Pratham Books, led by Rohini Nilekani, is making books available to poor children in their native tongue and at prices they can afford.
There are over 300 million children in India, but only 25 million children’s books are published every year. The United Kingdom, in contrast, has about 12 million children, but publishes 60 million children’s books.
What is the reason for the large gap? Why are so few children’s books published here?
Set aside the cultural reasons, one big factor is that most children’s books are priced beyond the reach of a majority of children.
And it is here that Pratham Books is making a difference. A non-profit trust that publishes high-quality books for children in multiple Indian languages at affordable prices, Pratham Books was set up in 2004. Rohini Nilekani, philanthropist and wife of Aadhar chief Nandan Nilekani, is its chairperson, and provides a book development and working capital grant of about Rs 1 crore per annum. The publisher organised its first literary meet in the city yesterday, with participation from authors, illustrators and translators of children’s books.
“A book in every child’s hand” is Pratham Books’ mission and it has evolved a unique, high-volume business model to fulfil it. All Pratham Books’ titles have an average print run of 12,500 copies. And since it is difficult to sell that many books in a single language, the same title is printed in multiple vernacular languages — and all sold for Rs 25 or less.
Pratham Books works with state governments to reach all corners of the country. For instance, it made use of the Bihar government’s Bodhi Vriksha Karyakram, a programme to improve reading levels in all grades in schools, last year. It took part in ‘Pustak Melas’ in 37 districts between November 2008 and January 2009, where schools bought books for their students. The programme reached no less than 6 million children in over 70,000 government schools.
“Pratham Books has a readership of 14 million. We expect that to double by the end of the year. We have reached 19 states, 10,000 libraries and 100,000 schools,” says managing trustee Suzanne Singh. Until now, Pratham Books has shipped 7 million books, 8.5 million story cards, published 200 titles and 1,500 books; most of its titles are in a minimum of five languages and a maximum of 11. It has worked with 50 illustrators and 80 authors. Last year, it posted net sales of Rs 1.21 crore.
Pratham Books has had to think out of the box to keep costs down while it builds scale. “We actively seek to collaborate with other publishers to co-create content,” says Singh.
It uses the Creative Commons model of licensing to copy, distribute and transmit works by multiple organisations, always attributing the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor. It has tie-ups with Young Zubaan, Orient Blackswan, Baumhaus Verlag, Magnum, Shabaviz — a publishing company from Teheran, the Nature Conservation Foundation, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Namgyal Institute of People with Disabilities, Dastakari Haat Samiti among others.
Besides, Pratham Books also has titles in Braille and audio books for the visually impaired children across the world.
It looks at unconventional distributional channels such as ITC’s Chaupal Sagar to make books available at district headquarters.