Helming a publishing project, let alone a publishing venture in India is a perpetual challenge. The readership is scant, variously unpredictable and hard to engage. Not because it necessarily demands quality, but because it demands things somewhere in the middle. Naturally, some of the best books published over the course of a year also sell the least. Consequently, publishing in India has become a game of multiples, where volume, quantity and scale, perhaps trumps everything else. Traditionally big publishing houses continue to flourish and set the agenda for the market. The collateral in all of this is nuance, publishing that pushes boundaries with anything other than subject or context. A small publishing initiative in Bengaluru, called Reliable Copy, founded by an artist and an editor, intends to change the way the business is approached.
Reliable Copy, currently a small initiative that founders Nihaal Faizal and Niharika Peri operate out of their apartments has a tinge of novelty to it. “It started with discussions around the limited space for artists to exhibit their work. I and Niharika had met a couple of years ago. She had just resigned as editor-in-chief of an arts magazine. We discussed for a long, long time and eventually decided to register the company as a non-profit,” Faizal, co-founder and practicing artist, says. After they registered the imprint, the duo sought a logo and an initial publishing list. “We wanted to change the way publishing is looked at. It is mostly about quantity, and not quality. And it is limited to printing, really. In the case of art, it is images in a book, with some text. But we want the published material to be the piece [of art] itself, not just a photo book that says things about an artist’s works,” Faizal says.
Reliable Copy’s nuanced approach to publishing is clearly visible in their first list that has three eclectic ongoing projects at the moment. One is an essay in both English and Kannada by artist Ravikumar Kashi who illuminates, through his photos and words, the hidden implications of evolving flex banners across Bengaluru city. The second is a digital file of photographs on demonetisation, by photographer Chinar Shah. The third is a sci-fi novel set in Beirut. Evidently, the list is no accident. “I knew of Kashi’s work for years. The sci-fi novel is a short story that I read and invited the author to expand on,” Faizal says. Asked if the list may eventually be too eclectic for its own good, considering how limited the reading base for anything new in India is Faizal says “All of these works speak of something relevant. Both the photo series and Kashi’s essay are hyper-local in focus. But we are open to other ideas as well,” Faizal says.
India’s Silicon Valley is not new to attempting to push the boundaries of traditional art. Pothi, a self-publishing venture based out of the city has been steadily gaining popularity. Its print-what-you-will model has its detractors, but that has not stopped people from democratising what eventually is committed to paper. Principally more cogent, Reliable Copy intents to stretch the conversation in another direction altogether. “We don’t want to be limited to the idea of publishing being just an ink to paper thing. We are open to ideas, but we don’t intend to compromise on quality,” Faizal says. The founders believe that anything within the realm of experience, be it digital files, audio tracks or even a playlist of songs, can be an act of publishing, as long as levels of quality and engagement are met.
Faizal and Peri’s venture is a small operation. While Peri operates a restaurant in the city, Faizal is a full-time practicing artist. The team constitutes three members only. “We don’t want to take on more numbers. We each have a project that we intend to concentrate on. Once we take up a project we then get another team onboard, for copyediting, design and so on. But as of now we just want to keep it small,” Faizal says. To keep the finances in check and manageable, Reliable Copy intends to publish only a reasonable number of editions as well. “We want the production value to be top notch, and we are paying each of the artists we are commissioning as well. That is where being non-profit helps us a bit,” Faizal adds. So far, Copy’s funds have depended on individual donors. Faizal and co hope that soon they can convince foundations to support their initiative.
Reliable Copy not only seeks to widen the spectrum of what can be considered publishable, but also the way it will go out to people. “For a digital file, the strategy has to be different, for an essay or a photo series the method to spread the word will be different. We will give each project, unique attention,” Faizal says. Copy’s first offering comes out in March. Its centralisation of the artist, the founders believe, is their motivation behind doing all of this. “We want to realise the artist’s vision,” Faizal says “which is why we don’t act as editors or publishers only, but engage with the artwork on a personal level, like a conversation.”
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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2019 12:39:00 IST