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Three publishing vets push English literary fiction in subcontinent
Updated:Jun 4, 2012
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The growing English language publishing industry in India has taken a step north with three veteran publishers - David Davidar, Ravi Singh and Kapish G. Mehra - joining ranks to push high-end literary fiction from the subcontinent to a wider cross section of readers in the country.

The trio announced the formal launch of the Aleph Book Company - an independent publishing company in the Rupa group - at a low-key one-on-one interactive session with a small group of media people in New Delhi.

The trio also handed out "The Book of Aleph", a designer catalogue listing the new firm's spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring titles.

The category on offer is quality literary fiction and non-fiction featuring writers like Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Jerry Pinto, Timeri N. Murari, Khushwant Singh, Cyrus Mistry, M. Krishnan, Ruskin Bond and Wendy Doniger.

Literary fiction is a genre distinct from mass fiction for a more niche audience.

Co-publisher of Aleph David Davidar, the former CEO of Penguin-International, said: "Only 15 to 20 of the books published in the country get the kind of careful focused attention one wants to give".

A number of small companies do that - pay attention to the editorial and design content - very well but often find it difficult to access resources like a large network to get the books widely distributed, Davidar said.

"We wanted a company that would give every book the best editorial design and attention. Only a very large company like Rupa would have the resources to help us pay attention to our books. All our book would be treated like Rupa books. Ravi (Ravi Singh, former CEO of Penguin-India) and I would individually edit every single book on Aleph - and give the best many larger companies cannot give. We are looking at the high-end literary spectrum - fiction and non-fiction," Davidar told IANS.

"Ravi and I believe that this - literary publishing - is what we know to do the best. Rupa does commercial publishing. We were interested in someone with proven record. Rupa has survived and thrived in this market for 75 years and sucessfully re-invented itself," Davidar said.

He said he "wanted to reach the same kind of audience that any publisher would reach".

"Rupa is a majority shareholder in Aleph and has shared a lot of resources," Davidar said, adding that the front-end of the new publishing house is independent, he said.

For Rupa & Co, which describes itself as the largest mass market player", "the next phase of expansion strategy was to go in for literary publishing", its publisher Kapish G. Mehra, told IANS.

"Rupa is closely associated with the mass market and wanted to venture into literary publishing. It was a well-thought out strategy to try and do things differently," Mehra added.

Pointing to movements in the publishing market, Davidar said: "I am cautious enough to say that a fair number of independents are springing up, but we have no idea how long they will survive."

Boutique publishing can be a bit self-indulgent, Ravi Singh said.

"We weren't producing exquisite salads - we have created a company to do the best books available," Singh told IANS.

The company will also create e-versions of the titles and is in talks with digital platforms to explore the possibility of stand-alone e-books, Kapish G. Mehra said.

The trio said the company was banking on the country's "three generations of English speaking readers, double digit growth and the quality of books on offer".

"India is one of the few English language markets in the world which is growing...When we started literary fiction, it was just literary fiction. Today it is a wide-ranging market. There is new self-confidence among Indian writers. They don't care; they are starting to make up their minds," Davidar said.

Latest estimates by the industry say that nearly 300 million people in India know English. The English publishing market, in a study by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, is valed at roughly $1.4 billion and is growing at 10 percent a year.

-Indo-Asian News Service

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