Looking back… an overview, after winning Publisher of the Year Award 2014

Interview with Radhika Menon, Publishing Director, Tulika Publishers
for goodbooks.in, November 2014 

Goodbooks: Congratulations on winning Publisher of the Year! Did you expect to win or was it a surprise?

Radhika: It was a surprise because we were not quite sure what criteria would be used to judge the winners.

GB: Tulika was established in 1996. There are many new players now. Do you feel the children’s books industry has changed since then?

RM: It has. With more books in different genres, many new authors and illustrators, many different themes being tackled it is time of churning I think.

GB: Do you share the view that online giants like Amazon and Flipkart threaten publishing? Indian children’s books are not commonly available in bookstores, so many customers choose to shop online. How does this impact you as a publisher?

RM: While I do have problems with the way giant stores, whether the bricks and mortar or online ones function, Flipkart and Amazon have been good for our sales. For instance, we are selling more of our books in Indian languages online. But we sell as many through online boutique stores as they have special promotions and sales and through our own website. When it comes to books small and focused selling works online too!

GB: There are many children’s publishers now in India but not many of them publish books in Indian languages. At least, not in as many languages as you do. Why does Tulika do this?

RM: I don’t think there any two views about the value of children growing up reading in their own languages. And since we do picture books, which are the first books children are introduced to, it was logical to publish them in Indian languages as well – as many as we could handle.

GB: Is this effort profitable when you look at it from a business angle?

RM: It is. Though we struggled for a few years we now reprint more of the Indian language books as there is a constant demand for them in bulk from various groups working with reading literacy.

GB: Tulika is one of the few publishers that openly welcomes young and first-time writers. When you receive a story, what factors do you take into consideration before accepting or rejecting it?

RM: The story idea or the concept behind it is usually the first consideration for picture books. Also the visual possibilities. For fiction for older children it is the quality of the writing and the originality of the theme.

GB: Big publishing houses in India stay away from picture books but picture books are what Tulika publishes the most. Why did you decide to get into the picture book segment when you started out?

RM: The creative possibilities that a picture book offers is very exciting and inspiring both for the creators and the readers. And the fact there were such few contemporary picture books in the market despite it being in so many ways the child’s first window to literacy, the first steps into reading.
When we started we wanted to create books that were distinctively Indian in form and content. Books that reflected a contemporary Indian sensibility that is multilingual and multicultural. Mutilingual and bilingual picture books was the perfect place to start.

GB: What is your take on marketing? Do you believe good books need to be marketed if they are to sell?

RM: They do. Especially in children’s books what catches attention is always the theme – a Hanuman’s Ramayan or a Vyasa’s Mahabharata outsells most other books. They have that instant appeal which other books, however good, don’t have. There are always the ‘risky’ books that we publish which do need extra promotion and push. Social media is a great tool for that.

GB: Over the years, you have published hundreds of titles and we’re sure each of them is special to you in some way. But if you had to pick your top five, which ones would you list?

RM: Very difficult to answer that! What stands out as I look back are the books that enriched our own understanding of children’s books – Mukand and Riaz and My Gandhi Story by Nina Sabnani, the Different series of puzzle books by Manjula Padmanabhan, the Looking at Art series, Oluguti Toluguti (the multilingual rhymes book), Under the Neem Tree by Anuradha Pachanooru (in Telugu), illustrated by AV Ilango, Okaasama Otousama by Sandhya Rao, illustrated by Krsihna Bala Shenoy.

GB: What, in your opinion, is a good book?

RM: A book in which great writing, great illustrations, good design and production come together, each enhancing the other aspects of the book – the illustrations adding to the text, the design balancing text and illustrations perfectly and sometimes adding another interesting dimension to the book, and printing and paper that best showcases the pictures, design and the format of the book within the allocated budgets.