Failed Pitches #1: Public Books

Dear Editor,

In India, books are still good business – but the markets differ starkly depending on whether you’re publishing in English or one of the 700-odd vernacular languages. English-language publishing works pretty much the same as it would in other countries. But in the marketing and distribution strategies of the vernacular publishing industry, you’ll find tactics that are uniquely Indian.

The south Indian city of Chennai is currently hosting one of the biggest book fairs in the country. More than a million people are expected to visit the fair’s 700 stalls spread out across 200,000 square feet. There will be food and talks and a lot of books being sold. Previous years have seen eye-popping sales figures being claimed – up to 1.5 million dollars over the course of a few weeks.

The Chennai fair is organized by the Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI), a group of publishers, most of whom publish only in Tamil. For these publishers, book fairs can be where they earn the bulk of their annual revenues.

But aside from the economics, these fairs represent a vibrant public culture around books. Families come together to attend, spending the entire day sometimes and picnic-ing on the grounds. They’ve come for no other reason than to be around books! Here they find second-hand stores and indie houses rubbing shoulders with university presses and the big 5.

I’d like to cover the size, scale, colour, noise and importance of these book fairs, especially the current Chennai fair. While it isn’t a review, I feel it would work nicely on the Public Books blog.

My credentials: I’m a playwright and freelance journalist from Kerala, India. I won The Hindu Playwright Award 2016, a national award for unpublished scripts. I’ve covered the Jaipur Literature Festival as a resident blogger (full disclosure: no money, just food and board, still worth it). I write regularly for The Wire, an independent news organization.

Do let me know if you think your readers would be interested in this increasingly rare sight – a (mostly) positive story of the publishing industry.

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