Amazon, which acquired Westland Books in 2017, announced on February 1, 2022 that it has decided to pull the plug on India’s largest homegrown publishing house. An Amazon spokesperson said, “After a thorough review, we have made the difficult decision to no longer operate Westland. We are working closely with the employees, authors, agents, and distribution partners on this transition and we remain committed to innovating for customers in India,” as reported by Mint Lounge.
The future of books published by Westland, the authors, and their rights is still unclear, but many of them will be going out of print at the end of the month.
While Amazon is silent about why they took this call abruptly, or what will happen to Westland employees and authors, the reading community has been anything but. The news has shaken everyone up, and brought to light the grim state of the market for books in India.
“Amazon may have owned Westland, but it was one of the few homegrown English language publishing companies in India. Questions will be raised about the decision to close down the company rather than sell it on. I hope that incredible backlist will survive in some form,” tweeted Nilanjana Roy.
“Westland is my publisher and did so much for me, taking a chance on a non-celeb author. The editors are the best in India and they brought out the best and most hardhitting non-fiction you will see on the shelves,” said Kavitha Rao, author of Lady Doctors.
What drove the decision?
Westland was the only non-MNC giant in India, whose turnover stood at a humble INR 30 crore, compared to the approximate INR 200 crores of the giant Penguin Random House. While speculations are also fuelled by the non-fiction titles published by Westland, implying a planned silencing of independent voices, insiders of the industry are compelled to believe that this was a financially driven decision.
What does the future look like for publishing in India?
It is no secret that the publishing business has been corporatised all over the world. Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Hachette, Simon and Schuster, and Macmillan are the ‘Big Five’ of publishing, and have acquired most independent publishers all over the world. As much as the conglomerates promise to keep the voice and ethos of the small fish intact when they acquire them, that rarely ever happens.
This creates a shortage of choice for readers and authors, and a lack of diversity in publishing, which is never a good thing.
Westland going down, however small a fish it may have been in the pond, eventually means a decrease in the competition for the publishing conglomerates, which isn’t good for readers who wish to read more and read more diversely.
Who is to blame?
While the discourse goes on about the book market in India and the consumption habits of Indians when it comes to reading, the only thing one can do at an individual level is to keep supporting independent publishers, buy from local publishers and bookstores, and actively seek more translated work and books written by individuals from minority communities.
As much as we romanticise publishing, it is still a business driven by numbers.
The titles at Westland Books were diverse and unique. The publishing house was home to many debut authors, and the editors nurtured writers and manuscripts into their best possible versions. Their titles included many translations of books from India’s regional languages, new and unique authors, and their stellar non-fiction list was research-driven and hard-hitting. Westland going down will create not only a gap in the Indian publishing market, but also an opportunity for bigger publishers to cash in on their loyal readership.
For the sake of readers and authors in India, we hope that this shift in the market will urge bigger publishers to create space for more voices that Westland did a great job of amplifying.