Multinational publication houses are scripting their Hindi chapter in a big way, if recent launches of Hindi versions of international best-sellers are anything to go by.
HarperCollins Publishers India Ltd timed the launch of Narnia Ki Kahaniyan, the Hindi translation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, with the release of the movie, Prince Caspian (based on a book in the Narnia series), in theatres, tying up with PVR Ltd and Walt Disney Co. for cross-promotion of the title.
Next in line is a Hindi version of Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello, by September, followed by Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing and V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, due next year. HarperCollins India has an ambitious target of releasing 25 Hindi titles each year.
(Photo by Ramesh Pathania / Mint)
“Let us face it, one out of every three people read and write Hindi, and we felt it is a good time to tap the market,” says P.M. Sukumar, chief executive of HarperCollins India.
Sukumar adds that there has been a radical shift in the way readers perceive the vernacular market, and most are proud to be able to read books in regional languages now: “Bollywood is making waves internationally and is being taken seriously in Hollywood as well. It is time the publishing industry does the same.”
Home-grown company Manjul Publishing House Pvt. Ltd’s success with the translations of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series first renewed interest in local-language versions.
While Narnia Ki Kahaniyan marks HarperCollins’ debut in the Hindi translations market, Penguin Books India has been at the game for the last four years. Says Udayan Mitra, senior managing editor at Penguin: “Translation is definitely the way forward.” The publishing house has translated Khushwant Singh’s Paradise and Other Stories as Jannat aur Anya Kahaniyan, Anita Nair’s Ladies Coupé and Namita Gokhale’s Shakuntala: The Play of Memory, which has been translated into Hindi as Shakuntala: Smriti Jaal.
The interest in local-language translations isn’t confined to Hindi. After publishing 130 translated works in Hindi, Urdu and Marathi, Penguin is now looking at translations in Malayalam. HarperCollins plans to bring out translations in Bengali too.
“We are trying to overcome the language handicap that many people feel when they start out to read books in English,” says Naved Akbar, associate editor, Penguin.
Half of all non-English books published by Penguin are translations. Original titles in Hindi, or any other Indian language, would require more investment—identifying authors, commissioning the work, and developing a market for it. For translations, there is a ready market, with the original title well known and the printing rights already bought by the publisher. Says Akbar: “It helps if a book has been made into a movie and released. People relate to the translated version better.”
“Translated fiction doesn’t sell well, self-help books do,” says Manoj Kulkarni, general manager at Manjul Publishing. The firm sold 150,000 copies of the Telugu version of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Which book we choose to translate depends on a number of factors, one of which is if it is a best-seller in English.”
Rajiv Chowdhry, CEO, Oxford Bookstore Pvt. Ltd, echoes similar views. “It’s mostly students and non-resident Indians who are interested in books in Indian languages. They pick up books that have done well in English titles. Both self-help books and fiction sell well in this section,” he says.
Though not very satisfied with his latest read, Chotte Logon Ka Devata, the translation of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Ompraksh Das, who frequents the Oxford Bookstore in Delhi for translations, says: “I prefer reading translations of famous English authors.” He says translators have a long way to go before they are able to move beyond self-help and children’s books.
According to a research paper titled “The Language and Translation Industry of India: Historical and Cultural Perspective”, prepared for the International Federation of Translators later this year, the approximate size of the Indian languages information technology, or IT, enabled services industry in India is $345 million (around Rs1,483 crore). The translation market is worth $69 million, or 20% of the Indian languages IT-enabled services industry, which includes design, desktop publishing, content creation, IT localization and translation. The industry is expected to grow 10-20% annually.
That is good news for translators, too. Most big publishing houses outsource their translation work, and there is a dearth of good translators. “It is the best time for a translator,” says Penguin’s Mitra. On an average, a translator could demand Rs30,000 for a 300-page book.
Yet translators are far from happy. “Publishers are tarnishing the image of the translation industry by creating price wars and paying less,” says Ravi Kumar, founder and president of the Indian Translators Association. He says translators should get paid at least six times the current rate.
Small language publishers and authors fear that multinational publishing houses may end up encouraging only popular fiction, and not necessarily the ones that have a high literary quotient. However, they agree that the entry of the big players will make the industry more professional.
Penguin and HarperCollins pay authors a royalty fee, about 10% of the sales of the translated book. Regional publishers pay less, or not at all. “I don’t know of a single publisher that makes royalty payment for a translator yet,” says Sudhir Dixit, who has translated the Harry Potter series into Hindi.
Price is a major factor in determining the success of regional language publishing. Typically, translated works are priced between Rs175 and Rs200, 30% cheaper than English titles. “The entry of big publishers like HarperCollins will be good for the industry. They have even priced their books competitively, between Rs100-115,” says Kumar.
However, Akbar says, revenues from the translation market are too small to be compared with the English books market. The average print run for a Hindi translation is 2,000 copies, excluding reprints. He says it will take another five or six years before the translation market’s revenues can catch up with that of English-language publishing in India.