Sometimes competition can be a good thing; it can lead to innovation. Take the publishing industry, for example. As physical books face mounting competition from their digital counterparts (ebooks), publishers are finding ways to make physical books look more enticing. Content is one thing, but printed books are now being marketed as collector’s items. The ‘Meerut model’ of cheap pulp publication, where you buy a cheaply printed book, read it and sell in the ‘raddi’, is now passé. Indian book printers (especially in English language publication) are now waking up to the international standards of book printing, be it the choice of paper size and weight, or how the book is bound and presented, including the choice of fonts and colour.
The Western trend of printing a Collectors’ Edition of a bestseller is also catching on. For example, in 2013, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Amitav Ghosh’s landmark novel, The Shadow Lines, Penguin India printed a limited Collectors’ Edition, which came in a brand new cover and a slip case.
There have also been attempts to market a book as part of a multimedia collection. For example, music composer Shantanu Moitra’s book, On the Wings of Music: A Journey, published by HarperCollins India in 2014, also comes with a compact disc of songs composed by Moitra.
Yet, content aside, the most important aspect of a book remains the cover. It is the first thing a reader notices, whether in a bookshop or in an online retail store. Also, a good book needs a good cover to differentiate it from the other books in the market. The cover is the window to the interiors of a book.
In case of a physical book, the cover should not only look good, it should also have great tactile appeal, in terms of the paper used, and so on.
While we cannot honestly conclude that book printing in India as a whole has reach the statures where it can compete with the international standards, there are individual big-name players who are producing consistently stellar works, both in terms of quality production and innovation. Thus, it is not a surprise that printers like Replika Press, Repro India, and Thomson Press, beside local customers, have also attracted a sizable global customer base.
Closer home, in the last few years, a reasonably young publishing house, Aleph Book Company, helmed by David Davidar, has produced books with striking production value, from the size of the books to ingenious cover arts to selection of quality paper, not only for paperback and dust covers, but also the paper for inside pages. The credit for this also must go to Haryana-based Replika Press, which, over the years, has shown commitment to consistent quality. Most books from Aleph are printed by Replika.
While he stresses on the fact that content is the most important aspect of a book, especially for a publisher of children’s books, Apurv Garg, director, Brijbasi Art Press, one of the country’s biggest publishers of children’s books, reiterates that the cover of a book is commercially the most important aspect of the book. So, care must be taken to make it eye-catching. “We use various finishes, including glitters, abrasive varnish, foil (sparkle or regular), matt and gloss covers or spot UV, holographic lamination, emboss and de-emboss, die-cuts, fluorescent and sometimes combinations of this,” says Garg.
He adds, “We are sure of our content, and to be sure the child picks up the correct book for him/her, we make the covers attractive so they don’t miss out the best content!”
This seems to be the general consensus among publishers and printers. A good book must have a good cover.
We talked to the people in the know about book covers they liked the best in 2014.
Among international titles, Divya Dubey, publisher of Earth Lamp Journal, an online literary magazine, likes the cover of Japanese master Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, for its “minimalist, realistic, fantastic cover.”
Among Indian titles, Dubey likes Mirza Waheed’s second novel set in the turbulent times in Kashmir, The Book of Gold Leaves, which, Dubey says, “is eye-catching without being too loud.” Interestingly, the cover image is a detail from the artwork by the author’s great-grandfather Mirza Ali. The book has been published by Penguin India.
Dubey also likes the 20th Anniversary Edition of Vikram Seth’s The Suitable Boy, published by Aleph, which features three parrots in flight against a worn out old wall, which according to Dubey, is “very appealing.” The cover photograph was by Varanasi-based photographer Laurent Goldstein.
Aleph also published Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s novel on the Santhal community in Jharkand, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey. Printed by Replika, the cover in yellow and green, inspired by calligraphy strokes, is also one of the most artfully designed covers printed last year.
Shekhar, the author of the book, on the other hand, likes the cover of Kathmandu-based author Prawin Adhikari’s collection of stories, The Vanishing Act. “Of the books I read in 2014, I found the cover of this book quite intriguing,” says Shekhar. “The cover shows a person drowning in water and struggling for life. Perhaps this drowning is the vanishing act the author wishes to tell us about. Perhaps it is something else. Many questions arose in my mind after I saw this cover.”
Published by Rupa, the cover was designed by Maithili Doshi Aphale.
Pune-based author Sucharita Dutta-Asane likes the cover of Kaushik Barua’s novel Wind Horse, published by HarperCollins. “The cover appealed to me for aesthetic and thematic reasons,” says Dutta-Asane. “The book is about a small group of Tibetans who set up an armed resistance against their occupiers. It is about a war that is still going on, in minds and on the ground too. Obviously, the theme involves a degree of bleakness. The cover captures and presents this bleakness and is very evocative. The title in red against this bleak background resonates with the book’s central theme and images--of a mythical hope countered by the gloom of reality.”
(This feature was first published in PrintWeek India, 10 April 2015.)