May 6, 2019

Hindi pulp fiction keeps its fan base, despite recent publishing trends

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Stacks of Hindi pulp fiction novels line a railway station | Photo by Manojkhurana, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

While Melville House has gained a reputation for printing high-quality versions of some of the most important public documents of the last twenty years, with our printing of The Mueller Report, we’ve entered new territory: It’s our first mass-market version, designed for easy accessibility and portability, the way all information should be.

That being said, it’s encouraging to see how publishers throughout the world confront the current state of publishing, and what they’re willing to hold onto for the sake of a good book.

Take India’s recent re-focus on Hindi pulp fiction! Over at Verve Magazine, Huzan Tata offers a deep dive into its history and how a new publisher reconnected fans with the works of the genre’s most well-known writers.

Tata spoke with Minakshi Thakur, the former head of Hindi Publishing Programme at HarperCollins in New Delhi, about the appeal pulp fiction has for readers in Hindi throughout India, and what the obstacles were to bringing back the mass-market reader.

To Thakur, readers of Hindi pulp fiction never really went away, but the shifting stresses on publishing in a modern world made accessibility and cost a problem. She says,

“These works were traditionally printed cheaply on newsprint. The idea was to read and move on; use and throw. So the prices had to be low. Over time, the whole model underwent a change. Publishers could no longer afford to sell books at 40 and 50 rupees. Most of the paper we use now is imported. India doesn’t produce a lot of its own paper, so printing costs are high. Besides, publishing houses have editors whose salaries have to be accounted for. This was hardly the case before in the Hindi publishing world. So prices have gone up at least six times.”

But her recent acquisition of one of the genre’s biggest writers, crime fiction writer Surender Mohan Pathak, proved there was still a hunger. In the first year of the release of his book The Colaba Conspiracy, over 25,000 copies were sold.

What’s most interesting is the near inflexibility of the fans of this genre, in regards to language. According to Thakur, English was on the rise right when some of these forms of books were on the decline, partly because of the country’s need for well-versed English speakers.

What Thakur noticed, however, was how devoted fans of pulp fiction in her home country really were.

“We tried [publishing in English], but the books sold in small numbers. That may also be because there has never been a strong culture of crime writing in English in India; and also, the translations of Hindi pulp may have seemed derivative to readers—they were after all inspired by international crime fiction. Why I was confident they would sell in Hindi: they were just great page-turners and the writers have devoted fan bases.”

 

 

Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.

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