A. Srivathsan

CHENNAI: “English and Tamil books publications are two separate worlds and are incomparable in terms of volume,” says A.R.Venkatachalapathy, writer and historian. Not only are they far apart at the international level, even within the Indian publishing industry, in the estimated 82,000 titles published a year (as per 2005 figures), the number of Tamil books is a distant third along with five other regional language books.

Hindi takes the lead with 25 per cent followed by English with 20 per cent share. However, Tamil publishers, books sellers and writers agree that the Tamil publishing industry has grown “leaps and bounds” in the last few years and turned around for good. Currently, the number of books published in Tamil is estimated to be over 4,000 titles per year.

“Many new publishers and writers have emerged. A publisher with 600 copies print run will now find it viable and even profitable,” explains S.R.Sundaram aka Kannan of the Kalachchuvadu publications. “We started with four titles in the 1990’s but now we are able to publish about 40 titles a year,” he adds.

Gopal Rajaram, based in the United States of America, founded the online Tamil book outlet - anyindian.com as an experiment about four years ago. “For the first time, this year we see profits. Not only the Diaspora, there are also many Tamil readers within India who buy books through our portal and it is increasing,” he says.

Interestingly it is not just the fiction but also sale of non-fiction books that have increased. D.Srinivasan, Manager of the New Book Lands, a shop that sells more than 50,000 titles points out “non-fiction of both academic and non-academic kinds sell well. This year books on [American President-elect Barack] Obama have done well.

Readers have become discerning and are looking for good content. “In my 13 years of experience the last few years have been good for Tamil publishing,” he says.

The State government’s policy to increase procurement of Tamil books for its libraries has made a significant difference. In addition, many agree, that the change in economic profile of the buyers is also an important reason. Mr.Sundaram takes the explanation beyond economic reasons. “While the television has replaced pulp fiction to a certain extent, serious literature is still in the print domain. The spread of the new media has also created anxieties amongst the parents and they want to inculcate an aptitude for good literature as a part of their balancing act,” he added.

After a long time, writers are now able to receive relatively better royalty in the order of 10 to 12 per cent. So far, many writers explain, it was the passion for writing that kept the Tamil publishing going.

Mr.Sivam of Alaigal Publications sees the turn around as encouraging in terms of bringing a wide spectrum of writers to limelight. But he also cautions that “to be dependent on only government’s order, as some publishers do, will turn unhealthy and one may end up publishing without the readers in mind”.