Around 65 years after it was established by the Indian government, the country’s national body of letters, the Sahitya Akademi, is going online to boost sales of its books published in 24 languages.
On Jan. 20, the Akademi will begin selling its books on Amazon in both print and, eventually, electronic versions.
“By March 31, 2019, we plan to sell 100 English and 50 Tamil titles. Hindi will follow soon. Our target is to sell at least 750 Akademi publications in different languages,” K Sreenivasa Rao, secretary of the Sahitya Akademi, told The Hindustan Times newspaper. “By mid 2020, we plan to launch about 100 electronic books in partnership with the Amazon.” Rao did not immediately respond to Quartz’s questions at the time of publishing.
The Sahitya Akademi was established on March 12, 1954, to promote writing in India. Besides holding seminars and lectures, and presenting prestigious literary awards, it also publishes books in the 22 Indian languages listed in the country’s constitution, as well as in English and Rajasthani. As the only publisher to do this in so many languages, it has built up a massive catalogue of novels, poetry, monographs, anthologies, and more over the years.
But regional-language works have struggled to get the same attention that English books receive in India, hampered particularly by difficulties in distribution (paywall). As a result, writers working in regional languages often struggle to make their work commercially viable. Even some Sahitya Akademi award-winners haven’t been able to rely on writing alone to make ends meet.
So going online could make a huge difference in the availability and accessibility of translated writing across India.
“I think this is a great move because Sahitya Akademi has been publishing so many very good books for a
long time, but unfortunately they had failed to reach the real readers,” KR Meera, who writes in Malayalam, told Quartz. “I’m always disappointed that the translations from other regional languages fail to reach us,” she added.
By tying up with Amazon, the Sahitya Akademi can overcome its distribution troubles. The American e-commerce giant has been going all out to deliver goods to every corner of India, using everything from motorcycles to boats to get to Himalayan towns (paywall) and remote islands. Its massive distribution network could certainly help in making the Akademi’s books in Indian regional languages more widely available across the country.
India’s surging smartphone sales and improving internet access mean there’s also lots of room to grow for e-books in regional languages, which are already selling widely on Amazon. By 2021, India is expected to have over 500 million regional-language internet (pdf) users by 2021, according to a report by KPMG India and Google. That means there will be a sizeable audience looking for more online content in languages beyond English and Hindi. With the Akademi’s works on offer, they will soon have much more to choose from.