing and India. He is ‘not technically a publisher’, though his first job was as an unpaid intern at Canongate. His background is in literature, art and design, and he quickly realised that what interested him was creative marketing for books. When he discovered the internet, he knew this was what he wanted to do. Canongate was one of the first publishers to have a website, and so was an ideal place to start. After Canongate, Peter worked for a film company, and then set up Apt, a design and marketing consultancy with a specific focus on publishing and the arts.

Peter’s ‘enduring image of India was mobile phones’. Having travelled to India 15 years ago, his impression of publishing there was of a pirate industry. However he emphasised this ‘couldn’t be further from what we saw this time. The infrastructure is staggeringly advanced, and they are going through a golden age editorially. There’s not a lot of computers, especially in people’s homes, but everyone has mobile phones. 114 million mobile phones were sold in 2008, and they’re the perfect pocket device for reading on. There’s the potential here for reaching people in India who might not usually be accessing books – a healthy market and a hunger for reading.’

Next to speak was Lucy Luck, who started her career as a literary agent at Rogers, Coleridge and White when she was 23. Eight years later, though it was a ‘scary prospect to sit alone and say to authors “I know this is good, and I know where to sell it”’, she decided to start her own agency, primarily representing young authors. One of Lucy’s reasons for setting up her own company was to get involved in selling foreign rights; something she hadn’t been able to do until this point. Lucy pointed out what an interesting issue territorial rights is at the moment, especially ‘with countries like Australia wanting to be seen as an area in its own right, as well as places like South Africa and India’.

Being aware of the opportunities for distribution in India, Lucy wanted to find out more about the potential market there, so entered for the UKYPE award when she saw it advertised. ‘There are very few, if any, agents in India, but they are just at the beginning of the trajectory. There is a burgeoning of new Indian voices, and the multi-nationals have started their own concerns there and are competing against local publishers. India was mainly an educational market, but there is a new appetite for literary fiction.’

Lucy went on to speak about the ‘particular type of person’ who has traditionally made up the book-buying population in India. ‘They have to have a disposable income to spend on books. There is no internet trade, and the bookshops need work, but this is all changing.’ The Jaipur literary festival is a sign of this – ‘it is four years old, and full of editors from multi-nationals and local publishers talking about the issues in Indian publishing. There are opportunities – they are limited at the moment, but they are there.’

Davy Nougarede’s first job was on an international newsdesk in California, after which he worked with digital content at Thompson. He encountered real problems within the industry with producing quality digital content, so decided to set up his own business six years ago. ‘Audio books are seen as the runt of the publishing sector, but I carried on knocking on doors and pushing it. They’re not just for the visually impared – I really believed there was a market – look at Book at Bedtime on Radio 4 for example.’ His company started out producing 7–10 audio books a year for one publishing house, and now publish 220–250 audio books a year for 19 publishing houses.

Davy spoke of the ‘huge demand in India for publishing and digital content’. On the trip, he met many publishers and readers who expressed an interest in the audio format. ‘However, the difficulty is getting books out there. To Western distributors the system in India probably looks chaotic, but it does work. Book are sold door to door, at traffic lights, or you have to go to the counter and ask the bookseller. I don’t take the retail system in Britain for granted anymore!’

Several aspects of the Indian publishing industry came as a surprise to Davy – ‘unlike the British publishing industry, it is not predominantly female, they don’t seem to gather information or have databases, and they don’t like transparency!’ Also, Davy told us, he had assumed that lots of people would speak English, but only 20 million out of 1.6 billion people do, shrinking his potential market fairly quickly. He was also surprised that only a quarter of the population speak Hindi. ‘As a publisher, you have to deal with regional preferences and languages. The literacy rates are low too – a third of the male population is illiterate – but this could be a great opportunity for audio books. Even though people can’t read, they might still want access to literature – the country has a long history of story-telling.’

Davy aims to develop audio, make it available to the Indian market and to find ways to reach that potential audience. He agreed with Peter that ‘mobile phones create a massive market – they’re perceived like a laptop in India.’ Audio also has the advantage of low set-up costs – ‘how do you break even with a print-run of 300 copies for a local market? Audio works differently, so can be sold at a low price-point and matched to the appropriate market.’

Nii Parkes publishes poetry and literature. His aim is to ‘get literature out there cheaply’. He began his career teaching and writing, went on to become a development manager for a multi-national, and set up Flipped Eye eight years ago.

Nii went to India ‘looking at the market for opportunities. The market for literature in English in India hasn’t really developed. It is driven by population growth and transference – so if a father has a love of literature he might pass that on to his children, but this means that there is an inertia in the market; a coiled-spring effect. But this also means that there are opportunities to develop that market.’

Nii went on to discuss market appeal. ‘In Britain, books that are tie-ins to films are really popular, but this doesn’t really happen in Bollywood at the moment. But when it does, the market will grow. We need to use local appeal as well – so you could interview the author about their English-language book in a local language. Also, the education market will decrease as the population decreases. Non-academic, non-fiction is becoming more popular.’

Nii’s final point was about pricing. ‘In India, if the price-point is lower, the books sell better. The threshold point is really important. Attention needs to be paid to disposable income, and also to the distribution of English readers – they’re all over the country, not just in one place. We need to get the product to that market. It’s a market that will pay huge dividends for publishers willing to engage in a long-term plan.’

Our final speaker of the evening was Jessica Purdue. As someone who sells foreign rights, she was very interested in India as ‘the third biggest market for English language books after the US and the UK. Hindi is the dominant language – 28 per cent of books published in India are written in Hindi, but next is English, with 20 per cent.’

Jessica also spoke about the fact that the type of book varies from language to language. ‘For example, Hindi plays are popular, whereas a lot of locally-owned companies publish folk tales and religious titles, which is perhaps something to do with the oral tradition. English language books have traditionally been seen as something for the literary upper class, but this audience is widening and diversifying. Commercial fiction and self-help titles in English are becoming very popular. There is more translation between regional languages and from regional languages into English. Children’s books are popular, and you see lots of pirate editions of Harry Potter!’ The Indian market ‘needs to develop’, according to Jessica, in order for publishers there to buy translation rights from British publishers with any regularity, ‘but it does happen – Harper Collins are translating The White Tiger into Hindi.’

The speakers were followed with questions from the audience on a variety of topics, from the pirate industry in India, to how many people are actually reading books on their mobile phones. The evening provided valuable insight into Indian publishing and highlighted why it is such an interesting choice to be the market focus of this year’s London Book Fair.  The UKPYE winner will be announced in a ceremony at this year’s fair on Wednesday 22 April.

Lucy Mitchell