India: A publishing superstar in the making

Richard Charkin, Founder, Mensch Publishing and President of Bloomsbury China and Consultant to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, shares his views on the Indian publishing industry.

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As I approach my seventieth birthday and am enjoying multiple publishing missions (but no single all-consuming one), I have found myself tempted by nostalgia for a forty-seven year career which I hope has many years still to run. I shall try to resist but allow me a little indulgence.

Richard Charkin
Richard Charkin

Richard Charkin is Founder and sole employee of Mensch Publishing. He is also currently President of Bloomsbury China and consultant to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. He is a non-executive director of the Institute of Physics Publishing and Liverpool University Press. He is President of John Wisden, the Bible of cricket. He is a member of the international advisory board of the Frankfurt Book Fair and has been President of both the UK Publishers Association and the International Publishers Association. He is President of the Book Society in London.

Charkin has held senior positions at Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (Executive Director), Macmillan (CEO), part of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck (Director); Current Science Group (CEO); Reed Elsevier (CEO Reed International Books); Oxford University Press (Managing Director Academic and General Divisions); and Pergamon Press (Senior Publishing Manager).

The Indian publishing industry has thrived over the last fifty years because of India’s plurality. The plurality of languages, the growing universality of English, the strength of its academic infrastructure, the entrepreneurship of its people, and crucially the freedom to publish.

My first visit to India was to OUP’s Delhi offices in Ansari Road. The MD, brilliant and charming Ravi Dayal, explained to me that carbon paper (who remembers that vital tool?) was very expensive so he had young graduates retyping letters for file copies in order to save money. Inspite of Ravi, there was still a post-colonial feel to the place but it was clear that Indian publishing was going to change.

And how it has changed! But not before on a visit in 1998 to Macmillan’s Jaipur office I came across piles of old textbooks with this logo. Of course India has ‘minds in millions’ but whether Macmillan did the moulding I rather doubt.

Ravi Dayal
Ravi Dayal

Perhaps the first seismic shift came with India becoming a world leader for typesetting for Western publishers which in turn led to professionalisation and immersion in technology. Then Indian printing moved from manual binding and steam-driven letterpress machines to top quality modern manufacturing. Alongside these developments there was a tightening of restrictions against pirates (never tight enough of course), loosening of government control of publishing (never loose enough), and the explosion of Indian creativity in literature, in science, in art, in education, and in publishing. Echoing V.S. Naipaul’s great book there have been a million mutinies but in publishing there are no victims.

These changes set the scene for Indian publishers to thrive alongside subsidiaries of global publishers and this growth was supported ably by the two major trade associations, FIP and API. There have been setbacks, of course. For instance, the loss of the excellent ELBS scheme, the furore around the publication of The Satanic Verses, occasional freedom of expression issues, the Delhi University library lawsuit, and the spasmodic efforts of State governments to control educational publishing.

Nonetheless Indian publishing is still a great investment opportunity and I was honoured to be involved in the initiation and development of Bloomsbury India under the leadership of Rajiv Beri and a strong management and publishing team.

Rajiv Beri
Rajiv Beri

In just seven years the business has grown into a significant feature of the Indian market, publishing in print and digital leading international authors such as J.K. Rowling, William Dalrymple, Kamila Shamsie, Elizabeth Gilbert, Indian authors such as Shiv Khera and Vikas Khanna, legal and tax publications, educational books and a strong Indian-language programme including first-class translations of Harry Potter to come shortly. It is also the publisher of a project close to my heart. I wish the Indian cricket team the very best in the upcoming World Cup but I cannot help but support England.

In short, Bloomsbury India is a serious contender in the IPL (Indian Publishing League). Bloomsbury India is both an independent publishing company, part of the burgeoning Indian publishing ecosystem and a valued part of Bloomsbury worldwide – an ideal combination.

They are also the Indian distributor for my latest venture, Mensch Publishing, and my first book, Time to Go. There will be plenty more books to come but do take a look at this one – it is entertaining and addresses a subject of enormous and growing importance throughout the world. The Indian publishing industry has thrived over the last fifty years because of India’s plurality. The plurality of languages, the growing universality of English, the strength of its academic infrastructure, the entrepreneurship of its people, and crucially the freedom to publish. There can be little doubt that what we see now is only the beginning of what will become one of the largest and most vibrant publishing industries in the world. Publishing Superstars indeed!

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