editors Posts

“Publishing Pangs”,Economic Times, Sunday Edition, 5 July 2020

“Publishing Pangs”, Economic Times, Sunday Edition, 5 July 2020

On 24 March 2020 invoking the Disaster Management Act (2005) the first phase of the lockdown to manage the Covid-19 pandemic was announced. “Disaster Management” is considered to be a part of the Concurrent List under “social security and social insurance”. With the announcement all but the most essential economic activity halted nationwide. Only 4 hours’ notice was provided, insufficient time to plan operations.

Demand and supply existed but all cash cycles dried up — because bookstores were not operating. Brick-and-mortar stores had to close while online platforms focused on delivering only essential goods and books were not on the list. Priyanka Malhotra says “When Full Circle reopened in mid-May, there was a great demand for books. Mid-June, supply lines are still fragile, so getting more books regularly is uncertain. Well-stocked warehouses are outside city limits and are finding it difficult to service book orders to bookstores. We are mostly relying on existing stocks.”

In future, the #WFH culture will remain particularly for editors, curation of lists, smaller print runs, the significance of newsletters will increase, exploring subscription models for funding publishers in the absence of government subsidies and establishment of an exclusive online book retailing platform such as bookshop.org. Introducing paywalls for book events as the lockdown has proven customers are willing to pay for good content. Distributors and retailers will take less stock on consignment. Cost cutting measures will include slashing travel as a phone call is equally productive, advances to authors will fall, streamlining of operations with leaner teams especially sales teams as focused digital marketing is effective, With the redefining of schools and universities due to strict codes of physical distancing and cancellation of book fairs, publishers will have to explore new ways of customising, delivering and monetising content.

In such a scenario the importance of libraries will grow urgently. Libraries benefit local communities at an affordable price point. They are accessed by readers of all ages, abilities and socio-economic classes for independent scholarship, research and intellectual stimulation. The nation too benefits with a literate population ensuring skilled labour and a valuable contribution to the economy. By focusing upon libraries as the nodal centre of development in rehabilitation and reconstruction of a nation especially in the wake of a disaster, the government helps provide “social security and social insurance”. Libraries can be equipped without straining the limited resources available for reconstruction of a fragile society by all stakeholders collaborating. As a disaster management expert said to me, “Difficult to find a narrative for what we are going through”.

After a disaster, the society is fragile. It has limited resources available for rehabilitation and reconstruction. To emerge from this pandemic in working condition, it would advisable for publishers to use resources prudently. It is a brave new world. It calls for new ways of thinking.

Given this context, the Economic Times, Sunday Edition published the business feature I wrote on the effect of the pandemic on the publishing sector in India. Here is the original link on the Economic Times website.

***

As the first phase of the sudden lockdown to manage the Covid-19 pandemic was declared on March 24, the timing was particularly unfortunate for the books publishing industry. End-March is a critical time in the book publishing industry.

End-March is a critical time in the book year cycle. It is when accounts are settled between distributors, retailers and publishers, enabling businesses to commence the new financial year with requisite cash equity. Institutional and library sales are fulfilled. The demand for school textbooks is at its peak. But with the lockdown, there was a severe disruption in the production cycle — printing presses, paper mills, warehouses and bookshops stopped functioning. Nor were there online sales as books are not defined as essential commodities.

“Publishing in India is estimated to be worth $8 billion in annual revenues,” says Vikrant Mathur, director, Nielsen India. “Trade publishing has seen four months of near-zero sales which straightaway knocks one’s revenues off by at least 25-30%,” says Thomas Abraham, MD, Hachette India. 

Profit protection became key. Firms either reduced salaries or laid off employees, and unaffordable rentals forced closures of offices and bookshops. Arpita Das, founder of Yoda Press, says, “After three months of almost zero print sales, and low ebook sales, we decided to move out of our office space.”

In mid-May, bookshops and online portals resumed selling books. Bookstores delivered parcels using India Post, Zomato, and Swiggy. Sales of children’s books exceeded everyone’s expectations, averaging 30% more than pre-Covid sales. Shantanu Duttagupta, publisher, Scholastic India, says, “The ecosystem of children’s books and content comprises mainly of parents, educators and children. While print is traditionally preferred, it has to be recognised that content of any sort has to be format-agnostic. Whether it’s digital solutions for parents and children, helping educators through professional development or providing curated, age-appropriate books for children, being agile and nimble is key.”

Publishers announced curated digital content for schools engaged in remote learning. Scholastic Learn at Home, Collins Digital Home Learning, DK’s Stay Home Hub and StoryWeaver’s Readalong** were among such initiatives. Paywalls were introduced for creative writing workshops and were fully subscribed. Academic publishers noted an increase in inquiries from universities regarding bundle subscriptions.

To remain relevant with readers, there was an explosion of hashtags and promotions on the internet: #ReadInstead, #BraveNewWorld, #Reset, #MacmillanReadingSpace, #PenguinPicks, #KaroNaCharcha and #MissedCallDoKahaaniSuno. Book launches and lit fests went digital, with viewers across time zones. Brands like JLF ( Jaipur Literature Festival) got a viewership of over 700,000 worldwide*, while Rajpal & Sons got a viewership of over 300,000 — both hosted an equal number of events (50+) in the same time frame.

According to Meru Gokhale, publisher, Penguin Press, Penguin Random House India, “India’s reading consumption patterns during the lockdown consisted of ‘bucket list reads’ of classics, voluminous works and series fiction; self-help and mind-body-spirit lists.” Publishers launched frontlists (new and current titles) as ebooks , deeming that preferable to tying up cash in inventory. Interesting experiments by editors have involved crowd-sourcing new ebooks, usually kickstarted with an opening by a literary star. Vikas Rakheja, MD, Manjul Publishing, says, “We have seen a 300-400% growth in sales of our ebooks in April-June, over the same period last year, in both English and Indian regional languages, on Amazon Kindle and other online sales portals.” 

Chiki Sarkar, publisher, Juggernaut Books, says their titles saw greater time spent on ebooks during the lockdown. Audiobooks also sold. Yogesh Dashrath, country manager, Storytel India, says, “Globally there was doubling of intake. In India, it accelerated exposure to audiobooks.”

But India is firmly a print book market. So it will take some time for patterns to change. Kapil Kapoor, MD of Roli Books and owner of CMYK bookstore in Delhi, says, “In Unlock 1, we have not yet seen a significant spike in the demand for books. For now, sales figures hover around 40–50% of pre-Covid-19 days, largely driven by online sales — an accurate reflection of consumer preference of wanting home delivery and not venturing out to markets due to a fear factor, which is understandable.” A concern is book piracy will increase in direct proportion to economic stress in households.

As for lasting trends, work from home culture will continue, particularly for editors. Experimentation with curated lists, smaller print runs and subscription models will be seen. Some publishing firms, imprints, bookstores, retailers and distributors may go out of business. Increasingly, finance and legal will join sales departments to ensure “correct” decisions are made. Cost-cutting measures may include slashing travel, relying more on digital tools for efficiency, such as negotiating book rights online, employing leaner sales teams and expanding business horizons beyond the Anglo-American book market, without travelling. New platforms capitalising on professional expertise and fostering creative synergies have emerged on social media, like Publishers’ Exchange, an initiative by language publishers across India, Mother Tongue Twisters, Roli Pulse, Independent Bookshops Association of India and Publishers Without Borders. With the redefining of schools and universities, publishers will explore new ways of customising, delivering and monetising content. Could book events go behind a paywall? Perhaps libraries will regain significance?

As the industry negotiates this disruption, it’s clear that it will take a lot of ingenuity to emerge largely unscathed on the other side. Everyone is hoping for a happy ending to this particular saga.

* At the time of writing the article, this figure of 700,000+ held true for JLF. But on the day of publication of the article, the number has far exceeded one million.

** Storyweaver’s Readalong are multilingual audio-visual storybooks.

5 July 2020

BRILL launches in India

L-R: Peter Coebergh, CEO, BRILL; Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, International Publishing Consultant; Vincent Oeters, Marketing Manager EMEA & India, BRILL

On 29 August 2018 the Dutch international academic publisher BRILL announced its arrival in India with an exclusive dinner thrown for publishing professionals, academics and librarians.  It is a listed company for more than 122 years in the Netherlands.

According to the Peter Coebergh, CEO, who made a short presentation at the event, BRILL was established on 17 May 1683 by Jordaan Luchtmans, who was registered as a bookseller by the Leiden booksellers guild. At the time company was called Luchtman and specialised in Biblical studies. Theology, oriental languages and ethnography. In 1848 the business passed from the Luchtman family to that of E. J. Brill, an ex-Luchtman employee. His ability to typeset non-Latin alphabets such as Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian, Greek, Aramiac, Javanese etc helped his business expand. The logo represents the Greek Gods of Wisdom (Pallas) and of Trade ( Hermes), underlining what BRILL believes in as a company.

BRILL specialises in HSS ( Humanities and Social Sciences) and Law, adding Educational Sciences relatively recently. It publishes approximately 300 journals,  1400 new books and manages 120 online databases every year.

There are 4 main product types:

  1. Journals
  2. Databases
  3. Books and references
  4. Primary source materials– original texts around which BRILL usually builds publishing programmes, often requiring significant investments.

L-R: Vincent Oeters, Peter Coebergh, Anish Bhambal and David Elek

For the launch in Delhi,  BRILL was represented by Peter Coerbergh, CEO; Vincent Oeters, Marketing Manager EMEA & India; David Elek, Sales Account Manager, Cyprus, Turkey, Middle East, India and Africa. The India Representative is Anish Bhambal ( sales-india at brill dot com ).  The significance of the announcement is apparent that the first overseas trip Peter Coebergh made after being appointed as CEO of BRILL was to India. As he said, the company may have taken 335 years to set roots in India but now they are here BRILL wants to engage with author community for our books and journals. Also engage with Indian publishing houses in ways to collaborate, all the while recognising the price-sensitive market that India is!

LOGOS: Journal of the World Publishing Community, a prestigious publishing journal is one of the many journals BRILL publishes. LOGOS was launched by Gordon Graham, former Chairman of Butterworths and a few years ago handed over to BRILL to manage.  The current editor-in-chief is Angus Philips.  I have contributed to the journal on a few occasions as well.

Logos is a forum for opinion and the latest research from the world of publishing. The journal is international in scope and invites contributions on authorship, readers, book publishing, librarianship, and bookselling. Articles about the related fields of journals and magazines are also welcome, as are contributions about digital developments such as blogging and multimedia. Submissions are invited from both professionals and academics, and research articles are subject to peer review. It also publishes book reviews.

An English-language scholarly journal, published quarterly since 1990, Logos provides a platform for communication between publishing professionals, librarians, authors, scholars, and those in allied professions. It features articles from and about the publishing world, illustrating the unity, commonality, and conflicting interests of those who write, edit, manufacture, publish, disseminate, preserve, study, and read published works. Logos is international and intercultural, bridging gaps between academia and business, the developing and developed worlds, printed and digital media. The constituency comprises professional publishers and booksellers, both trade and academic; publishing studies, book history, new media and communications scholars, researchers and students; consultants, analysts, managers, and owners of publishing businesses; library managers and information professionals; as well as editors, typographers, and designers operating within the publishing industry.

BRILL is a welcome addition to the academic publishing community in India.

2 September 2018 

 

JaipurBookMark ( JBM), 21-22 January 2015, Narain Niwas, Jaipur

The Jaipur BookMark 2015
Where South Asia meets the world

21-22 January 2015, Narain Niwas, Jaipur

(JBM 2015 will run for two days parallel with the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival on the 21 and 22 January)

bookmark-logo

Day 1: 21st January 2015

12:30 PM-INAUGURATION

Sanjoy Roy, Namita Gokhale, Oliver Moystad

1:30 PM-2:30 PM- INAUGURAL LUNCH hosted by NORLA

2:30 PM-3:30 PM- SESSION 1

IS PUBLISHING “UNBANKABLE”?

A business like no other, publishing finds it notoriously difficult to raise finance: a session on the business of publishing; discussing the structural issues concerning publishing, bank finance, volume and scalability etc.

 

Speakers: Dr Shubhada Rao, Henry Rosenbloom, Bikash Niyogi, Manas Saikia, Atiya Zaidi and Aditi Maheshwari
Moderator: Naresh Khanna

3.30 PM – 4.00 PM TEA

4:00 PM-5:00 PM-SESSION 2

DIGITAL PLATFORMS: THE UNTAPPED TERRITORIES

From social media to distribution, what should publishing professionals be aware of in their rapidly changing industry? Kindles, Kobos, iPads and audiobooks; what does all this new technology mean for the industry from writers to editors, marketers to consumers?

Speakers: Nicolas Idier, Niyam Bhushan, Rajiv Mehta, Ajit Baral and Vishal Anand
Moderator: Arpita Das
Session Supported by: NewsHunt

5.00PM – 6.00PM – SESSION 3

LIBRARIES AND ARCHIVES: TIME TRAVELERS EXTRAORDINAIRE
An IGNCA supported Open Forum, on the convergence of Libraries, Archives and Museums. With more access to information available online than ever before, regardless of location, what new role could and should libraries and archives play in making information accessible to all?

Speakers: Dipali Khanna, Alberto Manguel, Nicholson Baker, Dr. Venu Vasudevan and Shantanu Ganguly
Moderator: Bharti Sinha
Session supported by: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts

6:00 PM-7:00 PM DRINKS

Day 2: 22nd January 2015

10.30AM TEA/COFFEE

10.45 AM – 11.30 AM – SESSION 1

WHO IS THE BOOK?
‘More than 48 printed pages and bound within 2 covers’, is that the book or is there more to it? On the changing format and technology of the book in an increasingly interactive environment.

Ralph Mollers in conversation with Sirish Rao; introduced by Ute Reimer-Boehner

11.30 AM- 12.30 PM – SESSION 2

RETHINKING TRANSLATION: RELOCATING THE CENTRE

How do we translate content across multi-media and digital borders including e-books, audio books, graphic texts and cross-media conversions?

Speakers: Vera Michalski, Satti Khanna, Mahua Mitra, Rick Simonson, Shona Martyn and Manasi Subramaniam
Moderator: Renuka Chatterjee

12.30 PM-1.30 PM SESSION 3

SOUTH-SOUTH COLLABORATIONS: A CONVERSATION WITH AUSTRALIAN PUBLISHERS

Increasingly, publishers in the global south are beginning to work directly with each other; literary festivals and bookfairs in southern countries are now choosing to focus also on southern authors. In a free ranging conversation, Australian publishers and literary entrepreneurs talk about new collaborations and new relationships.

Speakers: Ivor Indyk, Terri-Ann White, David Ryding, Kate McCormack, Wendy Were and Meredith Curnow
Moderator: Urvashi Butalia

1.30 PM-2.30 PM LUNCH

2.30 PM-3.30 PM SESSION 4

CONTENT IS QUEEN

The book is no longer just a book–it is now a basis for film, video games, interactive reading, collective writing and so much more. With book formats morphing and mutating how will content adapt to survive?

Speakers: Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Prasoon Joshi, Sandip Sen and Renu Kaul
Moderator: Karthika V.K.

3.30 PM-4.00 PM TEA

4.00 PM – 5.00PM-SESSION 5

TOWARDS A NATIONAL READING POLICY

A viable reading policy involves encouraging reading, creating an infrastructure to make books available and finally providing books. What role can States and private actors play to overcome the gap between policies and their implementation?

Speakers: Oliver Moystad, M A Sikandar, Prof. Apoorvanand and Prof. Avdhesh Kumar Singh
Moderator: Manisha Chaudhry
Session supported by: National Book Trust

5 PM CLOSING CEREMONY

6 PM-7 PM DRINKS (those who wish to leave for DSC South Asian Literature prize at Diggi Palace may proceed)

Participants are free to network in the Rights Chaupal.

To register, please visit the Jaipur Literature Festival website at: http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/registration/jaipur-bookmark-registration

and click on the Register button.

Registration would include delegate status for the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival specified to the date.

Rs 3,500/- per day or Rs 6,000/- for two days per person

For further queries, please contact: jaipurbookmark@teamworkarts.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JaipurBookMark?fref=ts

“Creative Writing in the Present Crisis” Jawaharlal Nehru, 1963

“Creative Writing in the Present Crisis” Jawaharlal Nehru, 1963

Best of Indian Literature 1957-2007

( As the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru would have been the patron of Sahitya Akademi. The following are extracts from a speech he delivered extempore at the awards for 1962. These are given to books of outstanding literary merit published in the Indian languages during the preceding years. This has been reproduced in the Best of Indian Literature 1957-2007, Vol 1 Book 1, published by the Sahitya Akademi. Editors are Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee and A. J. Thomas. They have edited four volumes of stories, essays, speeches published in the institute’s journal, Indian Literature for fifty years. Many of these have been translated into the English language. A pleasant surprise was to discover this wonderful speech by Nehru and another one by Aldous Huxley on “Literature and Modern Life”, delivered in 1961.)

“…Sahitya Akademi deals with all the languages of India and tries to encourage them and to bring about as much as possible, not a synthesis of them, but a mutual understanding and comprehension of them by translations from one language to another. ….

Really the growth of the Indian languages took place afresh about a hundred or hundred or twenty years ago. That period coincided with the introduction of printing, etc. in India and it was influenced naturally by ideas which had come to India through the English language mostly, through other languages too. The modern world gradually crept into India and that influenced our languages. And the modern literature in these languages is naturally much affected by the modern world, modern problems. That is as it should be. And so we find an interesting aspect of this questions, that, in a period when English was more or less the official language of India under the British Rule and was affecting large numbers of our people, the coming of English affected the Indian languages in a different way by indirectly encouraging them, because English happened to be the vehicle through which we came into contact with the new world. And, therefore, modern ideas, modern concepts began to enrich our languages through English or because of our knowledge of English, and our languages grew. I have no doubt they will grow. Even now they are strong and very effective languages and a large number of books are being published, books of merit. I have no doubt this will grow. But to think that a language is crushed or suppressed by another language, is not quite correct. It is enriched by another language. So also our languages will be enriched the more they get into touch with each other … .” ( p.319-320)

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