( It is a sad day indeed. Andre Schriffin, a publishing legend has passed away. I interviewed Andre Schriffin in 2011 when he came to India. At the time I interviewed him for BusinessWorld online. Here is the link: http://www.businessworld.in/news/economy/%18publishing-is-transforming%19/359818/page-1.html, published 11 Nov 2011. I am c&p the interview below as well. )
Paris-based publishing luminary Andre Schiffrin is renowned not necessarily for the writers he has published (Chomsky, Foucault, Hobsbawm, etc.), but also for his successful business models in publishing. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose caught up with him to discuss the present, past and future of books. Excerpts:
You have been in publishing for over 60 years now. How have things changed?
The role of the reader has always been important, but never as much as now, with the arrival of digital publishing and big chains. The challenges are mostly negative, especially for independent publishers. Google and Amazon are creating a monopoly, destroying the bookstore and the paperback. (E-books are as cheap as paperbacks.) With Amazon venturing into direct publishing, the future looks bleak for maintaining the publi-shing models of the past, where there was a stress on quality, and on nurturing new writers and thinkers. A good modern-day example worth emulating is what MIT is doing with its curriculum. It is an important model where the output is available for free.
Can you elaborate on the challenges, especially for independent publishing?
Publishing is a macrocosm of society. Publishers need to take a risk and experi-ment with ideas and authors. Unfortunately, more than ever before, there exists a market censorship. Big publishers are being selective and, at times, conservative about what they publish. Secondly, the political decision is paramount in helping independent publishers. For instance, in Germany fixed pricing of books or resale price maintenance is important as it keeps independent bookstores alive. Publi-shers and importers of books in German have to fix a price for each book published or imported. Fixed price means all retailers will initially offer a book for sale at the same price, in whatever period of the year.
A third challenge is distribution networks. A good distribution network is the key for their survival. For example, in France, over a thou-sand independent stores have come together to share information and help each other. This network works well. So, you can order a title at any bookshop and within 24 hours it is delive-red. Finally, the role of the author in suppor-ting the independent publisher is significant.
How do you look at social media and the spaces it allows?
I am not against technology, but social media spaces are limited. It is not always easy to locate and discover, and engage with opinion makers there. It is important to be printed, published and disseminated in the traditional manner. A recent example is Time For Outrage, written by 93-year-old Stephane Hessel. Published by a small French publisher in Montpellier, and priced at a mere e3 — it has sold over 3.5 million copies so far.
How have troubles in the US and the Eurozone impacted publishing?
Publishing in these territories is under-going a transformation. The growth of publishing firms is mainly due to M&As. But the most significant impact for Indian publi-shing is in the growth of printing. Publishers from these territories seek ways of being cost-effective, by outsourcing printing to India— and they have been doing so for a while now.
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 21-11-2011)