“Ecommerce provides easy access to books to millions of readers”

says Subroto Mozumdar, Chief Executive Officer, Ananda Publishers, while sharing his views on the status of language publishing industry in current times.

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Established in 1957, with the intent of providing readers with the best of creative literature and studies in Bengali, Ananda Publishers is one of the leading publishers in the Bengali language. Since 2018, Ananda Publishers has been acquiring publishing companies that cater to the school textbook market. Two of the recent acquisitions are Headword Publishing Company Pvt Ltd and Kips Learning Pvt Ltd. Headword publishes textbooks and supporting digital materials for the primary to secondary curricula of the ICSE and CBSE boards while Kips is the market leader in school computer books, teacher support materials and training. With its own publishing programme of Bengali literary works, coupled with the educational publishing programmes of its subsidiaries, the group turnover of Ananda Publishers is in excess of `160 crores. With an organic growth rate of 25-30%, and ongoing negotiations for further acquisitions, the group is well on its way to become one of the leading educational publishing entities in India. Ananda Publishers, an associate of the ABP Group, brings 115 to 130 new titles every year.

Subroto Mozumdar, Chief Executive Officer, Ananda Publishers, shares his views on the status of language publishing industry and the widening scope due to the New Education Policy.

On language publishing…

“The Bengali language market is a vibrant one, especially in the trade and academic segment. The strong cultural tradition of inculcating a habit of reading and learning in the Bengali household translates to a thriving publishing industry. Nowhere in the world can one see the kind of queues outside publishers’ stands as at the Kolkata Book Fair. It is heartening to see the continuing interest of successive generations of readers for books in the Bengali language. There is a steady and year round market for book at retail bookshops and of late in the online retail trade,” tells Subroto.

The Bengali publishing hub…

“The market is centred in Kolkata with all major publishing outlets based in the city, with most of them located in and around the College Street area. The oldest bookshop in the street, Dasgupta & Co. Pvt. Ltd. was established in 1886. Members of the retail trade from all over the state of West Bengal take a train down to the nearby Sealdah Station and walk down to College Street to pick up their stocks. The business is largely carried out in cash and hence turnover, though moderate, is healthy in terms of cash flows,” he shares.

On readership…

“The readership in Bengal is such that most popular titles published in the English language are more often than not, read in their original form. A total of 128 titles have been translated into Bengali by us. We have reprint rights from Bangladesh for India for 5 titles. We have also published the entire Asterix series of 13 titles from Hachette, 41 children’s book titles from Editions Gallimard and some 5 other titles from various other publishers from France. From Belgium, we have the entire Tintin series of 24 titles by Hergé from Casterman. From Singapore, we have The Young Scientist series of 12 books by Nury Vittachi and 3 individual titles from World Scientific Publishing Corporation. We also have 20 odd titles from various publishers in the UK and 10 titles from publishers in the USA,” he tells.

Selling rights…

“We have not been proactive in selling rights. Most of our rights have been sold within India and some abroad. We plan to actively develop opportunities in this area. In all we have licensed 94 titles in multiple Indian languages besides English, French and Japanese,” shares Subroto.

On New Education Policy…

“There appears to be an aspiration to raise the importance of languages other than English in the NEP. The cultural traditions of Bengal and the pride of its people in their language is incomparable in the Subcontinent. Hence, the government’s aspirations are perhaps directed more towards other languages. Given its muddling track record in large scale implementations, it doesn’t seem likely that it will lead to any immediate opportunities emerging out of this policy initiative. On the other hand, should this renewed emphasis on languages lead to improved reading habits amongst people across the country, in various languages, this may give rise to more publishing in languages other than Bengali and for Ananda Publishers that would mean the rise of a viable market for translation rights,” he says.

“On the educational publishing side of our business, the NEP and the national curriculum emerging out of it, means the levelling of the playing field, providing an opportunity for us to ramp up our capacities and publishing output to compete on an even footing with older players, “ shares Subroto.

“As with any policy change, the challenges lie in the area of implementation. There is likely to be a period of confusion and iteration in the education systems across states. Educational publishers will have to navigate the waters accordingly. The latter is not too worrying as the industry has shown itself to have been pretty nimble and adaptable to changes over the year. The true challenge, as mentioned earlier, therefore really lies in the implementation, which means that educational institutions will face the brunt of the changes and will have to undergo a certain bit of change as a consequence,” he adds.

“However, changes in policy leading to changes in curriculum, cosmetic or otherwise, does little to change reading habits. A drastic improvement in the treatment of the liberal arts in school education is what will cause societal and cultural changes, profound enough to make a significant and noticeable impact on publishing. At this point in time, it is difficult to predict as to what impact the NEP will have on our organisation,” he adds.

Impact of Covid-19…

“In the last one year, the pandemic has caused havoc in the retail sector and the consequent impact on cash flows has been devastating for the Bengali publishing and retail businesses. The overall market turnover has been almost halved, although online sales have been rising, it will be some time before the turnover from this new channel will be high enough to nullify the downturn in the brick and mortar retail sector,” he adds.

“The impact of COVID 19 for us, like for all other publishers in our segment, has been terrible in terms of cash flows. Schools remaining closed for more than a year now has had a debilitating impact on our educational publishing businesses. It has however forced us in many ways to up our act and get better organised with digitising our content and archives and managing them better. We have launched our own ecommerce site and eBook reader,” shares Subroto.

The silver lining…

“The response to our ecommerce site for Ananda Publishers,

www.anandapub.in even with no marketing, has been very encouraging. We have actively started marketing the site and the strength of the brand has really come through with absolutely unheard of conversion rates. That said, while it may be nothing short of tragic for the traditional retail outlets, the ecommerce feature, especially for a strong brand like Ananda Publishers, with its association with an iconic media house, is fast emerging as a major revenue generator for the organisation. With search engine optimisation and marketing, the website and app will be a major platform for showcasing the works of authors of books in Bengali besides providing easy access to our books to the millions of our readers,” concludes Subroto.

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