Year Ender 2016: Books galoreWith the number of readers steadily growing and social media serving as a giant book club, the publishing industry continued to flourish in 2016
Nepal’s publishing industry has been on the upswing of late. With the number of readers steadily growing and social media acting as a giant book club—connecting readers to the authors—it was of little surprise that Nepali literature flourished in 2016.
From the evocative Kahar by Janak Raj Sapkota to Buddhisagar’s Firfire, books, book launches and book readings, continued to proliferate in the past year. Buoyed further by the growing market for Nepal-based writers writing in English, as marked by the popularity of Manjushree Thapa’s All of Us in our Own Lives and Pranaya SJB Rana’s City of Dreams, 2016 was a statement to why publishing is in its heyday in the country.
“The readership has been growing leaps and bounds over the last few years. More encouragingly, young people are reading more than ever, and books like Palpasa Café and Karnali Blues have etched themselves in the public imagination,” says Ajit Baral of Fine Prints, which published 12 books this year, including Firfire and SubinBhattarai’s Summer Love. The readership, according to Baral is not just growing, but is also increasingly more diverse, allowing publishers to put forth books targeted for niche audiences.
“The rise of memoirs and autobiographies has drawn a new section of people to reading,” he says, “Also, more and more women are reading books.”
This despite the fact that women writers continue to lag behind in the industry, according Sarita Tiwari, author of Madan Pursakar-nominated Prashna haru ko Karkhana. “In Nepal, being a woman is challenging in every profession, and it is no different in publishing,” she says. It is a sentiment echoed by Neelam Karki, another nominee for the literary award, “We are so quickly labeled into the ‘among women author’ category, we don’t say ‘male authors’ do we?” she asks, “But the growing readership does mean that more women are getting published and recognised, which in itself is a small victory.”
Another publisher, Pawan Acharya of Bookhill Publication—which published popular titles like Kumar Nagarkoti’s Ghatmandu and Brajesh Khanal’s Juneli this year—says that along with the rise in readership, the readers have also become more selective of what they read. “The new generation of readers, well-read and tech savvy, are pushing authors to put out better books. They have literature from around the world at their finger tips to turn to otherwise,” he says.
The fact that books are competing with so many other digital platforms for a reader’s attention has also meant that the publishing industry has been focusing on launches and promotion more than ever before, according to Mani Sharma of Shangri-la Book House. “Both writers and publishers are gravitating towards commercial and sellable themes,” he says, “What effect will that have on the writing? Good content should always be the primary focus.”
This commercialisation and an increasingly vocal readership, via social networking sites, has meant that books are also being scrutinised more than ever, according to Kiran Krishna Shrestha of Nepalaya, “The recognition and faith the publication industry had accumulated is on the wane,” he says, “And the only way to retain the trust and love is by publishing good books that meets the expectation of the readers. One disappointed reader is a lost customer.”
In an age of so many technological distractions and digital platforms, are e-books a perceived threat in the industry? “At least not yet,” says Ajit Baral, though admitting that more and more publishers are planning on making inroads into the medium, “I see the Nepali publishing industry flourishing in the years to come. And I don’t see e-books threatening physical books any time soon. We are still a ways behind, technologically, and not until online payments become commonplace will e-books truly catch on. But that being said, all publishers need to be tuned to the system and be ready for it when we start having buyers influx on the net.”
Baral, and other publishers, point to the lack of reading spaces as more of an immediate threat to the burgeoning reading culture in the urban hubs of the country. Particularly in Kathmandu, where the 2015 earthquakes severely damaged the few available libraries—including the National Library and the Central Library at the Tribhuwan University—the dearth of rooms to read surfaced time and again this year, and will likely continue to do so in the coming years.