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Delhi Workshop Presentation 2, Contemporary Indian Literature Project

Presentation by researcher Shvetal Vyas at the Delhi workshop

Marketing and Promotion of Indian Writing in English

My paper is an analysis of the marketing/promotional material circulated by certain well-known English language publishing-houses in India. This material became available to us in the course of our survey of the market for the research project on “Contemporary Indian Writing in English and the Indian Market."

To trace a pattern in the catalogues over several years became difficult for us since most publishing houses, it seems, do not maintain records or archives of their old documents. The observations made in this presentation, therefore, emerge from a study of catalogues of the last two years only.

To begin with Penguin Books in India, its various tie-ups with foreign publishing houses reflect in the multiple catalogues of its publications, with most of these catalogues being simple reproductions of international listings. For instance, among the two Ladybird catalogues available, one is obviously the international version, while the other is an adaptation of the same for the Indian market. The former is glossier and in brighter colours, more attractive to children. A licensing section enumerates the various video games, toys and other merchandise available, most of them in tandem with books. Some of the merchandise available also ties up with films and television programmes, such as Wallace and Gromit, Scooby Do and Batman. These books are not Indian or aimed specifically only for the Indian market, though the cartoon characters are deemed familiar enough for this catalogue to be available in the Indian market. The catalogue aimed specifically for the Indian market, on the other hand, is less glamorous, being printed on non-glossy paper and in black and white, except for the border of orange, which is the colour of the brand. The illustrations too are heavily reduced and reproduced in black and white. While the contents page remains the same, there is one significant inclusion to the catalogue. There is a section called ‘Indian Classic Tales’ which promotes well-known stories such as ‘The Crow and the Pitcher’ and not so well-known ones such as ‘Good King Sivi’. Interestingly, the licensing segment remains intact for the Indian market.

The main Penguin brochure of publications is divided into sections according to trademarks such as Puffin and Viking, instead of following the usual practice of thematic divisions. In this sense, it is a brochure which seems more oriented towards bulk buyers like book stores and towards trade partners rather than individual readers. Penguin India has an interesting range of titles in fiction, and I would argue that, as far as fiction is concerned, , its market is primarily located in urban centres and among the members of the upper middle class . Similar brochures from both the publishing houses, Manohar and Foundation, on the other hand, list literature as one subset of the category ‘Language/Linguistics/Literature’, with fiction forming a very small percentage of the texts that they offer. The only works of fiction that the Seagull brochure offers are the novels of Tariq Ali, the editor of the New Left Review, children’s literature and selected works of Mahashweta Devi, which arguably demonstrate a market for these books among the upper class intelligentsia. Zubaan is an interesting publishing house in that the market that it targets is aligned with a women’s writing constituency with which it identifies and a feminist politics that it foregrounds. This then is reflected in the choice of manuscripts it publishes.

The Rupa brochures however are interesting in their attempt to be all things to all people. They have a section of non-fiction books related to India called ‘Classic India’, a similar section called ‘Eternal India’ and an ambiguously titled section called ‘Culture’. Apart from this, Rupa has an alternative title, ‘Sita-Gita series’, for its section for ‘Women’. The titles published under this section include not just the usual suspects such asBetter Marriage, Good Parenting and Social Graces but also Corporate EtiquetteGet Rid of Stress, and Get Organised. Rupa’s tendency to peddle its writers aggressively reflects in the sections devoted to individual writers in the brochures, ranging from old Rupa hands such as Ruskin Bond, Gulzar and Arun Shourie to relatively new entrants such as Chetan Bhagat. The brochures devote an entire section to the Rabindra Rachnavali, with the Tagore translations adding prestige to Rupa’s list of contributors and also merging seamlessly with its branding of itself as a nationalist enterprise. Rupa also has a section in its brochures called ‘Drama/Ekanki/Plays/Natika’, a commendable inclusion which features various plays by Indian authors alongside its own editions of the plays of Shakespeare, the inescapable reference point for any study of drama. Another commendable and relatively rare inclusion is the section on poetry. Interestingly, the Rupa brochure also has a section called Folklore, in which collections of folktales by Indian authors are juxtaposed with colonial texts, such as Tales of Panjab by Flora Annie Steel. The brochure gives a sense that Rupa’s brand image is that of a nationalist publishing house, though its leit-motif in the choice of manuscripts is blatantly commercial. While readership profiles are not available, I would argue that Rupa’s market lies as much in what are called the B centres as in the bigger cities of India. This audience, belonging largely to the middle and lower sections of the middle class, is exposed to metropolitan sensibilities through the media and has an aspirational attitude towards them – the same audience, in fact, which is also making Rupa’s Five Point Someone: What Not to do at IIT a national bestseller.

Rupa’s leaflets and flyers also reflect its tendency to push the author aggressively. Most of its pamphlets centre on the ‘personality’ of the author, the ‘value’ of the book being guaranteed by its author’s eminence, an eminence which is made visible through erudite looking photographs of the author in question. Thus pamphlets prominently display Natwar Singh, Jaswant Singh, J.R.D. Tata or Arun Shourie, with the write-up focussing on their careers and their contribution to the Indian public sphere. Another innovative marketing practice Rupa follows is to distribute booklets containing one short story for a collection of stories or one chapter of a novel or memoir. Rupa also distributes table tops and coasters which advertise a specific book or a book series. Rupa demonstrates an ability to synchronise book launches with celebrations of anniversaries or milestones for the publishing house, thus ensuring better brand recall for the readers by ensuring that the publishing house features as prominently in the publicity campaign as the book on offer. In fact, among the publicity material from various publishing houses that was collected, Rupa remained the only publishing house whose publicity portfolio contained a a statement on the profile of the company and its history.

To conclude, the various publishing houses in India have more or less identifiable target audiences, with possible overlaps among them. What is making the Indian book market potentially interesting is the closing of the gap – Penguin is going to try and find an author who will appeal to the market the way Chetan Bhagat (a Rupa author) does, while Rupa is already trying to find an Indian theorist/politician who will have the appeal and prestige of an Amartya Sen (a Penguin author). It is in this kind of competition/conflict that exciting times lie ahead for Indian publishing.