Thinking of books, in Goa

Publishing Next, 2013: well organised, useful sessions.

Publishing Next, 2013: well organised, useful sessions.

[Frederick Noronha[ Another edition of Publishing Next is over. Two things are surprising about the event.  Firstly, how well appreciated it is by professionals from across the country (and a few from beyond international borders too).  And secondly, how little known and appreciated it is within Goa itself.

To put it briefly, let’s take a PN definition of itself.  “Publishing Next is the only conference of its kind in India (and indeed in the sub-continent) that brings together publishing professionals of all hues and interests within an environment that fosters creative dialogue and an intellectually stimulating exchange of ideas.”

It was started in 2011 at the International Centre Goa (Dona Paula), and over the past two years, has been held in the early post-monsoon season, sometime in September, at the Krishnadas Shama State Central Library at Pato.

But what is amazing about PN is that it is a wholly made-in-Goa event.  It was dreamt of by its co-founders Leonard Fernandes and Queenie Rodrigues e Fernandes, the young returned expat couple, who run their publishing and distribution enterprise out of Gogol, in Margao.

This happened soon after Leonard won the British Council Young Creative Entrepreneur Award 2010 in Publishing, and probably the award nudged him forward.  This is where useful and genuine awards can spur people on to do more (as against the politicised awards we’re seeing more of, obviously aimed at ingratiating people to certain individuals or institutions!)

Like in the past, this year too around March-April, Leonard was struggling to put things together.  This year too, like in the past, when the event came about in late September, it was put together with quite some aplomb.  So many diverse individuals and organisations were represented, each adding value to the sessions and helping create yet another edition of an event Goa can indeed be proud about.

Someone sitting alongside said, as we were tuned in to one session, that events like Goa Literature and Arts Festival (GLAF), which has been struggling to build sufficient traction despite inviting a wide range of people, could learn a trick or two in organisation from events such as these.

Perhaps Leonard and his team manage to call it off because they realise the importance of being collaborative in their approach.  While it is a privately-conducted event, PN taps into the skills of a wide network to make it happen.

On the one hand, there are people like Vinutha Mallaya, a mediaperson who went into publishing and has a very good grasp of the industry.  She has worked for places like the Ahmedabad-based art book publishing company Mapin, whose US-returned founder Bipin Shah (he co-founded Mapin with Mallika Sarabhai in 1984) was at PN 2013.

Then, at the other end, were fresh journalism students from St.  Xavier’s in Mapusa, who helped with photographic and video recording, Twitter updates and a lot more.  Else, how does one get Indian publishing to take seriously and attend a professional meeting in a small region good enough for a holiday, but otherwise without much to boast about in the sub-continental publishing scene?

Today, Indian publishing is growing quick and fast. India has the third-largest market in English-language titles in the world.  The number of books published each year (the figure hovers around 80,000 to 90,000 titles nationwide) might be an underestimate; but a cursory visit to any major bookshop would show you that this field is booming.  There are publications like PrintIndia (whose ‘books special’ was distributed at PN13), and Indian Printer and Publisher, which is focussed on the industry.  These too have been part of making PN happen.

This year, there were special attempts to rope in more participation from Goa itself.  But unless the media discusses and covers such events, how would the Goa-based reader know that it is happening in the first place?

Personally, sitting through the sessions, and tapping into so many dozens or centuries of man-years of experiences was indeed a learning experience in itself.  PublishingNext tends to have parallel sessions, which is a pity because you end up missing some of the talks you’d really like to go to.  (But one can wait for the video recordings, which are put out on YouTube.) Just wandering from one hall to the second, one could pick up ideas and inspiration by the minute, as it were!

It is probably time that our authorities and planners recognise the need for Goa to host more events that lure talent here; but not just events for the sake of having events.  When these are organised with a mix of local interest and outstation involvement, perhaps the best can come about.

There were discussions, talks and workshop on distributing and selling books, publishing poetry, book reviewing, Indian content, Indian language publishing, changing readerships, understanding print, film and TV adaptations of books, that buzzword called customer relationship management (CRM), trading book rights, content on the Internet, e-distribution of Indian content, publishing design, social media for authors and publishers, and even how old photographs can build our histories.

From a Goa point of view, the most interesting presentations was a brief, articulate and perfectly architected talk by Gerard da Cunha on his own publishing activity.  (He floored his audience by telling them he was the architect for the impressive library building they were sitting in.) Gerard, whom one can encounter in his working-shorts and total lack of pretences, is brutally honest about his struggle in getting started with coffee-table books.  In a word: life is never easy!  One hopes the audio recorder worked well enough for me to be able to record and share his story online.

Then there was Diviya Kapur, the lawyer-alumni of the prestigious National Law School of India (Bangalore).  She chose to take up an old house off what is coming to be called Holiday Street in Calangute, and launch a very quaint bookshop there.  Literati has won praise from far and wide, and not without reason.  It’s more the atmosphere that she has been able to create there.

But it was sad to hear Diviya’s pessimistic view of the fate of bookshops, and she did not mince words when she said she doesn’t expect them to survive!  I know it’s great to find the book you want and buy it from an Amazon or a Flipkart.  The discounts are fine too.  But, while buying there we don’t usually spare a thought of what this all would do to our age-old small retail bookshops.  And, more importantly, the need for diversity in the book market.

P1190401

Without wasting any time, PublishingNext 2013 was over in its scheduled two days.  Like any event where time is well spent, here too the time moved on fast.  The Central Library, as usual, were excellent hosts; though it doesn’t make too much sense to have a garbage treatment facility adjacent to a prestigious library — more so if one can’t control the odours.  One additional initiative was a special exhibition of Goa-published books put out during PN13.

By the end of the event, two delegates mentioned — half seriously — about their possibility of moving down to Goa.  Goa, of course, is a nice place to holiday in, but not always a good venue to work out of!  Still, I guess, we could always do with more creative talent in a region which cannot depend so overwhelmingly on marketing its mud, sand and surf!

For those interested in the field, the organisers announced plans to restart their free e-magazine called Publishers’ Post.  For a copy contact leonard.fernandes@gmail.com

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About fredericknoronha

Alt.Publishing. Journalism. Books. Cyberspace. Networking.

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