Flourishing trade publishing… new authors on the anvil

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The Indian trade publishing is growing at a rapid rate. Though the publishing industry might be cribbing of decreasing print runs, the bestsellers grab the market while more authors and more books are seeing the light of the day. Here, Varsha Verma brings an insight into the trade publishing in India.
The statistics…

Perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of the Indian publishing industry is that there are no accurate statistics available. Bikash D Niyogi of Niyogi Books estimates it to the tune of Rs 1,200 crore. As per Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO, Westland, though there are no accurate numbers available but it estimated that trade publishing in India would be around Rs 800-1,200 crore. Similar views were expressed by Thomas Abraham, managing director, Hachette India, “No exact figures exist, since this is not a monitored market. But industry estimates peg the trade or consumer side of publishing at about Rs 1,000 crore.” While, Swarup Nanda, CEO, Leadstart Publishing, says that the estimated numbers are Rs 3,000 crore, which includes gross sales of books, where the money comes back to all the stake holders, retailers, publishers, authors, etc.

Growth in trade publishing industry…

Readership is growing rampantly and possibly at the highest rate in the last seven years. Bikash estimates that the growth in trade publishing segment is not less than 15 percent per year. The Indian trade publishing industry is the top slot on percentage growth of paperbacks sold globally as per AC Nielsen report with a Y-O-Y growth of 35 percent. “Yet, what people are missing to spot is readership that is becoming short tailed, i.e. bestseller led. On a broad frame, people in India begin reading non-academic material post 21 years of age, or after education is over and read about a book or two per year. Due to the population, the numbers are growing up, yet what is happening is that since people read lesser, they don’t want to experiment and only read the bestsellers. Which explains a phenomenon like Chetan Bhagat e.g. A Five Point Someone (almost a decade old title) is doing amazing numbers on the Nielsen charts even today, in fact all his books are on the list. Inference being, from the same publishing house with the same teams, you will have a title struggling to do a few hundreds and another doing millions. There are only pyramids and ant hills,” tells Swarup.

What publishers look in a manuscript…

Each publisher has its own guidelines for accepting a manuscript. What one publisher rejects, often is published by another. “We simply look at writing which is absorbing. We have an evaluation metrics which we follow to commission a book,” told Swarup.

While, Thomas says that for them quality, and some sort of difference even within well established genres, is important. “Take a look at Govinda for instance (neo-mythology/alternative history) or Walls of Delhi (translated literary fiction) or The Elephant Catchers (business) or Mr Majestic (dystopian fiction) or War Ministry (political thriller) or non-fiction like The Art of Thinking Clearly — they all stand out from the crowd,” he makes a point.

While, Bikash says that novels based on history and current affairs are two aspects they specially look out for.

“It depends on what kind of fiction you are publishing. If it is commercial, then you are looking for a gripping plot, the ability to make the reader turn the page. If it is literary, you are looking for the writing style and content which is rich in sociological or physiological insights. Of course these are generalisations as there are authors and books that manage to combine both readability and depth,” tells Gautam.

“India has got a wide variety of talented writers and amazing content to leave you spellbound with their writing. Our knowledge about our modern Indian writers are limited and time has come to bring more such writers in the forefront,” adds Swarup. Publishers’ USP…

Each trade publisher has its own USP, offering author all the core benefits in terms of production, distribution, marketing & sales, and author relationship. Leadstart Publishing, for example, has direct retail distribution to over 104 towns and cities across India. “Alongside, distribution arrangements with all the largest book distributors in the country and global alliances to work for performing Indian titles are also in place,” adds Swarup.

Similarly, Westland believes in working closely with authors in all aspects of the publishing process including marketing. “As a company that has its roots in distribution, Westland is one of the few publishers that directly deals with every key retailer in this country,” adds Gautam as a matter of fact.

“We promote authors by all possible means. We try to make the books as attractive as possible, give publicity through book release functions and advertisement, generate visibility by placing the books in bookshops. All these lead to the author’s benefit,” tells Bikash.

While, Thomas says that Hachette India offers a quality imprint, great editorial interface, top notch design and production, and industry leading sales and marketing. “But most importantly we publish a varied but tight list…of just 40-odd books per year. So with us there is much greater attention,” he adds.

Print runs…

It is interesting to note that the print runs for trade books vary from title to title. Swarup defines the print titles under three different models: 1 annual grand release – print run size 2.5 lakh – 5 lakh; 3 monthly large releases (30 / year) – print run size 5,000 – 15,000; and 10 releases per month of new talent titles (120/ year) – print run – 500 – 2,000 copies.

While, Thomas says that at Hachette India, it varies widely depending on segment. “Something like Stephenie Meyer or Steve Jobs are in the lakh plus segment while a poetry book would be 1,500 copies,” he says. As per Gautam, initial print runs vary from 3,000 copies to five lakh copies (in the case of Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy). 
Besides, at Niyogi Books, the average print runs remain 2000 copies.

Print on Demand (POD) in trade publishing…

On asking about the use of Print on Demand for trade publishing, Gautam replies, “We have not yet started using POD but we are not very far from using this.” While, publishers like Leadstart are already using POD for their advantage. “We do use POD for two kinds of books, the new ones which have yet to prove themselves or for backlists where much demand is not forecasted. While selecting a POD printer, we just look at the turnaround time and production quality with the commercials,” adds Swarup quickly.

While, Thomas says, “POD means short run printing which paradoxically implies a capability of precision and scale in handling multiple volumes across titles. So that’s the first thing I look for — not just somebody who has a couple of machines but whether there is the capacity to efficiently, cost-effectively and quickly cope with multiple orders.”

Trade vis-a-vis education publishing…

“The differences between trade and education publishing are obvious — from audience to type of book to pricing to most importantly the risk. Every consumer book is a gamble. We have different divisions engaged in educational publishing abroad, but Hachette India currently focuses only on the trade side of publishing,” adds Thomas.

The marketing strategy for both education and trade publishing are different. “Buying fiction is an impulse purchase while buying a text book is compulsory for the student. Marketing for fiction focuses on the consumer while marketing for STM focuses on the decision makers who are responsible for syllabi and on the titles that best cover these,” tells Gautam.

While, Bikash says, “Educational and STM books have a well defined target readership. Number of educational institutions and students being known, there is a captive audience too. Publishing fiction is a totally different ball-game where the readership is amorphous and uncertain.”

“When you work with a forecastable business model, say Academic publishing, for a seventh standard geography book for example, you will have a firm estimate of the floor (minimum books which can sell) and the ceiling. Also, your entire portfolio has just say 100 titles (10 subjects x 10 standards), all the content is the public domain, so anyone can publish the content. Essentially, anyone with a better product and a better price will beat you. So the entire effort is of being more efficient. While on a non-forecastable business model like Trade publishing, you have to concentrate more on effectivity, i.e. getting the product right, marketing it to create a demand, then sell and look at efficiencies much later, when the book is a bestseller of sorts,” further explains Swarup.

Transitions in publishing…

More than publishing, the market is changing rapidly…. “And these changes — some economy linked, some linked to the changes in technology or just methods of bookselling — have all begun to impact publishing,” says Thomas. While Bikash adds, “The biggest change I notice is in the marketing of books. Amazon, Flipkart and others have revolutionized how to reach books to the readers.”

“The growth of the e-book and the growth of online retail along with the emergence of self publishing would be the three main changes the publishing world is facing today. Added to this, in India, we are seeing a demographic shift towards a new generation of readers. While those educated in English are more comfortable with an Indianised version of the language and those whose cultural sensibilities are rooted in India. Authors like Chetan Bhagat who target this segment have been the most successful,” shares Gautam.

On ebooks…

Even though ebooks are still in nascent stage in India, but the segment is growing, more so for trade books. Publishers are upgrading themselves to gear up to this rising need. Let’s see how. “We were the first trade publisher to go live with a full batch of ebooks and today we have reached simultaneous ebooks publication capability for all our books. That has meant a change in workflow, but that has now been achieved,” tells Thomas proudly.

“While ebooks are yet to take off in India, we do believe that this format will increasingly become an important segment of our business. Though print sales will decline, we don’t believe this will disappear. Essentially as publishers, our role is to make all our titles in both formats so that the reader gets a choice,” shares Gautam.

“Though e-book in India is still in its infancy, it has the potential of capturing the younger generation,” says Bikash.

But, with ebooks comes the problem of piracy and publishers are finding it difficult to cope up with this problem. “We started e-publishing programme with a bang and then saw some of our titles stated being cracked and made available for free downloads on sites promoting piracy. The world’s largest e-publishing platform from where the file was cracked, seemed to have the best DRM (Digital Rights Management), but they neither took any special measures nor much of ownership of our loss. We do not feel our content is safe in digital form now and are re-looking at the plans. We do not want to get to the position of where the music industry got post digitization of music,” says Swarup cautiously.

Role of media in marketing campaign…

Coming to the role of media in promoting books, Gautam feels that publicity and review copies to editors are part and parcel of any publisher’s marketing plan. “But the definition of what constitutes the possible avenues for reviews have undergone a sea change as it now includes on line bloggers as well as lay readers who post their opinion about books on websites like Flipkart and Amazon,” he adds.

Similar views were shared by Bikash, who says, “I think they play a very big role. These are the only media a publisher can afford to let the whole world know that he/she has a valuable product on offer.”

“The value of media for book is significant and is only growing. Direct e-mailers to book buyers is huge advantage that the e-commerce retailers have brought in. The same has channelized the marketing efforts as well and have added to the market efficiencies. E.g. if you wish to launch an alternate mythology title, an ecommerce giant like Flipkart has a well-organized data base of all the people who have bought the same genre and can effectively send an e-mailer only to those, which produces amazing results,” adds Swarup.

Thomas sums it up in one sentence, “It all comes down to how good one’s targeting was… in the whole direct to consumer publicity or marketing push.”

Role of social media marketing…

Social media are great channels if used well. Facebook, for example, is a peer-to-peer medium while a Twitter is an influencer-follower medium. “What an author needs is to identify which platform possess what type of readers and how can he/she connect to them i.e. say following an Amish Tripathi’s or Anand Neelakantan’s Twitter handle or in a community of poetry lovers page on Facebook and then concentrate effort on that media vehicle. What a lot of people do is put in too much of effort at trying to build their own presence, which is a time consuming effort and in turn not reaching out to existing communities. A lot of authors also make a page for themselves and never make a single update post that. In summary, if you wish to make a page, for a successful execution, treat it like a media vehicle – be regular with at least 3-4 updates every day, in sync with what that page is for, also be present on existing communities and influencers in your readership genre,” shares Swarup.

“We do a lot of social media for books when it’s relevant. No real advice, except use it to effect…don’t just jump on the bandwagon because it’s the new buzzy thing that everybody’s using,” cautions Thomas.

And this medium is going to increase as sale of books move towards on line retail, adds Gautam. “I believe all publishers including Westland are still at a nascent stage in the use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. There is no way of getting away from social media and it is in the interest of every author and publisher to learn how to make best use of the medium,” he says.

Though Niyogi Books is still not there in a big way, Bikash thinks that the social media can be effectively used for promotion of books.

On a concluding note…

“If one is not reading, one is missing out a lot in life,” says Bikash. So, all those who think that readership is declining and publishing industry is in danger, think again…there are many more pastures to be tread. Happy publishing!

Featured trade publishers at a glance…

Westland Ltd is a subsidiary of Trent Ltd, a Tata enterprise that also owns the Landmark chain of bookstores. Westland is among the fastest growing trade publishers in the country today. Its bestselling authors include Amish, Ashwin Sanghi, Rashmi Bansal, Rujuta Diwekar, Harsha & Anita Bhogle, Devdutt Pattanaik and Preeti Shenoy. Bestsellers: Amish’s Shiva Trilogy (Immortals of Meluha, Secret of the Nagas and The Oath Of The Vayuputras), Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant and Krishna Key, Rashmi Bansal’s Connect The Dots, Stay Hungry Stay Foolish, I Have a Dream and Follow Every Rainbow, Rujuta Diwekar’s Women & The Weight Loss Tamasha, Harsha & Anita Bhogle’s The Winning Way, Devdutt Pattanaik’s Seven Secrets of Shiva, Seven Secrets of Vishnu and Preeti Shenoy’s The Secret Wish List.

Leadstart Publishing features distinguished authors and writing from across the globe. Leadstart Publishing has nine imprints and publishes over 150 titles a year in all major book categories. Leadstart also has a retail distribution spread of over 100 cities. Leadstart Publishing is known for its strong fiction and non-fiction titles. They publish books for almost all segments, which include health, biography, travel, religion, history, business, health & fitness, lifestyle, politics, and children’s books. They have offices in India and the US and operates around the world in association with global partners. Bestsellers: Asura: Tale of the Vanquished- The Story of Ravana and His People, Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince by Anuja Chandramouli, Prashant Pinge’s book – Raja and the Giant Donut, etc

Hachette India is the Indian arm of the UK’s largest general books publisher, commenced operations in 2008 and began its local publishing programme in May 2009 with Amit Varma’s My Friend Sancho, the highest selling fiction debut of the year. The Children’s books division got off to a great start as well with the bestselling The Mahatma and the Monkeys. Hachette India publishes general, literary and commercial fiction, children’s and reference books as well as non-fiction, covering memoirs, self help, travel, history, business, popular culture, lifestyle and sport. Bestsellers: Shantaram, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Tipping Point by Macolm Gladwell, Steve Jobs, John Grisham, Enid Blyton, The Moghul series, The Elephant Catchers (just released) by Subroto Bagchi, Edge of Desire by Tuhin Sinha, Durbar by Tavleen Singh and Billionaire’s Aprrentice by Anita Raghvan are this year’s chart toppers.

Niyogi Books has in a short span of time established itself as a publisher of fine illustrated books. Started in 2004, it has over 200 books on its list. It is recognised for its high quality illustrated books on a range of subjects from art and photography to heritage, culture and the history of South Asia. These books have won several awards and prizes including those from the Federation of Indian Publishers. Recently, two travel books were presented the National Tourism Award for ‘Excellence’. Over the years, Niyogi Books has developed a prestigious author base that spans various fields and professions and includes award-winning photographers and journalists, eminent art historians and curators, artists, scholars, travel writers and translators from all over the world. Bestsellers: Lata Mangeshkar in Her Own Voice, Heaven on Earth: Guruvayur Temple, Words of the Master: Tagore, Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History, Forgotten Palaces of Calcutta, Hidden Monuments of Delhi, MF Hussain.

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