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Multilingual Publishing: No Short Cuts

Radhika Menon

Tulika (Chennai) has been publishing children’s books in several Indian languages since 1996. The first book, Line and Circle, was bilingual, in three languages—English together with Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil. By 2000, we were publishing in six languages and two years later, in nine—English, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bangla. While we were clear that we did not want to publish in English alone, we were also aware that the market for books in Indian languages was nonexistent. The major deterrent was pricing because Indian language books had to be priced much lower in order to sell. Straddling the English and the regional language book markets is difficult even for large publishing houses because of the size and spread of the latter, the different pricing, distribution and payment norms, and the attitude to children’s books. However, we were clear from the beginning that privileging the English books with a higher quality of production would undermine our purpose. For children to grow up reading comfortably in their own languages, it was important that they saw the books as being equal to the English books in quality and content. They would then feel the same pride in owning the books, and find the same enjoyment in reading them. We believe the look and feel of a book draws children as much as the content does. This approach left us open to the criticism that we made the books inaccessible to the majority of children reading in Indian languages. The point was that, to begin with, our primary target was the English book-buying segment of the market: people who visited bookstores and could afford to buy books. That they too thought these books were too expensive pointed to the problem of prevailing attitudes to books in Indian languages and so we dealt with this by finding alternative distribution channels, and not by underpricing books. Over the years we have built a network of alternative channels through NGOs, government agencies and regional co-publishing partners. Now, our books are regularly bought in bulk for reading literacy programmes, and the volumes enable us to offer substantial discounts. Today there are probably more Tulika titles in government school libraries than in private schools. Our strategy is paying off as bookstores are becoming more open to keeping books in Indian languages. The pricing makes it attractive and feasible for them. Sales through the ...

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