Shape the thinking of leaders of tomorrow
Walt Disney rightly said, “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.” Aritra Ganguly of Harper Collins shares how books are helping shaping the future citizens. Over the last decade, we have been witness to huge changes in the publishing industry. Fueled by technological innovations that have enabled companies to produce more variety at lower costs and supported by the boom of Indian e-commerce, the consumer is pampered with a buffet of options. Self-publishing options have encouraged new authors to give it a shot, resulting in success of genres that were traditionally sold surreptitiously.
Aritra GangulyThe runaway success of Amish Tripathi and Chetan Bhagat supported the believed trends – that India is predominantly a fiction market. Nielsen’s official entry into the Indian market (2011) threw up some startling statistics for a largely undocumented market, where authors hardly knew how many copies their books had sold. The Indian consumer’s believed preference for Indian authors was now validated with statistics. In this market, children’s books continue to buck the trend.
The India consumer has a clear preference for international authors when it comes to buying books for their kids. An overwhelming 80% of the total documented Nielsen value is derived from foreign authors in the kids’ category which is about 50% for the adult categories. There is a case in point with Ruskin Bond being probably the only major Indian author who comes to mind when we think of domestic brands, but the age old myth that parents are dissuaded by high prices of international books has been destroyed. Parents are willing to pay for quality when it comes to their kids.
International quality at Indian prices
The HarperCollins UK children’s range has been in the market since 2002, with famous brands like Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, C. S. Lewis & Michael Morpurgo among others. Following the addition of the HCUS range from 2013, we introduced the very impressive graded reading program – I CAN READ. It had international level content but at a very affordable price of INR 150 and was embraced by the Indian market with open arms. Today the range has expanded to include nearly 350 titles segregated into 5 reading levels and is an invaluable addition to the existing reading program of Dr. Seuss which exists in color coded levels and mini-libraries with focused titles on mammals, space etc. We found parents, teachers and librarians were very enthusiastic about introducing these books to their kids and helping them graduate from one reading level to another since it helped encompass the various reading levels of kids even in the same class. Characters like Amelia Bedelia, Biscuit, Marley & ‘The Cat in the Hat’ are becoming popular names in households. The I CAN READ (ICR) series also include characters like Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious & Flat Stanley which have individual adventures and activity books outside the ICR series. These reading programs continue to flourish in the market even in the face of stiff competition from more economical options available from dedicated children publishers in the market.
Picture & boardbooks: a big hit too!
The picture & board book segments in India has been a true revelation! Names like Eric Carle & Julia Donaldson competed with brands like Disney, Priddy & Hello Kitty and offerings from publishers like Tara Press & Parragon. It was into this market that we have carved out a niche with books like Paddington (movie was released last year), Laura Numeroff’s board books about the party loving animals with a sweet tooth (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?) & Tana Hoban’s high contrast books for infants. The highlight of this range is surely the range of colorful picture books from the very talented Oliver Jeffers. Whether it is his tale of How to Catch a Star or about The Incredible Book Eating Boy, or his recent book with Drew Daywalt – The Day the Crayons Quit, which was a story of passionate letters written by crayons to their owner, they WILL steal your heart. This has allowed us to re-introduce authors like Judith Kerr (Tiger Who Came to Tea & The Mog series). Although the hurried buyer is still content to pick the evergreen brands for their kids, there is a definite shift towards buying content rather than big names. Dedicated kids bookstores like Bahri Kids organize events for kids and parents and have witnessed them sitting and exploring the books together.
High value books: amazing gift options
There is also a definite affinity towards high value hardbacks & novelty books (imaginative formats and editions) which was thrown open by those wonderful editions of Touch & Feel & Scratch & Sniff (by DK), carousel books, pop-out books, buggy books and box sets, despite being priced higher than standard picture books. Take the example of Shel Silverstein; his prose will have you in splits! These books are a ray of hope for publishers that it might pave the way for a reading habit similar to abroad which involves gifting of high value editions at festivals and celebrations.
Books for all!
HarperCollins is also the official distributor in India of the popular Usborne range which boasts a stellar Reading Program and a wide variety of interactive books in creative formats for every age group, to cater to the fastest growing segment in India book publishing (growth is estimated at a rate of 30% in terms of value each year).
On a concluding note…
Children’s publishing is not only about colorful books at cheap prices, it is more about building credibility by selecting content keeping in mind both the parent and the child. Parents are more favorable to testing out a new author for their own reading pleasure, but the rites of passage are stricter when it comes to their kid. But the reward is definitely more gratifying and loyalty is absolute. As Anne Frank said, “parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands”, so kids publishing will endure, and with it we have a chance to shape the thinking of the leaders of tomorrow.
Mr. Aritra Ganguly is currently assistant manager – Product, working with HarperCollinsPublishers India since 2011. A Chemical Engineer from MIT (Manipal), he chose to join the Publishing industry to follow his passion for books. He was entrusted with the development of the UK Children’s list that has seen the release of brands like Oliver Jeffers, David Walliams & Judith Kerr in India apart from extensions to their constellation of existing authors like Dr. Seuss, Michael Morpurgo, CS Lewis, Lincoln Peirce, Veronica Roth & many more.