e-commerce: a must for publishers!

The way books were sold has come of age. Retail stores have given way to online stores and now both complement each other. Here, Anshul Benjamin of Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh shares the rising role of ecommerce for the success of publishers, in conversation with Varsha Verma.

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AABP: What is the role of e-commerce for any Indian publisher?

Anshul: A very strong role, actually. There is hardly any retailer left, having the ability to carry the publisher’s entire list. An organized e-commerce player can actually smoothen up the publisher’s printing, publishing, distribution, sales, returns and collections,both domestically and internationally. These factors in traditional context are cumbersome and quite often time-consuming and thus; to an extent responsible for the wastefulness of publishing as a business.

AABP: Since you have worked with numerous publishers of varied sizes, what is your view of the acceptance of e-commerce at these companies?

Anshul: It’s different for each one of them and largely governed by culture and business strategy of the publisher.

When I was with Rupa & Co. and Aleph Book Co., I remember going to Flipkart offices to finalize marketing campaigns for their lists, often carrying ARCs and POS merchandise, AI Sheets and brainstorming with these folks. And through publisher’s own established machinery was able to move volume and value, I established a vision of online sale strategy for their lists across a variety of online retailers. The sale was huge, especially year-end festive sale. Each year we were making records.

Parragon India, being in the sale of licensed products, was unable to deal with the competition and shrinking retail space. Its products were imported and expensive, largely alien to Indian needs and which struggled to create demand online. If there was any, it took time for a product to become popular, organically.

By the time product sale history was established on an ISBN it was moved to another one for editorial reasons. So, we were dealing with the same product having several ISBN. In less than a year, I had all their titles online with Amazon and even re-opened their dormant account with Flipkart.

Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh has fully incorporated e-commerce as a sale vertical. We also sell through our website where we routinely run promotional campaigns. It’s perhaps the only language publisher who has a mobile app. Our e-comm strategy has worked in our favour.

Anshul Benjamin in his career spanning 7 years, has held several publishing posts with publishers like Rupa Publications India and Aleph Book Company, Parragon Publishing India. Presently he’s with Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh.

AABP: Share more about your experience of working with Rajkamal?

Anshul: With Rajkamal Prakashan Samuh, having a legacy of over 70-years, the challenge was to take it forward and replicate it on digital selling space, with almost all legendary authors and their works are under its umbrella, a mammoth task which I found hugely enjoyable. There is so much to do, actually.

Here I’d setup e-comm sales framework for the print, audiobooks and e-books. It was perhaps by no surprise when Amazon reported that our catalogue sale was the highest among regional language publishers in 8 months since we rolled-out our strategy.

Our this year’s online festive sale is an all-time high. Largely attributed to planning, forecasting and inventorying months in advance and working closely with prime sellers, scheduling timely releases and running digital promotions to drive traffic to relevant product pages.

AABP: E-commerce is not just having your books sold online. It’s more. Please comment.

Anshul: Absolutely, it’s not just an alternate revenue stream but can be a profitable one too if one knows how to pull the right strings. One of the effective way publishers can execute e-commerce strategy is via ‘affiliate marketing’ when someone buys a product online, after reading its review and clicking the buy link. Publishers in return can expect a cut from such sale. And ‘buy-on-site,’ offering publishers audience a chance to buy products through their own webshop and thereby having control over sale funnel.

AABP: Share your views on bestseller list?

Anshul: There is a longstanding trend in publishing to be a part of the bestseller list. In the West, numerous articles had been written on how often such lists are misleading and in reality, they are. This goes way back in the 1980s when the New York Times acknowledged its list as an editorial work, upon being sued by William Peter Blatty for putting his novel The Exorcist once on the list, even though it sold millions of copies.

The lure to be a part of the bestseller list has dominated the English language publishing for long and now slowly growing on regional language publishing too.

Let me tell you frankly, no bestseller list measures actual bestselling title. It measures a limited number of sales for the specific duration and only from select stores (online or offline) which have agreed to supply requisite information.

The list is drawn by select few people behind closed doors based on what they think are important books and not based on what actually is selling. It lacks objectivity and in the process becomes a work of ‘editorial product’. One can see the titles gracing the bestseller list for years and in some cases over a decade. Also, all the major publishers can be seen dominating the list. Such initiatives are nothing short of ‘popularity contest.’

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