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‘Why tying up with Sage Publications was the best idea I have had’

The publisher of the independent Yoda Press explains why an alliance with a large publisher was necessary.

Ever since the announcement at the end of last month about the new Sage-YODA PRESS joint imprint, I have been asked several times if YODA PRESS will remain independent after this move. It is a valid concern. After all, currently the book trade in India is characterised by mergers and sell-outs. Who’s to say that my decision to play ball with Sage is not more of the same?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the publishing veteran Andre Schiffrin when he was visiting India. He came to my then bookstore YODAKIN, and also had a look at the YODA PRESS list. During an animated discussion afterwards about the future of publishing he said he was aghast that there were no systematic governmental initiatives in place in India to support indie publishing lists like mine. I remember him saying that the only way to survive in such a situation would be to tie up with a larger entity, an institution, or even a like-minded large publisher. Because, survive we must.

Now in India, the like-mindedness of entities in publishing is often determined by whether they are big or small. Even more so in the world of pure trade publishing, where the logistics and necessity of mass-market appeal often overshadow the best intentions of the most nuanced editors.

I speak from experience, having worked with such behemoths in my pre-indie avatar. Yet, perhaps it is a matter of time before the larger entities realise that “harnessing the capital” of the indie list might have lasting value, i.e., it might create lists which have a long life and endless potential to find newer generations of readers. To collaborate with a few such high-quality indie lists might give your list the edge that sets it apart from many other twin juggernauts.

Why the small guy need the big guy, and vice versa

For me, Sage is that partner-behemoth. A large entity with a global presence which has worked out the value of collaborating with a small, edgy list in a way that it can only gain, while the list too thrives. As for us at YODA PRESS, it buoys us into becoming more professional, while allowing us more elbow-room to continue doing what we do best, while being even more experimental with the part of the list that continues under our own colophon.

What does that mean in terms of detail? Our academic volumes and non-fiction titles will now be part of a global distribution network, which will give them the visibility and discoverability they have always deserved. In the meantime, we hope to continue experimenting with formats like narrative non-fiction, graphic books, poetry and new kinds of young adult writing under our colophon, while also inaugurating a literary fiction list early next year.

Equally importantly, I shall be able to pay my fellow editors better salaries and perhaps even hire in the near future. In other words, I shall finally be able to lay important bricks in the foundation for the future of our list which were missing till now.

I have heard senior professionals at the head of big publishing brands talk about how continuing to publish mass-market bestsellers in commercial fiction allows them to then publish the more literary works on their list. Ours being a tiny list, where every title is a labour of love, the logic of that arrangement does not quite hold water. On the other hand, however, it is this tie-up with Sage which will now allow us to keep our fiercely independent and original list alive. Isn’t that a good idea?

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