Creating the magic in books!

Maintaining the balance between affordability and quality is a tough job, but Wonder House Books is doing just that! In a short span of time, this children’s publishing house has made its indelible mark in the industry.

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Writing Fun, My First Sticker Books, Super Activity Pads, 101 Activity Books, Pencil Control and Namaha—Illustrated Stories from the Lands of Gods and Goddesses, are some of the top-selling books of Wonder House Books, which is gradually making its mark in the industry.

Here, Prashant Pathak, Publisher – Wonder House Books, an imprint of Prakash Books, shares more about this children’s publishing house.

The inception…

“It all began on the sidelines of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2016 where Gaurav Sabharwal, our Managing Director, and I met. That’s when we realised our sensibilities about wanting to fill a gap in the children’s book publishing space were closely aligned. We started talking about children’s books and eventually it evolved into an idea. We both wanted to go global and at the same time, provide children’s books at affordable prices in India. That’s how Wonder House Books was born!” tells Prashant.

“I am a young parent myself and I understand the value of quality books and quality education that we would want to give our children. That is where Wonder House Books takes a special initiative to address the concerns of young parents, especially those with children in the 0–8 age group. One of our key strengths is our commitment to be inclusive in how we create content and adapt to the market. For instance, our board books represent babies of all colours and ethnicities; we don’t just use images of white babies! That is a very strong commitment we have—to be fair to our readers, even if they’re babies! We are also hugely invested in providing a superior quality title, both in terms of design as well as print,” he adds.

Quality books at affordable rates…

“Well, most of the good quality books come from the international market, which are quite expensive. Therefore, what we are trying to do is invest in good quality titles at affordable prices, so that every child can read in India. It may surprise you to know that even till date, there aren’t many books for children’s leisure reading. So, our focus area is to introduce children to leisure reading as well. We have a comprehensive list of subject matter experts on board to vet our content, and we make a huge investment in hiring the best in the industry to ensure that our titles are responsibly created for the children’s market. We are a bright and enthusiastic team of around 50 people. We certainly get a few things outsourced from internationally-renowned authors and designers too, so as to get the best title out in the market.,” tells Prashant.

Diverse range…

“Our focus age group is 0–8 years but the entire range is 0–14 years. We created a list of the core titles that we wanted to make available on priority, and got going. So, we have interactive and picture books, pop-up books, touch-and-feel books, encyclopedias, abridged classics, activity books, fairy tales and a range of 100+ titles on licensing from Paw Patrol, Masha and the Bear, Shimmer and Shine, PJ Masks to Peppa Pig. However, we also don’t believe in restricting our vision to just books as a child’s mind is so ceaselessly imaginative, so boundless and so free, it is unfair to box it up and tell a child— this is the only way you should learn about the world around you! Therefore, Wonder House Books is also bringing out an extensive and well-researched range of puzzles, and activity boxes to keep the child engaged, stimulated and entertained,” tells Prashant.

“We are also open to buying rights internationally. In fact, we have bought titles from Ukraine, Canada, Italy; we have brought in characters like Caillou, and Ferrari titles from Italy; we have bought award winning books from Ukraine which won the Bologna Ragazzi Award 2018. We are already selling our stocks in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa, in small numbers and we would be focussing more on selling stocks and doing co-editions across the globe,” he adds.

On languages…

“We primarily publish in English, but we have a lot of titles in Hindi. In terms of regional languages, we are doing Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Malayalam; the programme is still at a nascent stage. We have done few titles in international languages such as Spanish and we plan to increase our focus and range on this,” tells Prashant.

The unique offerings…

“You will be amazed to know that we introduced the Indian children’s publishing scene to the Pencil Control Book— unique in its concept as well as treatment. In the last 1.5 years, we have sold over 150,000 copies of Pencil Control across the world. Another box set that did wonders is the Little Library. Every child and parent has loved their exclusive Little Library, not just in India but also in US. So, the Little Library has been on Amazon topseller bestseller list from the last 2.5 months. It has sold over 200,000 boxes,” tells Prashant proudly.

Titles range…

“We have a list of around 600 titles and there is a huge pipeline we’re working at: from encyclopedias, abridged classics, and a lot more! By the end of this financial year, we plan to reach about 1000 ISBNs, with a whole lot of innovation design for India and global market,” tells Prashant.

On digital publishing…

“The digital publishing scene has still not picked up as massively in the Indian market especially in the mass market children’s book segment. It did pick up in 2012, but it tapered off with time. However, things have changed now so we certainly have an eye on it. We have converted all our titles into e-books, which are available on Kindle. We are working on an extensive programme with a huge investment on developing interactive e-books for the future,” he tells.

On distribution…

“In terms of our readers, we have a very large network of offline stores from modern trade to standalone bookshops; we reach out to every nook and corner in India. Wonder House Books are also sold in school bookfairs through our channel partners, and online, we work very closely with Amazon, Flipkart and other online partners,” he shares.

Challenges for children’s publishers in India…

On asking about the challenges faced, Prashant replies, “The constant fight between affordability and quality; maintaining that balance is a tough job! Secondly, the focus is highly academic and being a mass market children’s book publisher, it gets difficult to increase the market share. However, young parents who have exposure to reading and the digital world, the trend seems to be changing and we hope that it will move forward in a positive manner.”

Challenges in distribution…

“Distribution in general has a lot of challenges in India. First of all, publishing not being an industry but still being a trade, there aren’t too many regulations; we aren’t covered for contingencies. The biggest challenge is the amount of credit period which we have to cater to the market, which usually goes up to 180 days. So, recovery and maintaining the thin balance of revenues and cash flow is very difficult. Also, the market operates on a very heavy SOR (Sale-on-Return) basis, which again becomes a heavy challenge for the publisher who gets squeezed a lot and has to go through a severe cash flow crunch,” he tells as a matter of fact.

Major achievements …

“Well, reader support and customer satisfaction will always be our primary achievement. However, if we talk in numbers, within a short span of 24 months, we have successfully built a brand. When I measure this success, I don’t measure it in terms of revenue but instead in terms of the love and feedback that we receive. Parents keep tagging us daily on their kid’s Instagram videos where the child enjoys his/her reading time with Wonder House books. The Amazon reviews are also hugely rewarding and keep us going. It is heartening to know that wherever we have taken our titles internationally, these have been well-received, and we have been awarded the Publishing Startup of the Year 2019 by Silicon India,” shares Prashant.

Handling the pandemic…

Covid-19 has changed the way we do business. So what has been the impact on Wonder House Books? “Personally, it has been a good break, to rethink, re-strategise, rejuvenate the mind. It has been really helpful in that I have gone back to reading; a while back there was a lot of churning going on what was needed from us and how far we have come today. Professionally, it has been a great learning to work on our business continuity plan (BCP) which you may not in the normal course of things but when something as unprecedented as the pandemic happens, one must work on a BCP. It has made our approach healthy and brought us in a very positive space. The numbers may be down but morale and the approach is really up. We prepared ourselves to do better from wherever we are; as a team, we are more coordinated than ever,” replies Prashant.

Road ahead…

“In the next five years, our aim is to bring as many smiles as we can, making sure we fill the gap wherever it is, in terms of content and quality,” concludes Prashant.

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