Chiki Sarkar Posts

A way ahead for words: Juggernaut

 

Chiki

(I interviewed Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath, co-founders of Juggernaut. As Chiki put it across so well, “Durga is part of the change and I am part of the continuity. The combo of us would be magic. She is the creative mind of business and I am the business side of creativity.” This interview was conducted with a face-to-face meeting with Chiki Sarkar at her office and with Durga, over the phone. It was published in the Hindu Sunday Magazine digitally on 3 Oct 2015 and in print on 4 Oct 2015. Here is the url to the link: http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/chiki-sarkar-and-durga-raghunath-talk-about-juggernaut-with-jaya-bhattacharji-rose/article7720019.ece?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication )Durga

The recently launched publishing firm, Juggernaut, hopes to take on the big players in the field. Its co-founders Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath talk about what’s in store.

The key investors in Juggernaut are Nandan Nilekani, William Bissell and Neeraj Aggarwal. Chiki Sarkar, previously publisher of Penguin India and founder-publisher of Random House India, has worked with every major writer in the country. Durga Raghunath, previously CEO, Network 18 Digital, led three news websites, a fin-tech site and mobile. She is also the founder of India’s first exclusively digital newsroom, Firstpost. Excerpts from an interview.

What is the focus of Juggernaut? What are the genres it will be publishing?

Chiki Sarkar: Our behaviour is the same as that of any great publisher but asking bold questions on the digital side.

Durga Raghunath: The good thing about mobile content is you cannot ignore your consumer. It has to be both short story and all genres that keep people coming back for, such as crime fiction and romance. These have to be very compelling reads. A beginner list will have a variety and also new authors to attract the committed book lover and the new reader — a young mobile user.

Who are the authors you will be publishing? 

CS&DR: We cannot say. It will be announced early next year.

What kind of manuscripts are you seeking?

CS: The ebooks we publish will be between 20,000 and 40,000 words.

DR: The length is overrated in book publishing. In non-fiction there are enough opportunities for things to be much shorter, so you will see different lengths — 5,000 to 15,000 words.

According to media reports, Juggernaut will explore phone book publishing. For what generation of phones will these be created?

DR: We will be catering to the Android and iOS platforms and targeting the top 10-12 devices. The smartphone devices market in India is approximately 159 million; we will target 10-12 million users in India. It will initially be in English moving to the vernacular in a few months. About 25 million people read news in India. Apparently 120 million have 3G on their phones. It implies you have to own a decent smartphone to be able to access it.

The user experience will be very unique. We will retain the consumer delight, but offer a lot more aided by technology. There are a lot of ways in which the internet can considerably reduce the gap between author and reader. It will be a confluence of various things. About 100 million people who transact on their mobile phones have given their credit and debit card details. People will not pay for news but will pay for books — a combination of information and knowledge. Also, Indian behaviour for digital consumption shows they are ready to pay and buy online as long as the price point is correct.

Who is Juggernaut’s customer? 

SivapriyaDR: In India we have an overwritten book market. The big thrill is to change the market. Big publishers are not to be feared. We will publish in the vernacular too. Some of the rich textured literature exists in the local languages. Hence, Sivapriya is a critical part of the team. We have three to four editors taking vernacular publishing. It will be big play for us. It will be about democratisation of publishing. It cannot be the privy of five big houses anymore, and to enable that we must have vernacular publishing. The idea is to launch a new language list every year.

How many books do you hope to publish in one year? Will all the paper books have a digital life? If so, will this also be true of all the ebooks published?

CS: Every book will have a digital life.

DR: The super set will be mobile and phone book publishing. The subset will be physical with an initial list of 50 titles per year. A lot of surprises will be in the app, available also on the web.

What is the technology and product strategy at Juggernaut? 

DR: The central mantra at Juggernaut is to give an author the best digital and physical platform, while inspiring the consumer to read and write. Given this is India, we will be extremely price sensitive. How can I get new users? How can I make it worth their while? The retention plan will always make the customer feel that Juggernaut has given them five times more than what they had expected. The relationship between the publisher and the author will be clearly redefined.

What is the publishing expertise and services that authors and readers can expect from Juggernaut which make it stand apart from traditional publishers?

DR: We will create custom formats similar to what Amazon did with Kindle. We will create .jug files. You cannot do these things cheaply, hence the focused funding exercise. There will be absolutely no shortcuts to anything.

CS&DR: The information will be super secure. We are investing in a secure DRM.

Book start-up markets are brutal. Many appear to fulfil an immediate need, usually work as a catalyst and then disappear. Even well-funded business have folded up as markets are saturated, margins wafer thin and consumption intense. What are the challenges that Juggernaut sees in the Indian market? 

DR: The Internet has created a certain behaviour. We are at that point, at the cusp, when people will give Juggernaut a shot by saying, “I will sample it.”

There will be many challenges in the future but we have been unable to focus on any since we have more solutions than problems right now.

3 October 2015

Akhil Sharma, “Family Life”

Akhil Sharma, “Family Life”

Before we came to America, I had never read a book just to read it. When I began doing so, at first, whatever I read seemed obviously a lie. If a book said a boy walked into a room, I was aware that there was no boy and there was no room. Still, I read so much that often I imagined myself in the book. (p.30)

I was always lost in a book, whether I was actually reading or imagining myself as a character. If bad things happened, like Birju developing pneumonia and having to wear an oxygen mask, I would think that soon I would be able to go back to my reading and then time would vanish and when I reentered the world, the difficult thing would be gone or changed. ( p.153)

Akhil Sharma, Family Lif eFamily Life is Akhil Sharma’s second novel. It took nearly a decade to write, but the wait has been well worth it. Family Life is about his family moving to America in mid-1970s. Unfortunately his brother with a promising future, hit his head n a swimming pool, and slipped in to a coma. This incident changed the life of the family.

It is a stunning novel. Not a spare word is used. The flashbacks  to their time spent in India are recorded faithfully, yet referred to in such a manner that an international reader would not get lost. For instance a description from his early days in America recounts how they received ads on coloured paper in their mailbox regularly. But “in India coloured paper could be sold to the recycler for more money than newsprint.” It is rare to find a writer of Indian origin who writes painfully accurately on what it means to be an Indian living in America. He captures the bewilderment and confusion marvellously and it is not necessarily having the god men visit them at home, in the hope of looking for a cure for his sick brother. It is in everyday life.

It is a pleasure to read Family Life since it tells a story, also observes and analyses in a matter-of-fact tone. Yet the clarity of writing, the manner in which it resonates with the reader, does not always mask the anguish and torment Akhil Sharma must have put himself through, to write this brilliant book. And then I read  this article he wrote in The New York Times, “The Trick of Life” where talks about the agonizing experience of writing this novel:     http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/opinion/sunday/the-trick-of-life.html .  Well it was worth it.

It is a novel worth reading.

Here are a few more related links:

9ihttp://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/97jan/9701fict/sharma.htm ( “Cosmopolitan”, short story, The Atlantic, 1997)

http://www.guernicamag.com/daily/akhil-sharma-when-despair-and-tenderness-collide/

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/04/book-review-podcast-akhil-sharmas-family-life/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/04/akhil-sharma-on-writing-family-life.html&mbid=social_twitter

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/01/this-week-in-fiction-akhil-sharma.html

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/tag/akhil-sharma/

http://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/blog/2014/4/tender-and-funny-em-family-life-em-by-akhil-sharma

On 20 June 2014, it was included in a list of the 54 best novels from India published by Brunch, Hindustan Times: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/brunch-stories/greatest-indian-novels-ever-part-i/article1-1231662.aspx The jury members were Amitava Kumar, Chiki Sarkar, David Davidar, Harish Trivedi, Jeet Thayil, Jerry Pinto, Ravi Singh and Sunil Sethi.

Akhil Sharma Family Life Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books India, New Delhi, 2014. Hb. pp. 240. Rs. 499 

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014

Siddharth Mukherjee, 27 April 2014Last night I attended a public lecture at the India International Centre, New Delhi. It was delivered by Siddharth Mukherjee entitled “First they came for Rushdie: Scientific Ambitions in an Age of Censorship”. It was organised by Penguin Books India to celebrate the occasion of Siddharth Mukherjee having received the Padma Shri.  He is a physician, scientist and writer. His book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. He is currently an assistant professor medicine at Columbia University in New York. Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Random House India, announced that her firm would be publishing his forthcoming book–on genes. Penguin invite

The lecture consisted of three distinct sections. He read out two papers. An essay, “The Perfect Last Days of Mr Sengupta”, published in Granta 124: Travel (http://www.granta.com/Archive/124/The-Perfect-Last-Days-of-Mr-Sengupta). It is about his visit to the Cancer centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences ( AIIMS) based in New Delhi, where he meets a terminally ill patient Mr Sengupta. A precisely written, sensitive and thought-provoking essay about mortality, disease, care giving, and death.

( L-R) Chiki Sarkar, Siddharth Mukherjee, Nirmala George and Jaya Bhattacharji RoseHe followed it up by reading an extract from an unpublished essay. ( I suspect it is from his forthcoming book.) It was about science, scientific thought and research, especially genetics, in Nazi Germany. In a measured manner, calmly Siddharth Mukherjee read out his paper. Not once did his voice waver while he patiently retold the well-known facts of medicine as practiced in Germany.  He talked about Berlin in 1931 and the close link between science and literature. He spoke of the Nazi scientists such as eugenicist Alfred Ploetz who coined the term Rassenhygiene or racial hygiene, Josef Mengel or the Angel of Death who was responsible for the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camps, physicist and Nobel Prize winner ( 1905) Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard who advocated “Deutsche Physik” as opposed to the ideas of “Jewish physics”, by which he meant chiefly the theories of Albert Einstein, including “the Jewish fraud” of relativity. He spoke of the influence many of these scientists had upon Hitler, even when he was in prison and he wrote of his admiration of them in Mein Kampf. He commented upon the close relationship between the legal wheels that were constantly turning to justify and legitimize these absurdly illogical “scientific” theories, resulting in the enactment of the anti-Jewish statutes called the Nuremberg Race Laws ( 5 Sept 1935) institutionalizing many of the racial theories prevalent in Nazi ideaology. He mentioned the establishment of the Aktion T4 or the euthanasia programme that led to the establishment of  extermination centres where inmates were gassed in carbon monoxide chambers. He cited examples and read out extracts of contemporary accounts by scientists and men of letters such as Christopher Isherwood, of how slowly German society was being slowly and steadily cleansed, sloughing of genetic detritus. He argued that there was sufficient evidence of how this young science propped up a totalitarian regime and the cycle was completed by producing junk science. He  documented the muzzling of free expression, books, media, radio, cabaret were slowly brought under Nazi doctrine. Music such as jazz and swing or the “negro noise” were stopped. There was a slow and methodical decimation of intellectual and cultural freedom. Audience at the Siddharth Mukherjee public lecture

The concluding part of the lecture, Siddharth Mukherjee cited the example of Salman Rushdie not being permitted to attend or even speak via satellite link at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. He received death threats. At the time three writers — Hari Kunzro, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil — tried reading out extracts from the banned text The Satanic Verses but were not permitted to do so. Instead they were advised to leave Jaipur immediately. At the time this episode was met by a “galacial silence” by the powers that be. It was as “all realism without magic”. Since then this kind of literary censorship, a capitulation to bullying, according to Siddharth Mukherjee has become a predictable pattern in Indian society. Wendy Doniger  is the latest victim of literary censorship. For Siddharth Mukherjee there is a symbiotic relationship between science and literature since they co-exist in the same ecosystem. “Science happens in the same fragile place where books happen and plays are enacted. You spoil the ecology of one, you tarnish the soil of the other.”

28 April 2014 

PRESS RELEASE: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE INDIA ANNOUNCES  PUBLISHING, SALES AND MARKETING APPOINTMENTS &  NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

PRESS RELEASE: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE INDIA ANNOUNCES PUBLISHING, SALES AND MARKETING APPOINTMENTS & NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

Penguin Random House

PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE INDIA ANNOUNCES

PUBLISHING, SALES AND MARKETING APPOINTMENTS &

NEW ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

 

New Delhi, 20 March 2014 – Penguin Random House India’s new publishing, sales and marketing leadership appointments and cross-company organizational structure were announced today by Gaurav Shrinagesh, Chief Executive Officer.  All changes will be effective 1st April 2014.  The company is a division of Penguin Random House, the world’s largest trade book publisher, which was established on 1 July 2013 with the merger worldwide of Penguin and Random House.

Chiki Sarkar, currently Publisher at Penguin Books India, has been appointed as Publisher, Penguin Random House India with overall responsibility for building the local publishing programme in both English and local languages.  Random House India’s first editor-in-chief in 2006, she moved to Penguin Books India in 2011 and has been instrumental in publishing many of the sub-continent’s finest writers including Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Suketu Mehta, Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri and Pankaj Mishra and has launched the careers of some of the best new talent such as Mohammed Hanif, Shehan Karunatilaka, Basharat Peer, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Aman Sethi.  She has recently been announced as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders, a community which assembles the world’s most outstanding next-generation leaders. Chiki will report to Penguin Random House India CEO Gaurav Shrinagesh.

Milee Ashwarya and Meru Gokhale have both been appointed to the role of Publishing Director, Penguin Random House India and will report to Chiki Sarkar.

In her new position Meru Gokhale, currently Editorial Director for Vintage, Random House India, will have direct responsibility for the prestigious Vintage India, Allen Lane, Hamish Hamilton, Viking and Classics publishing lists.  Meru has acquired, edited and published books by authors including Paulo Coelho, Kiran Desai, Jamil Ahmad, Sonia Faleiro, Tahmima Anam, Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Nadeem Aslam, Rahul Pandita, Basharat Peer and Mohammed Hanif. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Editorial Fellowship.

Presently Editorial Director for Ebury India and Random Business, Milee will oversee Ebury India, Random Business, Portfolio, Metro Reads, Shobhaa De Books and Penguin Ananda.  Milee joined Random House India in 2008 and has worked across all genres of publishing during her career. She has commissioned, acquired and published bestselling books including From XL to XS, Jugaad Innovation, Dhandha, the IIMA Business series, the MINT Business series and worked with authors including Payal Gidwani Tiwari, Deanne Panday, Cyrus Broacha, Sudeep Nagarkar, Suhel Seth, Preeti Shenoy and Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma.

Bringing focus to its children’s list, Hemali Sodhi will be taking on the newly created role of Director, Children’s for Penguin Random House India. During her time as Vice President Marketing and Communications, Penguin Books India, Hemali established Penguin as the foremost publishing brand in the country and in her new role she will have responsibility for growing the children’s local publishing program as well as the international list for the Indian market, along with product and brand development for children’s. The current children’s editorial, product and marketing teams will report to her. 

Hemali will retain her responsibility for Penguin’s Annual Lecture, Spring Fever and all CSR activity. In addition, Hemali will manage Corporate Communications for Penguin Books India for the foreseeable future. She will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh in all capacities.

Caroline Newbury, currently VP Marketing and Publicity Random House India, will take on the role of VP, Marketing and Corporate Communications for Penguin Random House India and will oversee all marketing, publicity, digital and corporate communications functions for the company. Caroline joined Random House India two years ago after more than a decade with the Ebury Publishing division, Random House UK.  She will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh.

Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO, Penguin Random House India, said:

Penguin Random House India is home to some of the finest editorial talent in the country, and this new structure ensures we will continue to be at the forefront of trade publishing in India.  With the combined expertise of Chiki, Meru and Milee, who have each built lists of considerable repute, I am confident that our reputation for discovering the region’s best new writing talent as well as building the careers of our established authors is in very good hands.

“Children’s publishing is a real and major focus for Penguin Random House not only in India, but globally, and I am delighted that Hemali Sodhi will be overseeing this area in her new role.  In her nearly two decades of work with Penguin Books India she has established the Penguin brand into a formidable publishing presence in India, and I know she will transfer these considerable skills into building our local and international children’s publishing list in India.

“In today’s changing retail market the key to driving our authors’ success is discoverability – being able to inform their readers, and potential readers, about their books.  Establishing strong direct to consumer relationships is vital to this and in her new role overseeing marketing and digital, Caroline will be driving this for Penguin Random House India. 

I am delighted to announce all of these appointments and know my colleagues will work tirelessly to provide a first-class environment for our authors to produce their best works and for these to be enjoyed by the widest possible readership.”

On the sales side, Ananth Padmanabhan has been appointed Senior Vice President, Sales with overall responsibility for sales across all distribution channels of Penguin Random House in India.  He will report to Gaurav Shrinagesh.

Currently VP Sales, Penguin Books India, Ananth began his career with the Landmark bookstore in Chennai, in 1992, before joining Penguin Books in 1997.  Over nearly twenty years with the company he has been instrumental in shaping the sales, distribution and representation strategy and in building Penguin’s presence across India and the Indian subcontinent. 

Formerly responsible for sales for Random House India, Nand Nath Jha has been appointed VP, International Product and Digital Sales, reporting to Ananth.  His role will include the entire portfolio of Penguin Random House Group international product and all the agency publishers it represents in India. He will also be responsible for all online and digital sales for the group and sales of children’s product. Nandan has worked in the book trade for two decades, starting his career with distributor India Book House before switching to retail (Crossword, 1995 and Jashanmals, 1998), then moving to Random House in 2000.

Manoj Satti will take on the role of General Manager International Product (Random House) and Sales Planning. Currently responsible for managing Product and Operations at Random House, Manoj began his career with Sterling Publishers and Pearson Education before moving to Random House eight years ago.  His new role will involve overseeing the product development for Random House International products and all sales forecasting across PRH portfolio of products. Manoj will report into Nandan for product and Ananth for sales planning.

Rahul Dixit, currently General Manager, Penguin Books India, in his new role as General Manager, Local Publishing and Sales, will now oversee development of product and diversified sales for all local publishing across Penguin Random House India and will continue to lead sales for North India. He will be reporting to Ananth. Rahul started his career with Penguin books in 2005 and has handled diversified sales portfolios within the company.

Gaurav Shrinagesh, CEO Penguin Random House India said:

Our new sales team represents decades of experience across a wide range of retail-related areas of publishing – distribution, shop-floor bookselling, inventory management, customer service, as well as direct representation.  This wealth of knowledge will enable Penguin Random House to continue to ensure our books reach their readers, wherever and however they buy them.

“In their years with Penguin and Random House, Ananth and Nandan have built strong reputations within the industry for their excellent relationships with customers and their expertise in navigating the changing retail landscape.  I am confident that supported by Manoj and Rahul’s knowledge of product and insight into sales development, this team will create a firm foundation for continued Penguin Random House growth.”

For further information:

Caroline Newbury, Penguin Random House, cnewbury@randomhouse.co.in, +91 9953070129

Penguin Random House India is a Penguin Random House company. Penguin Random House (http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/) is the world’s first truly global trade book publisher.  It was formed on July 1, 2013, upon the completion of an agreement between Bertelsmann and Pearson to merge their respective trade publishing companies, Random House and Penguin, with the parent companies owning 53% and 47%, respectively.  Penguin Random House comprises the adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction print and digital trade book publishing businesses of Penguin and Random House in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and India, Penguin’s trade publishing activity in Asia and South Africa; DK worldwide; and Random House’s companies in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Chile. Penguin Random House employs more than 10,000 people globally across almost 250 editorially and creatively independent imprints and publishing houses that collectively publish more than 15,000 new titles annually. Its publishing lists include more than 70 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of the world’s most widely read authors.

 

About Chiki Sarkar

Chiki Sarkar was educated at Oxford University and worked in Bloomsbury Publishing, London for seven years. In 2006 she returned to India to become the first editor in chief of Random House India. She has been the publisher of Penguin Books India since 2011.

 

About Milee Ashwarya

Milee Ashwarya studied English literature at Hindu College, Delhi University and began her publishing career at Rupa & Co. In 2008, she joined Random House India as Commissioning Editor and was promoted to Senior Commissioning Editor in January 2011. Working across all genres her list of authors includes Payal Gidwani Tiwari, Pratibha Karan, Cyrus Broacha, Suhel Seth, Preeti Shenoy and Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma. She is currently Editorial Director of two imprints – Ebury India and Random Business – and is responsible for shaping Random House India’s list of popular fiction and non-fiction in all areas of lifestyle as well as business publishing.

About Meru Gokhale

A graduate of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and the Columbia Publishing Course, New York, Meru Gokhale began her publishing career in 2004 with Penguin Books India, editing books across fiction and nonfiction, cookbooks, history and current affairs. She acquired, commissioned and edited books from authors including Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai, Jamil Ahmad, Sonia Faleiro and Tahmima Anam. She joined Random House as Editorial Director of the newly-created Vintage India in 2011. At Random House she has acquired and worked with authors such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Salman Rushdie, Helen Fielding, Nadeem Aslam, Rahul Pandita, Basharat Peer, Mohammed Hanif, and Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Editorial Fellowship.

 

About Hemali Sodhi

Hemali joined the publishing Industry in ’96 as a publicist with Penguin India. She has since shaped Penguin India’s marketing strategy, building a formidable brand which was, in 2012, voted as the #4 most successful brand across industries. Penguin is also the only publisher in the Country to boast its own Literature Festival in Delhi, ‘Spring Fever’ and its own lecture, ‘The Penguin Annual Lecture’, which is the largest open lecture featuring speakers as celebrated as HH the Dalai Lama. Penguin India is the most widely followed and engaged-with Publisher on social media, with its own award winning website, a hugely appreciated facebook and twitter strategy and the only publisher to have a multi-platform Mobile App. Penguin India’s marketing campaigns, both print and digital, have consistently won awards.

Hemali completed her post graduation in English literature, from Delhi University.

About Caroline Newbury

A graduate of Trinity College, Oxford University (M.A. Hons. Ancient and Modern History), Caroline Newbury joined Ebury Publishing, a division of Random House UK in 2001 as a publicity assistant.  She worked there for 11 years, rising to Deputy Publicity Director, Ebury Publishing, before moving to Delhi in April 2012. 

About Ananth Padmanabhan

Ananth began his career in publishing in ’92 as a bookseller with Landmark bookstores, based in Chennai. He joined Penguin Books in ‘97 and is currently Vice President, Sales. During the course of his career with Penguin, Ananth has shaped Penguin’s sales, distribution and representation strategy and has also been responsible for Penguin India’s digital strategy, including publishing, distribution and sales across channels and partners. He is a graduate from the University of Madras, has studied Publishing from Stanford University and has completed a course in Management from IIM Ahmedabad.

He is also a professional photographer and has done many projects, one of which, on publishing, called Calcutta: Walking in the City, can be seen on www.ananthpadmanabhan.com

About Nandan Jha

A graduate of Commerce from University of Delhi, Nandan Jha has worked in all areas of sales in book trade in the last 20 years.  He started his career with a distributor (India Book House) in 1994, switched to retail (Crossword, 1995 and Jashanmals, 1998), and then moved to a publisher (Random House Group UK, 2000). In between, he also dabbled with some publishing (Hindi & English) and freelance sales & marketing representation of several independent publishers for 4 years.

He has held the position of Vice President – Sales at Random House India since April 2010, and is also responsible for the developing and executing digital strategy for the company in the domestic and international markets.

 

About Rahul Dixit

Rahul joined Penguin in 2005 as assistant sales manager following nearly 4 years of experience in selling school books. He headed Penguin’s North India business from 2008 to 2010 before becoming product manager for Penguin Local in 2011.  In his current role as General Manager, he is responsible for all local sales and also manages Penguin’s relationship with two other local publishers Zubaan and Hay House.

 

About Manoj Satti

Manoj Satti’s career in publishing began in 2000 with Sterling Publishers handling sales and customer service activities.  After four years at Pearson Education, where he handled promotional activities for their higher education and schools divisions as well as developing and managing their website, he moved to Random House as sales administrator.   Over his seven year career with the company, he has been responsible for sales to distributors and retail across the country, the budgeting, product selection, inventory management and pricing strategy for international titles, Random House’s migration to new Microsoft ERP – Navision and few other IT initiatives – and overseeing imports, distribution and supply chain management.  He also had responsibility for the creation of the Knowledge Encyclopedia for special sales which has sold over 650,000 copies.

 

 

 

PubSpeak: Total Recall

PubSpeak: Total Recall

My column, “PubSpeak”, in BusinessWorld online focuses on the Wendy Doniger book controversy. Here is the url to it:   http://businessworld.in/news/economy/total-recall/1266222/page-1.html   . ) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose On 11 February, Penguin Books India reached a compromise drawn up in a Delhi Court that insisted it cease the publication and sale of American Indologist, Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History in India within six months. Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samitri had filed a civil suit against the publishers to withdraw from circulation all copies. Given that Batra had filed the case four years ago and it was still subjudice, the news of this compromise spread like wildfire. Later that day, Doniger issued a press statement “I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit. They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece — the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”Wendy Doniger

PBI logoPenguin Books India released a statement on 14 February stating “a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can…. The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.”

What followed the announcement perhaps was only a natural outcome given the speed at which social media helps communicate information. There was public outrage at this development— newspapers, print, digital, and, of course, social media forums. A number of commentators, journalists, and even Penguin authors wrote passionately against Penguin Book India’s decision to destroy the book. Arundhati Roy in an open letter spoke of her distress and said “You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least”. Nilanjana Roy, author and member of PEN Delhi wrote on censorship and how to remain free; Jakob de Roover in an outstanding essay “Untangling the Knot” discussed the complexities of governance, judiciary and free speech; journalist Salil Tripathi commented perceptively on the issue on many platforms ; Stephen Alter wrote, “Both as a writer and as a reader, I am deeply offended that anyone should dictate what I may read or write”; Penguin author and essayist, Amit Chaudhuri reiterated that “It’s important that the law protect all texts”; and Antara Dev Sen, Editor, The Little Magazine, wrote that the Indian Penal Code “Section 295A targets ‘deliberate and malicious acts (which include speech, writings or signs) intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs’. In an age of identity politics and hurt sentiments, this has been used frequently by politically motivated people to stifle free speech. But back in 1957, the Supreme Court had ruled that only when there is a ‘deliberate and malicious intention of outraging religious feelings’ is it an offence under this law. Higher courts in India have consistently ruled in favour of freedom of speech and have protected books and people hauled to court under this law.”

In fact, two Penguin authors, Siddharth Varadarajan and Jyotirmaya Sharma, asked for their contracts to be terminated. Another Penguin author, Arshia Sattar (who has translated Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Kathasaritsagara from Sanskrit to English) expressed her dismay at the “complete capitulation” of the firm and how her “pride and that faith has been shaken…of being with a publishing house that protected its people and the books they wrote”.

A counter legal initiative perhaps was expected. According to the website, Legally India, advocate Lawrence Liang, part of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, has issued a 30-paragraph legal notice to Penguin India, claiming that the publisher has violated freedom of speech laws and readers’ rights by agreeing to destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’. The notice sent on behalf of Liang’s clients, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Aarthi Sethi, argues that because Penguin has agreed to withdraw the book from India and destroy all copies, after a legal dispute with a religious group, it has “effectively acknowledged that it is no longer interested in exercising” its ownership in the work and should surrender its copyright to the Indian public. Sengupta is a Delhi-based artist and writer, while Sethi is an anthropologist with a “deep interest in Hindu philosophy”, according to the legal notice. Both are “avid bibliophiles” and were apparently “delighted” when Penguin published Doniger’s book, “and as people who have closely followed the scholarly contributions of the said author they regard this book to be a significant contribution to the study of Hinduism. They consider Ms Doniger’s translations of Indian classical texts and her work on various facets of Hinduism from morality in the Mahabharata to the erotic history of Hinduism as an inspiration for their own intellectual pursuits.”

At the recent Globalocal event (German Book Office, New Delhi’s annual B2B conference on publishing), a regional language publisher wondered if it was possible for any other publisher to option this book and publish it, after all it has not been legally banned in this territory. Echoing this sentiment, Shamnad Basheer, IPR lawyer, writing in Spicy IP, reflected upon the pros and cons of compulsory licensing, and whether it was possible if a publisher decides to stop publication, one could apply for a compulsory license.

Globally Penguin has been in the news related to their peripheral businesses and their merger with Random House. In 2012, Pearson PLC (of which Penguin Books India is a part of) acquired the self-publishing firm, Author Solutions, for $116 million. But in 2013, this deal soured as a number of disgruntled authors filed lawsuits against Author Solutions for its poor service. In the landmark case pertaining to ebooks and agency pricing, in April 2012, the US Department of Justice sued Apple and five publishers, including Penguin, for conspiring to raise prices and restrain competition. This was done after Amazon filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. In 2013, Penguin was obliged to pay $75 million. George Packer observes in the New Yorker, “an enormous sum in a business that has always struggled to maintain respectable profit margins”. On 1 July 2013, the global merger between Penguin Books and Random House was announced. It was a strategic alliance, forged as a response to the growing presence of Amazon in the publishing industry. The formation of Penguin Random House (PRH) has created a group that has 25 per cent of the market share. A merger comes at a cost of resources that have to be taken into account for the new firm to begin work on a strong footing.

In Oct 2013, Penguin Random House announced the completion of its purchase of Ananda Publishers Private Limited’s minority stake in Penguin Books India. It plans to invest Rs 55 crore or $8.6 million for this stake buy. As banker-turned-author Ravi Subramanian, with whom in June 2013 Penguin Books India signed a two-book deal worth an estimated Rs 1.25 crore (approx $210,700) wrote on his blog with respect to Doniger’s case, “publishing is a business”. For any firm, particularly in publishing, this is a lot of money being moved around its balance sheets.  Naturally the ripple effect of these financial adjustments will be felt even in the local markets—it is like conducting business in a global village where in the context of a globally contacted world, the minimum consumption that people desire is also influenced by what is going on elsewhere.

Similarly, with the Doniger case, Penguin Books India has probably taken an informed business decision, based upon a global strategy when it signed this deal on 11 February, in order to preserve a healthy English-language publishing market in India.

Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin Books India, in a guest blog post in 2012 during the Banned Books week, had this to say: “Injunctions make things costly, time consuming, and take our energies away from the work we are really meant to do. And so we try and avoid them as much as possible. Apart from the fact that we don’t fight hard enough for them, I wonder whether it means we impose a kind of self-censorship on ourselves.”

Ironically this latest controversy broke exactly twenty-five years after the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie for his ‘Satanic Verses’ published by Penguin. At the time, his publishers stood by him and did not pulp the book. The fact is publishing is a business that is built upon the creative energies and emotions of people. India is also a functioning democracy. Freedom of speech is the right of every citizen. With the General Elections less than a hundred days away, the need for openness, frank conversations without any inhibitions, and certainly not a capitulation to any ideological position is imperative.

Scholar-journalist and historian Mukul Kesavan points out that that selling books is not like selling any other commodity. Publishers have moral responsibility and a publisher voluntarily agreeing to withdraw a book has previously been challenged with the case of James Laine’s book on Shivaji in 2007. Oxford University Press voluntarily agreed to withdraw the book. An FIR was issued against the publisher and printer of the book in Pune (one charge, under Section 153 A, was ‘inciting class hatred’) and the printer was actually arrested. When the case (‘Manzar Sayeed Khan vs State Of Maharashtra, 2007’) came up before the Supreme Court, however, the government of Maharashtra’s case against the author and the publisher of the book was found to be wanting. So, there is a precedent by the Supreme Court to rule in favour of free speech.

Nevertheless, the Wendy Doniger book controversy raises a bunch of issues pertaining to the publishing industry. Questions about legislation and the freedom of speech, what are the ethics involved in publishing, do readers and authors have a right that they can exercise, what does it mean for licensing, do possibilities exist in a mixed environment of digital and print publishing such as do readers have a choice?

Finally does this self-censorship by a publishing firm mean an inadvertent promotion for self-publishing, encouraging authors to be responsible for their books completely? Interestingly in a space of less than six weeks I have heard John Makinson, CEO, Penguin Random House and Jon Fine, Director, Author & Publishing Relations, Amazon talk about their publishing businesses and both have stressed upon the importance of discoverability of an author. This controversy could not have come at a better time for Doniger and even Penguin. They have achieved the Streisand effect whereby in an attempt to censor a piece of information, it has had the unintended consequence of publicising the information more widely. It has achieved what no PR could have—a boost in sales.

21 Feb 2014 

Growing tribe of connoisseurs boosts sales of premium stationery

Growing tribe of connoisseurs boosts sales of premium stationery

 

Posted: Tue, Jul 10 2012. 1:43 AM IST
Growing tribe of connoisseurs boosts sales of premium stationery
The desire to use expensive stationery is on the upswing despite the advent of tablets and hand-held devices changing the way people communicate
Suneera Tandon

New Delhi: For Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd publisher Chiki Sarkar, nothing is quite as beautiful as paper. Her current favourite is Pineider, the 200-year-old Italian fine stationery brand that she picked from Rome.

Sarkar is in good company in the world of letters. Pineider’s website informs visitors that it was the stationer of choice for writers from Lord Byron and Percy B. Shelley to Giacomo Leopardi and Charles Dickens, and that Napoleon Bonaparte was among the travellers who entered the Pineider shop.

The Mediterranean blue and baby pink boxes of Pineider “have the most beautiful envelopes with different inlay paper”, Sarkar says. She uses the paper for writing small notes by hand—“Thank yous and condolences.”

“I can’t do complex writing by hand,” Sarkar explains. “I have a terrible handwriting and I fool myself that it looks better when I use a fountain pen.”

Sarkar is among a growing tribe of connoisseurs of luxury stationery—which they are buying on trips abroad as well as from an increasing number of retailers stocking such products in India—for their personal use.

Although luxury paper and fine writing instruments are still a minuscule part of the Rs. 10,000-12,000 crore Indian stationery market, they are part of a segment that’s growing at a yearly pace of 20-25%, say industry experts.
Aakriti Mandhwani, a 26-year-old M. Phil student at Delhi University, treasures her Moleskine diaries, which the company’s website says were used by artists and authors including Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin to write their memoirs and stories and draw their sketches.

“If I were to record my life, I would write it down in a Moleskine diary,” Mandhwani said.

Moleskine products, which enjoy a cult following, include notebooks, which typically come with an elastic band to hold them closed, as well as diaries, planners, bags and writing instruments. They are based on notebooks that were first produced and marketed by French bookbinders in the 19th and 20th centuries and which were used by Van Gogh, Picasso, even Chatwin; Moleskine itself was launched in the late 1990s by an eponymous Italian company that read a description of the notebooks in a book by Chatwin.

Watch video

Why are so many people splurging on high stationery in the age of tablets and smart phones? We ask an expert.

Loading video…

Mandhwani’s first Moleskine in red paper was a gift from a friend in London. “There is an aura around Moleskine. Only those with an aesthetic sense can appreciate it for what it is,” says Mandhwani. In India, Moleskine products are distributed by William Penn, the retail chain that stocks luxury pens.

Delhi-based retail consultant Devangshu Dutta, chief executive at Third Eyesight, attributes the growing popularity of luxury stationery among well-heeled Indians to changing aspirations.

“People want to appear more professional,” Dutta said. “As they move up the socio-economic ladder, the consumption of stationery, which is a utility product, is becoming more expensive. It’s more about the brand and being conscious about what you are seen with.”

Shailesh Karwa, co-chief executive officer of Staples Future Office Products Pvt. Ltd, says there has been an influx of brands in the luxury category and the premium is growing faster than the mid-to-low-priced brands.

“Pens have been seeing a growing demand in the market”, he adds.

No surprise then that the high-end retail chain William Penn, which sells writing instruments such as Sheaffer, Pelikan and Caran d’Ache, has been growing at 20-25% over the last five years.

Started in 2002 by Nikhil Ranjan, who quit his tech job at International Business Machines Corp., the company has seen the market evolve.

“The personal gifting and consumption of pens has gone up dramatically, driven by growth in spending power” says Ranjan, who uses a Sailor 1911 fountain pen to sign his cheques. Currently, the company has 15 stores in six cities and five shop-in-shops and stocks products that range in price from Rs. 750 to Rs. 1 crore and more. The La Modernista from Caran d’Ache is what costs a cool Rs. 1 crore. The Shri Ganesh from Sailor is more affordable; it costs Rs. 4.5 lakh.

Over the years, the chain has seen both its sales by volume and average ticket size go up. Sales volumes are driven by writing instruments priced between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 5,000. Gifts account for almost 50% of sales.

Every now and then Ranjan gets requests for customized products. Recently, he was asked to inscribe a family name on the nib of a Caran d’Ache, a Swiss brand, as well as on the box to be passed on to future generations. Such services are provided at a 100% to 500% premium, says Ranjan.

He plans to expand the product line, enthused by the growing market for premium stationery. He has introduced Rubinato quill pens from Italy and a range of stationery and accessories from Dalvey. The growing league of individuals who relish the idea of well-crafted stationery is pulling more cult brands into the market.

Retail experts say that the pen market, estimated at Rs. 3,000 crore a year, is seeing a lot of traction.

“As the country moves towards higher levels of literacy, we are seeing demand for stationery products go up. Also as the economy matures, per capita expenditure on such categories will continue to go up,” says Sushil Patra, associate director of retail at consultancy Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd.

The desire to use expensive stationery is on the upswing despite the advent of tablets and hand-held devices changing the way people communicate. For instance, Suresh Mohankar, national planning head at Dentsu Communications Pvt. Ltd in Bangalore, is a self-professed stationery addict who prefers putting to paper his work-related ideas instead of typing them out on his laptop. “I’ve always been used to writing, so I still use diaries or journals to make points for my ppts (PowerPoint presentations) and proposals.”

Mohankar’s personal collection comprises 50 fountain pens with Montblanc, Conway Stewart and Sheaffer among them. “I never use office stationery, I get my own. It’s the feel-good factor of writing on good paper with a good pen,” says Mohankar, who picks up stationery from outlets at airports and from retail chains.

Like Chiki Sarkar and Mohankar, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, an international publishing consultant, also finds good stationery sensually appealing. “It’s addictive,” she says. Her personal collection consists of Moleskine journals, Paperblanks (diaries) collected from her trips to Europe and diaries produced by Roli Books Pvt. Ltd and Penguin Books India.

There are others who swear by Rubberband launched five years ago by Mumbai-based design consultant Ajay Shah. Rubberband imports pulp from Indonesia and Russia to make its notebooks, which sell at 50 outlets in India. Available in bright colours, the notebooks and writing pads cost between Rs. 160 and Rs. 1,500.

Buyers are typically professionals such as architects, graphic and interior designers, photographers and storyboard artistes, Shah says. He also sees growing interest for his brand among lawyers, doctors, executives and those working in the hospitality sector.