Briefly, here is what Radhika Menon had to say at Jumpstart 2011 in Delhi, August 24th and 25th.
Over the last two years there has been a lot of interest in the boom in the children's books market. The reports, however, are restricted to the feedback and sales figures of English language books in the bookstore chains which are by and large from the big publishing houses and distributors. What this means is that if the books are not seen in the large bookstores they don’t exist in reports or ratings. Nevertheless books by smaller, independent publishers do exist well and find their own space thanks to the efforts of the publishers themselves.
Other reports have to do with the huge disparity between the English and the Indian language children's book markets. English books certainly have the advantage in the urban markets. But the sales figures of books in some of the regional languages far exceed those of English books. There are the mass-produced, low-priced books of course, often of poor quality, which have a monopoly over government orders in the various states. Their sales run into lakhs every year.
However there are Indian language publishers who have sell their low-priced books in quantities that the English language publishers can only dream of. They sell successfully through direct marketing and distribution, school and community book fairs, small bookstores and mobile bookstores, catering to the specific needs of their buyers.
On the other hand, the chain bookstores, which have as many as 50 to 75 bookstores each across the country, stick to tried and tested strategies - a one-size-fits-all-approach. This obviously cannot adequately meet the diverse and growing demands of children's book publishing in India today. According to media reports the children's sections in these stores make up to 30% of their total sales. The books sold are the imported books that flood the market and Indian books published by the large publishing houses.
In this scenario, an independent multilingual publisher like Tulika, trying to straddle both the urban English book markets and the regional language book markets, has to find strategies for building an alternate distribution network. It’s the only way. It remains to be seen if the rapidly opening up online space offers a more Ievel playing field.