Print may be dying, if you believe everything you read, but books are very much alive and will continue giving readers profound pleasure even as technology partakes in a hostile takeover. The love for books, the priceless and timeless value of a document that’s shelved and preserved in a well-polished, vintage bookshelf instead of an impersonal word file, is what drew Kiran Aman to them.
Ten years ago she put her lifelong love and passion for books into Markings, Pakistan’s first and only independent publishing house of its kind that aimed to immortalize people, places, ideas and stories that were going untold. She started at a time when people weren’t buying books, she remembers in this conversation with Something Haute; she could not have predicted the time she’s witnessing today, when people come to her, wanting to charter their stories into chapters.
Developing a book can be compared to making a film, each chapter evolving just like scenes that come together like links in a chain. The behind the scenes movement and concept development is just as chaotic, filled with deadlines, and the desire for perfection.
Bookmaking is viewed as an art form, but in reality it is a group of multiple people, working on various angles to get one 300-page chronicle, with an eye-catching cover, to hit the shelves. A publisher, to this effect, is much like the director and producer of a movie. The book-making process entails concept development, production, imagery, photography, writing and re-writing, editing (both images and text), proofreading, layout and design (which really is the make or break of a good coffee table book), and lastly, quality printing and binding.
“When I started the business, I told myself that I’ll publish books for people and their passion,” Kiran shared, taking us through the journey. “Back then there was no market for coffee table books in Pakistan and in a whole year we’d sell maybe 400 copies, which is not the case today. We also decided to develop books for corporates and whatever money came from corporates, we would put into publishing artists.”
Amean J’s BHV Zoo was one of Markings’ first books and people loved it. It was all about animals and the texture, the feel, the corduroy cover all contributed to elevating its experience. Markings then published Dou Rukh with Arif Mehmood, a pictorial delight that offered two unseen sides to people already in the public eye. Mrs. Azra’s book was Markings’ first cookbook, and the beginning of a series of award winning culinary books that the publishing house would take pride in.
“After we did Mrs. Azra’s cookbook, the vision was that other cook books would come to us and that’s exactly what happened,” Kiran remembers. “HUM TV and Unilever were our first corporate clients. We’ve worked with Hum for seven years and we did Glam and all their publishing titles. We developed books documenting the Bridal Couture Week; we even did books for their Masala channel.”
“Markings started with Markings Publishing, which is where we publish people,” Kiran explained the structure of the business. “So you come to us, if we love your work, we invest in you and you get royalty, like all publishers give. That’s Markings Publishing. We’ve also worked hard on developing Markings Corporate, which is for brands coming to us for books documenting their ethos. We did Tapulicious for Magnum, for example. Coke Studio came to us in 2013 and the rest is history.”
Gradually, Markings developed its own unique identity, with four strong divisions. Markings Publishing gives a voice and platform to aspiring authors while Markings Corporate help brands express, document and immortalize their ethos and legacy. Markings Khudi aims to publish books in Urdu and Roman Urdu for those who love the language while Markings Private evolves beyond books and helps push ideas into any form of publishing art, be it magazines, catalogues etc.
Why are brands suddenly so interested in investing in books?
“They want to document what they do. For example, they don’t document the Magnum ads, they want to document what Magnum stands for, which is high-end luxury. It’s a very inexpensive brand activation for them and it has a very long shelf life.”
Simply put, a book is forever. This is precisely why people were now investing in developing books as family heirlooms, Kiran further shared. Families like the Habib Group were investing in documenting themselves for future generations. Corporate books, she said, served a great purpose as giveaways.
What went into developing a book for Markings Corporate, for example?
“It varies from client to client,” Kiran began explaining. “Tapu Javeri was brand ambassador for Magnum when we developed Tapulicious, so the brand sponsored it. In that case it was his idea. For HUM TV, we developed books for each of their celebrity chefs. They gave us the recipes, we thought of the treatment and styling and that was the challenge. Each chef had to be treated differently; each book had to reflect the personality of the chef. Chef Gulzar is a bit flamboyant so his book is orange. Shireen Anwar is pink. The food and its photography had to be distinct. Every chef in Pakistan has a biriyani recipe and our challenge was to style all biriyanis uniquely!
“ Some clients come with a concept but most want us to develop their concept,” she spoke about the creative process. “For instance, we came up with the name, Sound of the Nation, for 5 years of Coke Studio. That then became the name of the entire show. We added rhythm, texture and harmony of Pakistan to the Coke Studio books. They became a signature product.”
Concept, creation and development varied from book to book, and could take anywhere from six months to two years, Kiran furthered. One of Markings’ most ambitious projects was Drops of the Divine for Nestle, which covered the milk industry of Pakistan. An entire Markings team went and lived at a Nestle production facility to get an authentic feel and flavor for the book.
“When we are in the development stages of a book, we completely immerse ourselves in the project. For example, when the team was working on the Coke Studio book, we were constantly listening to songs from Coke Studio to get us in the mood and be able to get a feel of the essence of the show we were to be documenting,” says Tuba Arshad, Creative Manager at Markings.
Tuba, who has been with Markings for ten years, adds, “Kiran and I have always been on the same page with regards to Markings’ vision. It has always been about showcasing Pakistan and putting a positive image out there. We encourage our team to think outside the box and break rules if they have to, all while understanding the person or brand. Every time we work on something, it has to be something new in terms of layout, design and writing so that it doesn’t become monotonous. We are very critical of our own work.”
Countless titles, global recognition and three prestigious Gourmand Awards later, Kiran is delighted for having faith in her vision. She cannot contain her joy when she speaks of having seen Pakistan’s book culture turn around in a decade. She started at a time when not more than 200 Markings books would sell a year. Today they’re sold out even before a title is launched; it appears on the website and gets picked up and has be put in reprint.
“The entire reason I ventured into this business and opened Markings is because I was very disheartened when I wanted to publish the book Revived. No publisher was willing to take on this project. They questioned me, asking me who would buy my book. And thereon, I knew I had to build or create a culture for people to buy into this world of books.”
“Everyone in the world should have a book,” she concludes, with as much passion as she began with. “I know for a fact that the generation that needs to hold a book exists today. I know that with everything being digital, there is a novelty in books that wasn’t there before.”