The presence of an Indian publisher at an international forum is not just limited to the rights to their books being bought and sold in other languages. There is also a larger assertion of what the Indian publisher has to offer to the international publishing community in terms of new ideas and innovative concepts. A classic example would be Tara Books. Gita Wolf, its founder, says, “When I first went to the Frankfurt Book Fair, 15 years ago, I was both naive and optimistic. Looking back at what I went with –- two ideas for illustrated children’s books and a couple of silk-screened sample pages –- I can’t help thinking of the old cliché about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread. And yet, I managed to sell both ideas to a Canadian publisher and with the advance they offered for the books, my newly created publishing house in India took off.” She continues: “So Tara was, in essence, a global publisher before we became a local press.” Since then, Tara has remained active in the global market, with over 100 rights to the publisher’s 85 titles sold all over the world. In total, Wolf says, 30 percent of Tara’s turnover comes from the sale of rights, and an additional 25 percent from direct sales into other English-speaking markets.
An opposing model has also grown in recent years, of publishers in the Subcontinent purchasing the English-language rights for books written in French, German and other European and African languages. The notable example in this would be Naveen Kishore of Seagull Books from Kolkata. This is a phenomenon almost unheard of in a largely West-centered and West-controlled world of territorial rights in English, where there is a tendency to club together the “post-colonial” world.
This internationalization can be something of a double-edged sword, however. Of the many issues that are currently bringing together the publishing community in India, the issue that has generated one of the most significant responses is the proposed amendments to the country’s copyright law. Though there is a clear divide between people for and against it, publishers almost unanimously oppose the amendment.
As proposed, the amendment sanctions parallel imports, which allow the import of multiple editions of books into the Indian market, rendering the whole point of territorial rights a bit useless. “If the amendment is passed,” Abraham says, “any book published anywhere in the world could be sold [in India], infringing on an exclusive Indian edition -– published or imported.” He continues: “To understand this, one needs to realize that authors own copyright to their works and then assign publishing rights to different territories, so that the book and readers are best served.
Meanwhile, publishers in the Subcontinent continue to face mounting problems with piracy, finding this increasingly difficult to tackle.
Such obstacles notwithstanding, one thing is for certain: the publishing industry in India and across the Subcontinent will have to cater to multiple audiences in the coming decades. These will have to include the upwardly mobile middle class, the passionate reader, the new reader and the yet-to-be-converted reader.