Knowledge of publishing comes with years of business…


A seasoned publishing professional, Manas Saikia shares his 41 years of rich experience, in conversation with ABP editors SK Khurana and Varsha Verma. The career path…

Joining Oxford University Press way back in 1973 as a 19-year-old lad, Manas Saikia has indeed come a long way. “I landed in an accidental job and now as an accidental businessman,” he chuckles. “School education, ELT and academics are the strongest and biggest markets of publishing. I learnt a lot about books at Oxford University Press, working not just in sales but also in service department. This is where I learnt what to order, how to order and the statistics of the books,” he shares.

Manas SaikiaManas left Oxford in 1980 to join Springer Books India, where he worked for two years, after which he spent three years at Book Development Office of British Council. The turning point in his career was joining Cambridge University Press as a commission agent. “I had such strong ties with the company that I spent 28 years with them,” he recalls fondly.

He remembersthe 1991 economy crash in India, when people stopped importing books. This was a huge deterrent to the business of Cambridge University Press. “So, I started Foundation Media with Vinod Vashisth for representing Cambridge. Starting with a small office, we soon migrated to bigger space and started publishing as well. Vinod created Viva Books, where he started representing many more foreign publishers,” he shares. “In 2005, Cambridge wanted to invest in India and we offered Foundation Media. In 2006, they bought 51 percent share in Foundation Media and renamed it Cambridge University Press. This was followed by another 24 percent share in 2008-09 and later they took over rest of the business and we detached from Cambridge University Press.”

But Manas did not sit on his past laurels. He is currently managing director of Feel Books, which represents a German publisher De Grujter, with 15,000 titles to its credit.

On industry…

Recollecting his thoughts, he shifts our focus to the publishing industry in 70s, when Nai Sarak used to be the hub for publishers, most of them started moving to the by-lanes of Ansari Road, Daryaganj which is now a major hub for publishers.

Talking on the lack of data available, Manas tells that NCAER is the body that estimates the statistics of each industry and the last analysis was done way back in 1972, of which hardly any records are available. “There is only guesswork but I feel that the industry is much bigger than what it has been thought to be,” he says.

“The publishing industry has three major core areas – authors, publishers and digital creation. India is biggest in the world for digital creation and smaller towns like Dehradun, Pondicherry, Chennai, etc are coming up as major hubs for these services. This is because of vast availability of skilled female staff in the area and the cost of operations being low. This industry creates thousands of job opportunities and it makes the pre-press cost of preparing the journals economical as well,” he shares.

Talking more on the prevailing trends, he remarks that the industry is undergoing consolidation and players like S. Chand are taking over smaller companies to emerge as a single larger entity. “All these are good things happening to the industry,” he adds. So, why are there negative sentiments in the industry? “Nobody can be satisfied. Some people in the industry are not doing well but there are others who are doing extraordinary business. People whose future generations do not wish to join publishing business are quitting,” he opines.

On asking about the corporates coming into the publishing business, Manas replies that knowledge of publishing comes with years of business and since corporate do not have that experience; even the bookshops like Landmark did not work out.

A major challenge for the industry is the piracy, feels Manas. “This is why literature in Bangladesh and West Bengal is not coming up as the piracy is too high there and authors are skeptical about that” he adds.

On upcoming NDWBF…

Asking about his views on the upcoming New Delhi World Book Fair 2015, Manas replies that the fair being an annual show, has made it a stopping point for anyone in the publishing industry and the credit greatly goes to MA Sikandar, director, NBT, India, who has brought a name to the event.

Future projects…

Manas in now looking forward to his new trade books imprint – Speaking Tiger – which would be functional by the upcoming New Delhi World Book Fair 2015. This new imprint has Ravi Singh, a well-known editor in publishing as a partner and they are together now putting up the team. “We have signed around 30 authors, some well known and some not so known, and hope to bring out many interesting books,” he shares.

Manas Saikia was conferred with MA degree from Cambridge University in recognition of 24 years of service. He is the first person from the Indian publishing industry to be given an MA of this nature from Cambridge. He is also a lifelong member of the University of Cambridge.

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