The business of books

Updated: May 29 2005, 05:30am hrs
The three serious art book publishers in India are Marg, India Book House and Mapin Publishing. Marg was founded in 1946 by Mulk Raj Anand and five other intellectuals. But by 1951, the group found it very difficult to keep the magazine afloat and Tata Sons provided an anchor from 1951 through to 1986. In 1986, when the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) was formed as a trust, the magazine has since then been funded by it. Marg is a quarterly that comes out with four issues a year and four books as well. Besides, they come out with special editions, publish single author titles, serious guides on Indian art, and have produced a few films as well.

Radhika Sabavala, general manager, Marg, says the art book publishing world is not financially viable. We spent Rs 10 to Rs 15 lakh to publish the quarterly and this is without taking into account the overheads. We have been forced to bring out art calendars and diaries to sustain us.

Mapin Publishing, set up 20 years ago by danseuse Mallika Sarabhai and Bipin Shah in Ahmedabad, focusses on publishing books on Indian art and culture. Around eight years ago, the company geared to publish contemporary art books and museums collections. Economic viability of selling art publications vis-a-vis fiction or any other genre is quite different. The investments as far as art books are concerned are huge. For instance, if we publish a 250 page art book and come out with 3,000 copies with says 175 colour illustrations, the price of publishing would go up to Rs 15 to 20 lakh. If the book is sold at Rs 500 per copy going upto Rs 800, depending on whether the images were procured from the author or from a museum (the latter charges steep fees), the price of publishing is is very high, says Bipin Shah, publisher, Mapin.

Internationally, art book publishing has a wide reach. In fact, the entire western world is the reach. In India, though, the market is very small. Even worldwide, a book on Japanese or Chinese art does well, compared to Indian art. One has to steer the ship very closely, he says.

Mapin markets in India through retailers and wholesalers. It is the same route internationally too besides commissioned sales representatives who visit museums and stores. It is also sold on the net and through distributors websites. We also go to international book fairs, says Shah.

India Book House (IBH) started publishing art books which were called coffee table books in its earlier avatar sporadically. The first such book was on the Baroda Museum in 1996, the second was on Marwar paintings in 2000. The first book did not do well due the layout, says Padmini Mirchandani, publisher, IBH. The latest to come out of the IBH stable on art books is Amrita Jhaveris A Guide to 101 Modern & Contemporary Indian Artists. We have so far sold 5000 copies of this book priced at Rs 750, and we expect to go into reprint in three months time. The cost of production was Rs 40 lakh.

The art of publishing an art book, says Mirchandani, is around Rs 20 lakh compared to publishing other genres. Art books that are fully illustrated cost much more. India is the flavour and the fashion internationally, says Mirchandani. We come out with books that are essentially aimed at the foreign market. In fact 65 per cent of the print runs are for these markets. We are now planning a book on art galleries of India.