Seven cool publishers of India…Some you’ve perhaps never heard of

How does one choose seven cool publishers of India—from a sea of the subcontinent’s massive crop, where over 19,000 publishers publish books in the 24 official languages and others?When setting out to compile such a list, we wondered: if cool is a euphemism for bestsellers, or popularity, or youthful spirit, or just being different, then the category must be about something more. If ‘publisher’ is understood to be a glorified printing-distribution service-provider whose p

25 May 2015 | By Vinutha Mallya

The Mavericks

Blaft Publications, Chennai
With one of the most eclectic lists for any publishing house—which includes pulp translated from Tamil, experimental work, crime fiction translated from Urdu, sci-fi writing, folktales, graphic novels, and even a Nigerian soyayya fiction translated from Hausa language—Blaft has brought seemingly random pieces of work from hither and tither into our popular imagination. When seen together, Blaft’s list shows us what we miss out when we don’t read in the languages other than English. 

Adivaani, Kolkata

This new publishing house has a simple yet powerful idea: to give a home to Adivasis’ writing about and documenting their worlds. India is home to more than 84 million Adivasis, ‘Indigenous’ Peoples, but almost everything written about them has been by mainstream historians. Often, their tribal lifestyles are romanticised, their oral traditions sidelined, and their struggles have been denied notice in the race to industrialise. Since its inception in 2013, Adivaani has published illustrated stories, folktales, research, reportage and compilations—in Santhali, English and Hindi. With their books now available through Amazon and Flipkart, readers have access to their pioneering work.   

The Believers

Poetrywala (an imprint of Paperwall Media & Publishing), Mumbai

It is a common refrain of the publishing industry that poetry does not “sell”, which is why many publishers avoid poetry. About fifteen years ago, the Mumbai-based poet, Himant Divate, decided to change that narrative, by publishing the poetry collections of many renowned and new poets. And he has been able to sell poetry books, with modest profit! Poetrywala has published the works of the late Dilip Chitre, Vilas Sarang, Hemant Divate himself, and Sachin Ketkar, in Marathi as well as in English translation. It has published younger poets in English, in translation from other Indian languages, as well as works of international poets. The impressive cover art of many of their titles are the final blow to the myth that poetry is not an attractive proposition.

Campfire (an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media), New Delhi

Campfire’s success story is not just in its impressive and award-winning list of graphic novels spanning mythological stories, classics and biographies of great personalities. Campfire’s titles are in great demand in India and also in the US, especially the classics. Their titles are also being distributed in other Anglophone countries—a solid achievement. Since its early days, the publishing company did well by investing in creative consultants with an understanding of Western comics segment and those markets. They helped direct editorial, marketing and rights sales functions. This legacy, and a good in-house team of artists, seems to have given Campfire its market success.


Tulika Books, Chennai

Having carved a niche in producing picture books for Indian children since they started out in 1996, Tulika’s multilingual books are a model for publishing children’s books. Their focus on producing picture books in English and other Indian languages—Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali—makes books accessible to many children in the language of their choice. With persistence, Tulika has waded out into the unpredictable market of multilingual books. Their pioneering efforts at creating books rooted in the multilingual and multicultural contexts of India have also helped bring together varied styles of Indian illustrations.  

The Pathfinders

Kali for Women, New Delhi

Regarded as India’s first feminist publishing house, dedicated to publishing on and for women, Kali for Women was a radical idea when it was set up in 1984. With very little capital at hand, the founders wanted to publish what women wrote, not just in the academic sphere, but which voiced their personal stories and worldviews. The publishing house published some pathbreaking books before the founders parted ways in 2003 to create two new companies to carry forward that legacy: Women Unlimited and Zubaan. They each continue to publish feminist books—academic, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, biographies, children’s books and books for young adults. 

Sahitya Parvarthaka Cooperative Society, Kottayam
The first and highly successful cooperative society of writers in India, it was set up to publish books. Launched in 1945, the society brought to readers many of the best contemporary writings from Kerala. Founded by a group of literary enthusiasts, the society transformed publishing activity in the state, and it became a platform for both, the renowned and new writers. A network of bookstores (National Book Stall) complemented the effort. Novels, poetry, short story anthologies, and children’s books have been published by SPCS. Works by great writers like Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Basheer, OV Vijayan, Kamala Das and others found a home here. SPCS supplemented the efforts of Kerala’s rural library network by providing good quality, low-priced books to reader.
By laying emphasis on high author royalties (30–35%), the SPCS also presented a revolutionary model of publishing by putting the author at the centre and enabling them to make writing their livelihood. Although several new publishing houses in Kerala have overtaken it today, SPCS occupies a pride of place in the growth of publishing in India.