The business of publishing

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 16 September 2017

What is the Indian publishing industry up against? What are the changes that it has been battling? We get you a few answers...

Lohit Jagwani, Commissioning Editor, Penguin Random House
Ashok Chopra, Publisher of Hay House
Vishal Soni, CEO of Vishwakarma Publications
Akash Shah, Publisher of Jaico
Trisha Bora, Author and Commissioning editor of Juggernaut

At the recently-concluded literary event in the city, there was a panel discussion on ‘Shifting Paradigms in Publishing Industry’. And, no the ebook stores have not affected the ‘Indian Publishing Scene in English’, as we would all like to believe. The industry people say, “Books are still being read. It’s just the nature of selling that has changed.”

Here are a few pertinent questions and answers between the moderator of the session, Lohit Jagwani, and the panellists.

We begin with the most fascinating publishing story narrated by Jagwani.
In 1950s America, it was a very fragmented market. There were many, many publishers and booksellers who were doing very well for themselves. At that time, the corporates started to come in to acquire them. And, then came bookstore chains by big companies. They opened stores in malls and high area locations, where they had to have many people, which means they had to pay high rent. That meant, a lot of books had to come in and sold off very quickly. That was the time best-sellers came up and they became very important. Meanwhile, the independent bookstores also took a hit from the bookstore chain. So what was a very diversified market in the 1950s, became a very homogenised market. Twenty years later, everyone is trying the same thing.

Types of changes
a) There are changes which become a paradigm shift.
b) There are changes which are incremental.
c) And, then there are changes which become a paradigm shift in future.

What is a change? What is a paradigm shift?
When Apple came up with an iPhone, and Nokia, which had 90 per cent of the market then, thought it’s just a toy. Five years later, Nokia was dead. Smartphone was 80 per cent of the market. This is a paradigm shift.

What have been the paradigm shifts in publishing in India?
Chopra: I would divide the Indian publishing scene in English into two sections: 1985 and beyond 1985. The biggest change was that a young chap came in, trained in UK, by the name, David Davidar. And, he changed the entire scenario by setting up Penguin House, a very professional house. A lot of foreign publishers came in thereafter.
Till then, there were a lot of Indian publishers and there were Macmilan and Oxford who concentrated on academics.

The old publishing houses that are still very active include Jaico and Rupa.

Indian publishing industry was always a one- man show.

Which was the more significant change — the entry of Amazon, Flipkart or the foreign publishers?
Shah: Definitely, the international publishers coming into India was a significant change. I could feel that, because we were a family run business. Now we are professionally run. Only one or two from the family are now a part of the business.

In the wake of foreign publishers, we have had to raise standards, forcing everyone in a good way, to move to the next level. That has been a more important change.

The e-companies have changed the industry. Books are still selling, the nature of selling has changed. As India is developing, the reading tastes have changed. In the last decade, we have seen so many more genres, sub-genres coming in.

Ebooks were supposed to be the paradigm shift, but now, revenuewise, there is only a percentage that they can take. So will the ebooks become the paradigm shift of future?
Bora: In terms of paradigm shift, ebooks will be a supplementary change. The print book will never die, because that is the ultimate form of publishing.

As far as revenue is concerned, it is increasing. For example, Juggernaut sales are increasing every quarter. For any mobile app or emedium, the demographic is usually between 18-27 year olds. We have had 400,000 downloads and 80,000 active users in one year, who fall under the ‘Young Indians’ age-group. These are big numbers in one year. It’s something to watch out for. It’s the new change.

So what is the young India reading?
Bora: Publishing houses, so far, have had to rely on Nielsen, or on other lists. But with Juggernaut app, we get a real time data, as the titles are being downloaded. We can track our readers — how old they are, what and when they are reading. In a year, we found that the most read category is non-fiction. And, it’s interesting to know that the young India is interested in reading non-fiction. The second most downloaded category is erotica.

How is the emedium affecting language publishing industry?
Soni: If I talk about Marathi publishing industry, there are many publishers who are not uploading their books on Amazon. They would rather give them to distributors. Those who have uploaded the books on ecommerce sites, are not able to manage their accounts. Vernacular publishers are generally not tech savvy. So only a few good distributors, who have younger generation managing the stores are tech savvy. They are selling online.

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