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Independent Publishing and Survival: The Importance of Booksfairs

Mandira Sen

It is a truism that small independent publishers bring sparkle and fresh quality to Indian publishing. Run by publishing professionals, so far these small companies focus mostly on social science and literary studies. There are, however, two glittering children’s book publishers in Chennai: Tara and Tulika Publishers who have placed children’s books from India on the map abroad too, foreign collaborators seeking them out at bookfairs. Independent publishers resonate far beyond their size: Leftword, Women Unlimited, Tulika Books, Three Essays, Navayana, Zubaan, Yoda, Social Science Press, Permanent Black and ourselves, Stree-Samya. There may be others I have missed out. These publishers take risks, introduce and develop new authors, which thus explains the brightness of their lists. Indeed, the mainstream publishers, however dominant, generally wait to see what the former develop before they too start to publish in these areas, often with the same authors, whom they woo away mainly, though not only, because of their superior marketing and sales networks. It is hard to find the books published by small independent publishers in most bookshops. This is because of their reluctance to stock publishers who do not have volume, or bestsellers of a more popular taste. The few bookshops that the discerning reader would like to visit in Kolkata are the Seagull Bookshop, Worldview at Jadavpur University, the sort of cupboard-like shop outside Grand Hotel strangely named Foreign Publishing Agency and the Classic Bookshop at Middleton Street. This is the case in most cities, when the larger bookstore chains and bookshops tend not to stock the independent publishers’ books. It is thus hard for independent publishers to answer an author’s complaint that her or his book is unavailable in bookshops in many cities. Eight independent publishers have come together to found Independent Publishers Distributors Alternatives (IPDA): Leftword, Navayana, Samskriti, Stree-Samya, Three Essays, Tulika Books, Tulika Publishers and Women Unlimited. It is hoped that a bigger entity would make a difference. IPDA also takes on the books of other publishers. It is worth labouring the point about bookshops since it is hard to retain authors, however nurtured and helped to produce a good publishable manuscript if the marketing and distribution remains poor. It is at bookfairs that the independent publisher’ books are readily found, primarily because they are exhibitors. This is a precarious situation for the independents as bookfairs are one-off events. But visitors who are interested remain ...

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