Delhi Press: Celebrating 80 glorious years

“We were…we are and we will be readers’ publishers,” says Rakesh Nath of Vishv Books, Delhi Press Group in conversation with Smita Dwivedi.

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Delhi Press was established in 1939 by late Shri Vishva Nath. The Caravan, an English literary magazine, was launched in the following year which became an instant success, enjoying wide readership in the country. It is one of the leading magazine publishers of India which reaches out to more than 20 million readers. They publish 36 magazines in 10 languages, including some of the legendary titles in the country like Grihshobha, Sarita, Saras Salil, Woman’s Era and Champak. Vishv Books is an associate company of Delhi Press Group, which publishes the complete range of school textbooks and curriculum supportive books for students of Kindergarten to Class 8, besides a wide variety of general books. Having a gratifying legacy of 80 years, the Group still continues to serve its readers with the best.

Here, Rakesh Nath, who has officially completed 50 years with Delhi Press, shares his publishing insights.

Great start…good going

Besides being a successful publisher, Rakesh Nath has also written around 40 books on Indology in Hindi and English and worked on various types of dictionaries as well. So, how this journey actually started, to which he replied, “It was an obvious choice for me to join my father. I started my professional journey, while I was studying in Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University in 1961. I have learnt everything by experience and people’s interaction. We have seen it all happening and learning.”

“We were mainly into magazine publishing, but as we saw the downfall, we ventured into textbook publishing. We still publish magazines but circulations have gone down drastically. Once our magazines used to have print run of 14-15 lakh, which has come down to just 2-3 lakh,” he said.

Diversification leads to inception of Vishv Books

The inception of Group’s book publishing division – Vishv Books was a thoughtful move and it also proved to be a successful venture. So what was the thought behind its inception and he shared, “Our aim is to serve young readers with the most appropriate and the best books. We derive our strength from the belief that we are contributing to the making of tomorrow’s global citizens who are also facilitators of a positive change in our global society.”

“We aim to create good quality books for children at affordable rates. Our books are well thought out and designed in a way that helps quality learning at every reading level. We also have a wide variety of general books, which include picture-story books, short story books, colouring books, art and craft books, model-making books, and three-dimensional (3D) books like pop-up books, all well-known for their designing and quality. A result of creative thinking and commitment to excellence, our books span multiple difficulty levels and help develop thinking skills,” he further added.

They publish in more than eight languages (English and other primary languages of India). In addition to India, marketing and distribution of their books extends to other parts of the world,including the Middle East, Egypt, USA, UK, Mexico, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Nepal.

Brick-and-mortar vs online bookshops

For any publisher, the main concern is to increase book sales and readership. And for them,both brick-and-mortar and online bookshops are equally important with own pros and cons. As per Nath, online bookshops have the advantage of providing a wide range of books without paying any transportation cost and saving on time. “Moreover, online sellers, like Amazon, sometimes provide great discounts on books ranging from 50 to 70%, which no one can match. But many people still prefer the in-store shopping experience where they can see and touch books before making a purchase,” he added.

He further shared that online selling has helped them in increasing book sales by 30 to 40% per annum. “We offer same discounts/prices to all booksellers but e-commerce portals like Amazon or other online sellers being so big, have great volumes, so they can sustain losses. This has helped in making books readily available anywhere. When books are provided at doorstep, it is a big advantage. Amazon offers great choice in terms of authors, genre, types or language. Sometimes it gives even 70% discounts and ultimately when readers are happy, readership increases.”

On asking which medium he prefers, “As we have people, who want to read, be it books or magazines, so as publishers, we have to fulfill the readers’ needs. I have witnessed huge crowds at book fairs buying hoard of books. So, I feel it’s the fault of publishers/booksellers, who are unable to provide books at their doorstep. In New Friends Colony (Delhi), there is not a single bookshop, so for me to buy a book from a bookstore is an event. I have to drive for 30 minutes, park my car, and search for a book and it might be available, and might not be.”

E-books or printed books

The 21st century is governed by technology, and so we did so many wonderful technological advancements. Further, book reading has also evolved (technically) with time. Nowadays, people are glued to their tablets / smartphones / kindles. So, what are his views on this quintessential debate ‘e-books vs printed books’. Being a well-traveled and experienced publishing professional, he shared his viewpoint, and said, “Last year, I attended a symposium during Frankfurt Book Fair and someone shared that e-books have reached 25% of total readership volume once, but now it has come down to 8%. People have started liking printed books. Digital version has many advantages like convenience, easy to carry, adjustable font size, self-lighting and cheaper (though devices are expensive).But one book cannot be shared by all, and in Indian system this doesn’t work. They strain our eyes more and we can’t fully depend on technology. But nothing matters unless and until we are enjoying the reading part. Basically it’s the content which matters not the medium. So I feel it’s a personal choice.”

To further support the new trend he shared that most of their titles are also available as e-books, and added, “We have apps for use in mobile phones and tablets as well.”

On book fairs & literature festival

Numerous national and international book fairs and several litfests are gaining great popularity nowadays. Are they really important for the book publishing world? And he shared his opinion, “Only in India, we have book fair, which are B2C, whereas in Europe and America all book fairs are B2B, with some exceptions like Frankfurt Book Fair, which is B2C, on last day after 2 pm. We actively participate in all major book fairs held around the world. Our books are prescribed by many schools across the world. We have sold rights for language versions as well. At these fairs, we meet around 100 foreign book buyers under one roof. It is good for business deals and first-hand industry insights. For book buyers, it is helpful in getting the real essence of books.”

“Litfests are also important in today’s time. It is helpful in increasing readership by creating an interface between book sellers/creators and buyers/readers,” he added.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Having a substantial professional journey spanning over 5 decades now, he has seen it all. So, we asked him to share ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ of his journey so far and he replied, “Well, there are so many to each category. So the Good is technology. I would say the best change that this industry has witnessed is the change in printing technology from letterpress to offset to digital. This has improved book production quality immensely. Modern book production is time saving and very efficient. With these modern innovations everyone can be a publisher (laughs).”

“The Bad for me is surviving socio-political changes. Delhi Press,especially our magazine Sarita has been involved in numerous controversies.

“The Ugly is Taxation. Since independence till July 2017, we were tax exempted. On July 1, 2017, the goods and services tax (GST) came into effect in India. Now there is a 12% tax on author’s royalties as well that needs to be deposited as part of the reverse tax mechanism by the publishing firm on behalf of the author with the income-tax authorities. Other input costs, too, have increased, as GST has to be deposited on all invoices raised by vendors to whom publishing services are outsourced overhead costs like rent, travel and communication have also increased from 15% to 18% due to GST. Subsequently, it has affected the pricing of books, and readers have a mindset for book pricing, thus, we can’t price extravagantly. Right now, publishing is going through a financial stress. And survival of publishing houses will depend on how much financial stress they can bear. It has really hit us hard,” he opined.

The legacy…

Vishv Books fortunately have had many proud moments over the years. On asking Rakesh Nath about the same, he said that it gives him immense pleasure to watch his daughter Mudit Mohini, who is third generation professional joining family business (willingly) doing great job. “We have been awarded for the quality of our books and have been appreciated by both our international clients and our fellow publishers nationally and internationally for our production. I give this credit to Mudit. Since childhood,she was a designer and has a passion for designing and creating children’s books.”

Reading for pleasure…

According to Nath, early exposure to good books plays an important role in shaping an individual’s personality. “Being a responsible parent, we all must ensure that our kids get good quality books,” he added.

On a concluding note…

“I see promising future of Indian publishing industry. Textbooks and other books will always be in demand. We just need to keep improving our quality and increase our standards to become best book producers of the world. Besides readers, I also see government support in this noble cause,” concluded Rakesh Nath.

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