But Manushyaputhiran feels publishing has a long way to go. “It’s a dream of mine to bring out children’s books, not just translations of Superman. But attractive colour panels and good quality paper require heavy investment, and huge sales to get returns. And parents whose children want Tamil comics won’t spend Rs. 100 on a children’s book.”

The Impact of Technology

At some point, the talk turns, inevitably, to technology and new media. Manushyaputhiran says several of his finds have come through blogs and Internet articles. “I run an online magazine, too, called Uyirosai, and make it a point to publish young writers (who use the Internet) either in that, or in Uyirmmai magazine itself.

“But the Internet also has a downside. There’s a very small market for serious literature, and while readers have gone up, the buyers haven’t. When so much is available online for free, why would they buy the books?”

Abilash notes another trend. “Tamil writers have been very quick to get online,” he says, “Most have their own websites, and the rest blog regularly. You see this a lot less among Hindi and Malayalam writers. All of Charu Nivedita’s articles are up on the Internet. And perhaps because of the Sri Lankan Diaspora, you see clicks from various countries for Tamil blogs. The reach has grown tremendously.”

Online book stores do decent business selling Tamil books. “This boom calls for a lot of innovation from the writer,” Ramakrishnan says. “I adapt my books to whatever technology comes in. I’ve got several books ready in eBook format, and from January, they should be available on iPhone through an app. Within a year, all my books will be available on Google Books. I’m redesigning my website, so people can place orders directly.”

Abilash feels this is not without problems. “Earlier, mainstream and literary writing were different. But over the past couple of years, literary novelists like S Ramakrishnan and J Mohan have begun to write for cinema. So people who look for entertainment and not erudition are familiar with them; they read them. But these people are not serious readers. They aspire to literature of this kind because it has clique value. They’re often not prepared for what they find.

“They make celebrities out of writers, and when they have access to these celebrities, they make demands. Now, an experienced writer with a level head knows what to accept and what to shrug off. But a more volatile writer may waver. When pulp readers turn to literature, he may want to cater to them. And his reader base may take him by surprise. Suddenly, you find 1,000 hits on your blog. You say something controversial, and the number hits 10,000.

“Sundarramaswamy, who died recently, once said it takes 40 years to build a reader base of 10,000. But when it happens overnight, how do you react?” he asks

But he agrees that technology has far more benefits than liabilities. “I met writer Ashokamitran a while back, and he was speaking about how he finds it hard to cross the road to post his stories. And it made me think about how simple the Internet has made things. You shoot off a soft copy through your mail in an instant. You can even type a story out on your mobile phone and send it across.”

He recognises the how far the web reaches. “The Internet has given us forums to discuss books, and access to a huge data bank. If someone commissions an article at 6 p.m. and asks me to send it in by 9 a.m., I can write a scholarly piece in the time. I can do research for my novels online. And when your work is up online, people hear of you faster.”

Abilash is clearly excited by e-publishing. “Amazon has brought in self-publishing in English. If that happens in Tamil, or if eBooks are popularised, publishers would save a lot on printing costs. And if we get affordable tablets that support Tamil, like Aakash, for example, buying capacity goes up, expenditure comes down, and writers will get decent royalties. The money that goes into production could be channelled into marketing. The risk of publishing a book becomes nonexistent. Of course, this is wishful thinking for now. But there have been several positive effects already.”

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Raja, 5 years ago

Its nice to read about my favorite writer Ramakrishnan. Thanks for your writing.


Kaber Vasuki, 4 years ago

This is a brilliant article. A lot of questions that I was curious about have been answered. Keep up the good work Fountain Ink

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