2019 was satisfying for publishers, non-fiction titles dominate
PTI, Jan 5, 2020, 4:25 PM IST
New Delhi: For publishers in India, 2019 was a satisfying year in terms of the books they brought out and the success they had in reaching out to readers and commercially as well.
The year was also gratifying for many publishing houses as it brought national and international acclaim for a number of their authors.
Summing up the year, HarperCollins India (HCI) CEO Ananth Padmanabhan says, “We continued to buck the trend and grow faster than the market. Our new books, what we call the frontlist, grew at a high double-digit and our backlist held its ground in a year when the market saw a few troughs.”
HCI also had two major publishing partnerships with Juggernaut Books and Harvard University Press to exclusive represent their sales and distribution.
“Harper Collins is also uniquely positioned in India as a publisher in the education space under the Collins Learning imprint and in 2019 our growth trajectory continued as we increased our reach into schools significantly and our textbooks are now being taught in over 5000 schools,” Padmanabhan told PTI.
The year saw many authors of HCI and their books win awards across fiction, nonfiction, business and children’s – JCB, Atta Galatta, TATA Lit Live, Gaja Capital, Prabha Khaitan, Sushila Devi, BICW, IBBY Honours and the Gourmand Cookbook Award.
“It has also been a year of extraordinary debuts across genres – several astonishing new voices, including, amongst them, Madhuri Vijay whose ‘The Far Field’ was also the most celebrated fiction of the year, going on to win the JCB prize and the Tata Lit Live prize,” the HCI CEO says.
Milee Ashwarya, Publisher (Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing), Penguin Random House India, says 2019 was a very eventful year in terms of politics, social issues, environment and young India finding its voice.
“This had a direct impact on our publishing list, and we published timely, topical and new voices in fiction and non-fiction. We had the best election list, war/hero stories, lifestyle books and popular as well as literary fiction,” she says.
“I would say we learnt to understand better what the readers want to read and how we can get the best books in the formats they would like to read them be it audio, ebook or physical,” she adds.
Rupa Publications MD Kapish Mehra says at Rupa Aleph, they had the opportunity to publish many successful titles in the non-fiction space in 2019.
“Ranging from ‘The Hindu Way’ by Shashi Tharoor (Aleph), ‘Reset’ by Subramanian Swamy (Rupa), ‘RSS for the 21st Century’ (Rupa), ‘Blue Lotus’ (Aleph), it was a year that was dominated by non-fiction writing which was spread across the spectrum ranging from politics to philosophy to religion to self help It was a well-rounded publishing programme,” he says.
Publisher and Editor in Chief of Hachette India, Poulomi Chatterjee says the house had a terrific year of wonderful books and great results across the adults’ and children’s lists.
“In the adult non-fiction segments, we’ve had tremendous success with the inspirational and standout autobiographies of Viswanathan Anand and India’s first blade-runner Major D P Singh as well as two popular books on specific areas of India’s history – Archana Garodia Gupta’s ‘The Women Who Ruled India’ and Subhadra Sengupta’s ‘Mahal’,” she says.
“We’ve kept abreast with analysis and commentary on hot-topic debates with Gautam Das’s award-winning ‘Jobonomics’ on India’s unemployment crisis, Sanjoy Chakravorty’s ‘The Truth About Us: Politics and Information from Manu to Modi’ and Pavan Lall’s incisive study of white-collar crime in ‘Flawed’, on the rise and fall of India’s diamond mogul Nirav Modi,” she says.
Hachette’s food narratives were in the spotlight again – Saee Koranne-Khandekar’s “Pangat” on Marathi culture and food (which also won the CNT Excellence in Food Writing Award), Anoothi Vishal’s “Business on a Platter”, an incisive look at the restaurant business in India, and Sadaf Hussain’s “Daastan-e-Dastarkhan” on Muslim cuisine from across the country – received all-round praise, Chatterjee says.
“We’ve always been champions of debut fiction writers and this year has been no different. In our selective and small fiction list we’ve had the privilege to publish Dharini Bhaskar’s very accomplished ‘These, Our Bodies Possessed by Light’ and Varun Mathew’s cutting political satire ‘The Black Dwarves of the Good Little Bay’,” she says.
According to Chatterjee, science fiction and fantasy is a genre Hachette has been focusing on building because there is such a massively talented pool of writers out there, and great stories for every reader to enjoy.
“We started 2019 with the hugely acclaimed ‘The Gollancz Book of South Asian Science Fiction’ featuring known writers in the genre and new voices as well, and followed that up with a stellar collection of fantasy stories by 14 women writers in ‘Magical Women’ and another volume by Hugo and Nebula award-winner S B Divya titled ‘Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse’,” she says.
Pan Macmillan MD Rajdeep Mukherjee says 2019 was a significant year during which it published some notable nonfiction and fiction in India and also globally.
The story of Sunanda Pushkar, the biography of Flipkart, Naguib Mahfouz’s unpublished stories, Simon Taufel’s professional guidance and “52 Red Pills” by Eika and Siddharth Banerjee were some of the highlights of Pan Macmillan.
On the international front, it came out with Jeffrey Archer’s “Nothing Ventured,” “Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates, “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden and Elton John’s memoir “Me” among other books.
Juggernaut publisher Chiki Sarkar says it had a “range of big hits which included Rajat Gupta, ‘Early Indians’, and the new book by Nobel Prize winners Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Dufflo. We are now at break-even in print. On the digital side, we have a subscription number of 30,000 and our beta launch of Airtel books has been a success which we are ramping up in 2020”.
Bloomsbury India says it saw significant growth in 2019.
“In trade books, we have grown 35 per cent and in academic books, we have grown 30 per cent from 2018. Our major trade titles were ‘The Anarchy’ (William Dalrymple), ‘City of Girls’ (Elizabeth Gilbert) and ‘Amit Shah and the March of BJP’ (Anirban Ganguly and Shiwanand Dwivedi),” says Yogesh Sharma, senior VP of Bloomsbury India.
“Bloomsbury India, in fact, is the only publisher which has reflected CAGR OF 25 per cent year on year. Our financial year is from March to February. The academic segment showed growth of 54 per cent and digital touched 34 per cent. The best selling segment has been drama and fashion,” he says.
For Speaking Tiger, 2019 was a year of prizes and shortlists.
Writer-journalist Shanta Gokhale won the TATA Lifetime Achievement Award for her memoir “One Foot on the Ground: A Life Told Through the Body”, while Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s novella “My Father’s Garden” was shortlisted for the JCB Prize and his children’s book “Jwala Kumar and the Gift of Fire” for the Crossword Book Award shortlist, along with another Talking Cub title – Bijal Vachirajani’s “A Cloud Called Bhura,” which talks about climate change.
“Prizes apart, we did some significant works in non-fiction, among the most notable were Purushottam Agrawal’s ‘Who is Bharat Mata? On History, Culture and the Idea of India – Writings on and by Jawaharlal Nehru’, and Nandita Haksar’s ‘Kuknalim: Naga Armed Resistance’ – both works that addressed important issues facing the country today,” says Speaking Tiger Publisher Ravi Singh.
“Upamanyu Chatterjee had a new offering for his dedicated band of readers – his first collection of short stories, ‘The Assassination of Indira Gandhi – Collected Works’ – and we also published ‘The Fate of Butterflies’ by Nayantara Sahgal. And our surprise debut was classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal’s first collection of short stories ‘Looking for Miss Sargam’,” he says.
Roli Books also said 2019 was another interesting year as it published a number of books across varied subjects from current affairs, biography, cookbooks to true crime.
“Some standout successes were ‘The Mughal Feast – Recipes from the Emperor Shah Jahan’, which was called ‘a rare documentation’ and has been a super commercial success, and ‘Black Warrant: Confessions of a Tihar Jailer’ by Sunil Gupta and Sunetra Choudhury,” says Priya Kapoor, editorial director at Roli Books.
“We also had some real success with selling subsidiary rights, notably AV rights for our books across the frontlist and backlist with 10 deals signed and a number others under negotiation,” she says.
Palimpsest CEO Bhaskar Roy says for the publishing house, fiction occupied as much space as non-fiction.
“There were compelling novels and equally assertive works by historians as well. Palimpsest was active on both fronts and came home with laurels. Feminist writer Selina Hossain’s ‘Charcoal Portrait’ is about a war child, adopted by a German couple at a medical camp after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
We ended the year with journalist Nirmalya Banerjee’s ‘The Buddha and the Borders’, a well-researched account of the long lama trail in the eastern Himalayas. The author traces the footsteps of faith through places like Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim, Kalimpong, Shillong and Tawang,” he says.
2019 was full of optimism for Niyogi Books, says Trisha Niyogi.
“We brought out around 60 English and 10 Hindi books and also initiated a new project for publishing children’s literature. A number of our books of perennial interest had to be reprinted. To cap it all, we sold rights of a few of our books in Japanese, Chinese and other languages,” she says.
For Simon & Schuster India, 2019 was a mixed bag as non-fiction did well, as has been the case the past few years in the subcontinent, says its Senior Commissioning Editor Sayantan Ghosh. One of the top books it published was “Celestial Bodies” by Jokha Alharthi, the first Omani novel to ever win the Man Booker International Prize.
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