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Delhi Workshop Presentation 8, Contemporary Indian Literature Project

Presentation by researcher Shivani Mutneja at the Delhi workshop.

Analysing the market through Biblio

The following observations have been made on the basis of a study of the Delhi based bimonthly review journal Biblio. The study covers nine years in the life of Biblio, from January 1998 to December 2006.

Of all the books reviewed in this review journal during these years, the number of books published in India add up to 929.

Publisher-based classification of these books reads as follows:

Penguin Books
The percentage of Penguin Books reviewed varies from 17% to 36% over the nine years.
Average - 24% of the total

Oxford University Press 
Average -19% of the total

Harper Collins shows the following pattern

year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No. of books

7

16

5

8

4

6

none

4

5

Sage

Year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No. of books

6

5

6

3

5

 

1

3

1

Rupa

Year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No. of books

none

4

3

3

6

9

2

2

1

Manohar

Year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No. of books

6

4

8

6

3

1

2

1

1

Permanent Black

Year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No.of books

none

none

none

5

6

5

5

7

2

Kali for Women

Year

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No. of books

6

none

3

4

1

1

3

2

none

As evident from the figures above, there has been no significant increase or decrease as far as representation of books reviewed by the various publishers in Biblio is concerned.

Other publishing houses that receive regular coverage are Roli Books, Indialog, Indiaink, Stree, Seagull and Ravi Dayal Publishers.

An average of two books from Mapin Publishing House, Ahemdabad ,which specialises in art books , is reviewed in Biblio every year.

Genre based classification of books reviewed in Biblio:

Fiction- 26%, varying from 18% to 38% each year
Poetry- 4% 
Biography/ autobiography/ memoirs-10%
Others , including political, social, cultural studies- 60%

Problem of categories:

A major issue during our research was whether we should include the books in the fourth generic category, that is the social, political and cultural studies, within the ambit of our research on Contemporary Indian Writing in English and the Indian Market. To put the question more precisely,
What kind of texts should or should not be included in the category of “literature”? Though the issue is still to be resolved, as of now these books are being considered within the focus of our research since they constitute a significant part ( 60% of the total) of the books reviewed in Biblio, from which can be deduced their popularity in the publishing world and their visibility in the book market. According to publisher Urvashi Butalia, the primary market for this kind of writing is in India, a point that further vindicates our inclusion of these books within the ambit of our research.

How far do the patterns of reviewing observed in review journals reflect changes in the Indian market Contemporary Indian writing in English?

As opposed to the The Book Review during this period, Biblio has recorded no significant increase or decrease in the number of books reviewed , reviewing approximately a 100 books per year. But these statistics do not throw light upon problems such as what kind of books a review journal selects to send out for reviews or what kind of readership for reviews it envisages? In brief, what is the agenda of a review journal?

Unfortunately it has not been possible to get authoritative answers to these questions from the publishers ofBiblio as of now. It is probable that once the requisite information is received ,concrete conclusions may be drawn about the changes in the book market.

Aims of Biblio: Some Speculative Observations:

The agenda of Biblio,as stated in its inaugural issue by editor Dileep Padgaonkar,
is professedly as follows:

“ it has perforce to swim against the current- against the reigning orthodoxies about politics and society, the economy and culture, against above all, the dominant ethos related to what constitutes individual fulfillment in the deepest sense of the word
{italics mine}

Another clue to Biblio’s goals is provided by these few words about the Biblio Charitable Trust:

“The Biblio Charitable Trust is a public, non- profit organisation engaged in the attempt to upgrade the social and cultural environment of India in particular and South Asia in general through raising awareness of literature, arts and ideas, by creating an intellectual forum for debate and discussion beyond partisan limits and national boundaries”
{ italics mine}

The readership of Biblio:

Biblio claims on its website that it acts “as a crucial bridge between the world of academia and the lay reader”, it states that it orients itself not only to the intelligentsia that constitutes its immediate target group but also the reader at large who is interested in books and who wants to keep abreast of literary and cultural trends.

Financial resources of Biblio:

As far as the finances of this review journal are concerned, the website says:

Biblio has been kept alive by voluntary efforts of a small group of dedicated people..
revenues from subscriptions and sales meet the production costs and web publishing.
Over the years Biblio has sustained itself primarily through institutional grants from literary and cultural foundations such as the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, The Prince Claus fund, the British Council and European Commission”

Another source of finance is the donations to the Biblio Charitable Trust.

Conclusion:

Biblio calls itself a “niche” journal on its webpage.So how far can it reflect the trends of the market? How far does a niche journal influence the market? These questions cannot be resolved without circulation figures and readership ratios, which we do not have access to yet. Hopefully as soon as these are available to us, we shall be able to draw concrete conclusions about the Indian market for Contemporary Indian writing in English.