Indian children's books find readers worldwide

New Delhi, Feb 15 (IANS) Children's publishing in India - one of the most lucrative segments in the industry - is looking out of its domestic fold for a bigger footprint in the export market of South Asia and in the developing world, even as business peaks on the domestic front.

A growing number of leading children's publishers in India are exporting activity, story and education books to countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Middle-Eastern nations, Spain, South Africa, Nigeria and to Southeast Asian countries.

Children's publishing accounts for nearly 30 percent of the US$2 billion publishing industry in the country - an estimate from the Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest such fair in the world. In the last two decades, this segment of publishing has seen phenomenal growth, of about 20 percent a year.

The export market for children's books published in India opened up after local publishers began to exhibit their products at international book fairs, and received exposure to western production techniques and printing finesse. Matching western standards, they saw, was not difficult.

The market for children's books has expanded since 1999-2000, when Indian designers and publishers began to visit international book fairs, and western markets diverted their offshore children's deals to India, which had an edge in terms of quality, knowledge of English and visuals, said Sandeep Kaushik, CEO of Macaw Books, one of the biggest exporters of children's books in the country.

"Publishers worldwide began to use us as outsourcing companies. Then the quality thing came in... They sent their art directors here to train the designers at the production factories of books that were proliferating," Kaushik told IANS.

The finished products were printed either in India or China.

"Usually normal paperback and hardback books are published in India and children's books in China because publishing children's book needs stringent quality checks. The cost of printing books in China is encouraging as well," Kaushik said.

He makes his "export books" at his "production factory" in India and prints them in China.

India has the advantage of "low currency exchange rates and low labour costs", making prices of children's books viable in the international market", Rajiv Ahuja of Evergreen Books said. "The labour cost per capita is around US$200 compared to euro2,200 (nearly $2965.38) per head in Europe," Ahuja said.

His company exports education books to 120 CBSE schools in the Gulf and children's books in Hindi to The Netherlands, where non-profit groups are promoting Hindi among youngsters as a "foreign language", he said. The "people of Indian origin markets in the Carribbean and in Africa" are the emerging export hubs for India, Ahuja said.

In the early years, "there was not much movement in children's books in general publishing", says Neeraj Jain, managing director of Scholastic India, a leading publisher of children's books.

"It is not about the cost any more. Buyers are choosy. They look for a fun format so that the child might be attracted to the book. The focus is on visual quality and presentation," Jain said.

Export of education, activity, hobby books with digital, pop-up aids and mind games have kept publishers like Little Pearl Books, MBD Group, V.K. Global Publications and hundreds of middle-rung children's publishers above the red in a crowded market, where there are nearly 60,000 big and small publishers, across categories.

The National Book Trust, the apex body of publishing in the country that publishes in 30 languages, exports books - mostly education and children's books - to more than 100 countries, NBT director M.A. Sikandar said.

"The international market for children's books is a huge market. It opened up for us two years ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where we realised the potential for children's books published in India," said Madhu Magon of Little Pearl Books.

Her company's strengths of "pop-up, activity and colouring books for toddlers" have ready markets in Hong Kong and Thailand.

Radhika Menon, managing editor of Tulika Publications, believes that the interest in the international market in India and things Indian - from food, fashion, films to IT and business services - has also created a lot of interest in books by Indian authors.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be reached at madhu.c@ians.in)

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