English versions may drive sagging Kannada book sales

Industry ducks innovation

Industry pundits said attempts to digitise Kannada literature for the ebook market have been met with indifference from the public and resistance by publishers fearing piracy.

Faced with declining sales of Kannada-language books, some publishers and authors are considering translating Kannada works into English in an attempt to keep regional literature alive.

Ramesh Udupa, the general manager of Navakarnataka Publications which sold nearly 10 lakh print edition books last year, of which nearly 7.5 lakh were Kannada books, said sales have been slowly declining for the last two years.

"The situation is dire. In an ideal world, people of a region must read their literature in their mother tongue, but perhaps, we must think about translating our works into English to reach a wider audience," Udupa said.

This sentiment was echoed by Vasudhendra (who goes by only one name), a former software engineer who successfully transitioned as a short-story writer in Kannada in 1998.

"Regional languages are slowly dying in the face of English dominance. Consequently, we should think about translating into English in order to keep our literature alive," he said and added that, "the English language may be a demon, slaying regional dialects, but perhaps it can also be a bridge for us."

Industry pundits said attempts to digitise Kannada literature for the ebook market have been met with indifference from the public and resistance by publishers fearing piracy. While Navakarnataka Publications offers over 500 titles in ebook format, the demand by the public was shocking low, by Udupa.

"Just a year ago, we were selling up to 2,000 ebooks per year. Today, that number has come down to less than 100 a month," he said, expressing confusion for the cause, speculating that perhaps a broader cultural preference for the western world as being responsible.

Vasudhendra charged Amazon with apathy when it comes to Kannada.

Problem with Unicode

"The e-commerce portal has a problem with Unicode, but with my background as a software engineer, I managed to sort out these technical issues and self-published a book on Amazon – only to see it deleted within seven days," he said, adding that the American online giant offered no explanation for the action.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment by Deccan Herald.

According to Vamshi Prakash, the owner of Vamshi Publishing House, however, the Kannada publishing industry itself is to blame for not only Amazon's view of Kannada literature as being a non-viable form for the digital medium, but also the decline of the publishing industry in general. He cited two key reasons for the decline: old-fashioned ideas by an industry unwilling to embrace the value of digital publishing and an across-the-board refusal to offer discounts.

Vasudhendra, however, remains optimistic that things will change, explaining that for nearly a 100 years between the 13 and 14th centuries, there were no Kannada books published because of a Muslim invasion. "Finally in the year 1346, a Kannada book on snakebites was released, the publication of which marked the stabilisation of society. The preference for English today is a trend. I am hopeful that our literature will flourish again."

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