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Why Digitization of Regional Literature is Essential Linguistic variety adds richness to the Indian culture, with every region having highly developed literary legacies.

By Apurva Ashar

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India is currently the most linguistically varied country in the world. The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India recognizes 18 official regional languages in India with a developed script and literary tradition, along with "1576 rationalized mother tongues' or dialects. Linguistic variety adds richness to the Indian culture, with every region having highly developed literary legacies.

Regional literature in India – novels, poetry, short stories, folk tales, regional alterations of the great epics stand testimonial to mankind's finest creation. Unfortunately, when it comes to unified awareness, such literature has limited recall. This can be contributed to the diversity in dialect- with linguistic shortcomings handicapping the dissemination of these stories. There is a huge potential needing to be capitalized, with the rest of the world already being fascinated by India's exotic culture. These literatures educate foreign residents on Indian life– its values, its people and its richness.

The Indian publishing industry can be divided into two segments- English language publishers and regional language publishers. While English publishers such as Penguin, HarperCollins, and Sage have majority of the publishing pie, the regional language publishers are slowly gaining grounds. The energetic publishing industry is on an upward hike and is registering a growth of 20% year on year , with digital being one of the leading contributors to the progress of industry

The popularity of e-books continues to grow at a rapid pace, thanks to the many e-book platforms and the new reading devices infiltrating the market. The multitude of options, the ease of purchasing and downloading

e-books, and the lower costs of e-books are making them attractive to the Indian reader, especially the younger generations. Yet, the monopoly remains skewed heavily on English language publications. This can be contributed to the fact that there are not many amenities to support the publication of regional literature on digital platforms.

India may be on its way to becoming one of the leading cosmopolitan cities in the world, yet it has a wide base for consumption of regional literature. Indians, by nature, take immense pride in their regions and that pride reflects in their affinity for their regional literature.By concentrating on English language alone, e-publishers and sellers would lose out on this huge market of literature loving Indians, who are getting alienated due to lack of choices in digital. Efforts are being made to reach out to this audience, through gradual inclusion of regional language books in eBook platforms. Emergence of new e-readers and e-book apps that can accommodate content in one or more of the 25 plus Indian regional languages are facilitating this rise .

Here are a few ways where digitization facilitates both regional content and platforms

  • Archiving and preserving the rich literature- Books are often subjected to wear and tear, with time, amounting to great loss in terms of literature. Since eBooks have no physical entity, restoration and preservation is much easier.
  • Bringing the youth closer to their mother tongue- The youth are estranged from their mother-tongue, opting for e-books in English instead. eBooks would help regional dialects gain popularity amongst youth, promoting consumption of books in native language.
  • Empowering independent authors of regional languages and small publishing houses as well by taking their work to a larger audience through a digital platform- It is a common misconception that digital publishing is for the affluent and well-placed publishing houses. Digital publishing is an affordable option as compared to print publishing and the inclusion of regional literature would leverage the power towards the small publishing houses, while ensuring visibility.
  • Inclusive Publishing: Making literature available to people with reading and intellectual disabilities- Often, disabilities rob the joy of reading, from those who are affected. Also, linguistic barriers prevent people from getting access to a host of literature. eBooks in regional language comes as a boon, aiding these readers to embrace reading as a part of their daily lives.
  • Decreasing the cost of publishing-As mentioned above, digital publishing is economical as compared to print publishing, saving a lot of expenditure along with resources. This is a beneficial option for small publishers, with limited capital as they get a better outcome from spending less.
  • Making the data searchable, extractable and shareable – Digitization of regional content makes it seamlessly searchable and sharable, ensuring greater visibility. It can be extracted from any supported platform, making the entire operation flexible.

The main onus of literature is to enlighten people while breaking barriers and stereotypes. The beauty of Indian literature is in its rich imaginative fluency. Through eBooks in regional literature, such a world is possible, where our folklore is vouched by people who haven't even visited the country yet.

Apurva Ashar

Executive Director, ePUB-Hub

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