“Trade publishing will evolve into a much larger and accommodative industry”

Says Vikas Rakheja, Managing Director, Manjul Publishing House Pvt Ltd, who believes that trade publishing will evolve and succeed for many more years to come.

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Vikas Rakheja, Managing Director, Manjul Publishing House Pvt Ltd shares his views on the status of trade publishing in India.

AABP: How has the publishing ecosystem changed over the years?

Vikas: If we compare 2022 to say the first decade of the 21st century, I would say, everything – from the way we read books, to the way they are sold, distributed, published, and marketed – has seen multiple changes. Books can now be read on Kindle and as small a device as your cellphone and if that’s not enough, then you can listen to an audiobook while doing any other activity. Authors can reach readers directly, without having a traditional publisher playing the intermediary, through Kindle Direct Publishing. Self-publishing platforms are gathering steam. Marketing and promotion have become even more interesting, challenging and competitive, and making a book successful requires an entire community (digital and non-digital)!

Another change is the shutting down of brick-and-mortar bookshops. With easy access to and good discounts available on online portals, book lovers choose to order books online and not visit bookstores. As a result, bookshops have lost out on business.

I also feel that the publishing ecosystem has become more egalitarian in its approach. Publishers are experimenting with new genres and not restricting themselves to only that which is considered high-brow. Translations have made major in-roads into publishing. Whether it be Indian language translations of international bestsellers, which is what Manjul is known for, or translations of literary gems written in Indian languages into English, readers are open to reading fresh content.

Also, literary agents are now a very integral part of publishing systems. More and more publishers prefer to commission books via literary agents and more authors prefer approaching publishers via literary agents.

AABP: With technology disruption in publishing, how has it impacted the industry in terms of book production?

Vikas: Technology has only aided us in reaching a wider audience and providing them with multiple options to choose from. For people who don’t want to carry the weight of many books, the Kindle reader keeps all their books in one device. For those who don’t want to strain their eyes reading a book or reading on screen, Audible and various other audio book platforms provide a variety of options to choose from. The word ‘production’ is no longer restricted to printing a physical book. An eBook requires the final PDF of the manuscript to be converted into a file appropriate for uploading on eBook platforms and an audio book requires much more, like an audio book narrator and a recording studio amongst many other things. Editing and proofreading is now done on word documents and PDFs using track changes, thus saving a lot of time and trees!

AABP: How has technology changed the book business in terms of sales & marketing?

Vikas: A large chunk of book sales is now driven by online sellers. With greater technology penetration coupled with easy accessibility and reach, the online book market in India is expected to grow much more in this era of e-commerce and the digital book. The growth of 4G – with 5G on the horizon, ever technologically advancing mobile phones, increasing reach of the Internet and consumer confidence in online retail as a reliable and efficient option will drive growth in online sales. The ease of shopping online and the wide choices and attractive pricing, backed-up by the convenience of home delivery are the established key growth drivers. As a country that speaks English as the second language, India has seen consistent growth in book readership. In recent years, e-commerce has improved the availability of international bestsellers in multiple Indian languages for the small-town reader. The vernacular target audience presents a huge potential with the growth of e-commerce. The print-on-demand facility has enabled to-order print-runs and good quality printing, thus aiding better inventory management. Otherwise too, with quicker replenishment facilities, bookstores have managed to reduce their stock liability, resulting in increased profitability.

Technology now plays a significant role in the advertising and promotion of books with the help of social media. Reaching the core target audience in quick time and real time has become easier with multiple mediums available, each offering attractive tools to reach a pre-defined reader base. Creative scope, from simple graphics to small promotional films, has made digital promotion very interesting and lightening quick. Book bloggers, reviewers and influencers have carved a special niche for themselves with their dedicated and large fan following.

AABP: What are the current challenges in trade publishing?

Vikas: For one, the competition is very high. We have to constantly think of ways to bring to our readers more interesting content, especially in the genres of non-fiction. Post-Pandemic, we have seen a higher demand for books in the genres of spirituality, self-help, personality development, etc.

Secondly, piracy is posing to be a huge challenge. Thanks to technology, the PDFs of books are easily made available, ensuring that the original publishers lose out on sales. In India, piracy is so rampant that foreign publishers shy away from selling the rights of their books to India. When Indian publishers buy rights to an international book, it is but natural that it becomes available at a cheaper price in India (if you compare it to its original price in the US or the UK or Australia, for example). People indulging in piracy make this cheaper edition available in foreign countries at a cost lower than the original and thus take over the market. Publishers lose out on business because of these mal-practices. We are trying very hard to overcome this problem but it is still very much one of our main challenges.

Thirdly, all over the world, paper cost has increased which then ultimately leads to the increase in the MRP of books. India is a very price-sensitive market and the decision of a potential book buyer rests largely on the price of the book too.

AABP: How is Manjul Publishing gearing up for these challenges?

Vikas: Manjul has always focussed on innovation and creativity to bring to our readers exactly what they want. Whether it be international bestsellers in multiple regional languages of India or fabulous books in the genres of their choice, we have always kept the choices of our readers as our number one priority. We monitor trends and commission authors who we are sure can deliver what the reader wants. And when it comes to buying rights from foreign publishers who are concerned about piracy issues, we work very closely with online portals like Amazon to hunt down piracy channels and de-list them. We also add stickers on our book that state in clear bold letters that that particular edition can only be sold in India.

The cost of paper is something we have no control over. But we never make any compromises on the quality of the production standards, translation or content of our books. We try to ensure that our books are available to our readers at industry rates.

AABP: What new opportunities have emerged?

Vikas: Earlier, audiobook platforms would focus mainly on English books but now there is a significant audience for audiobooks of books written in or translated into vernacular languages. We are now able to tap into a market that was hitherto restricted to reading only printed books. Manjul works with all leading audio platforms. Our bestselling books across languages are now available and doing well on audio platforms such as Audible, Storytel, Kuku FM, and Pocket HM. This market is growing at a very fast pace we are happy that many of our books have found a loyal audience here.

Secondly, OTT platforms are now looking for content from books. Publishing houses now actively work with agents and OTT platforms to take stories from books to movies or a series, thus helping so many wonderful stories reach bigger platforms and a wider audience.

AABP: How do you see trade publishing industry evolving over the next few years?

Vikas: I think trade publishing will evolve into a much larger and more accommodative industry. The fact that trade publishing is full of creative people guarantees novel ideas and exciting content always. I see publishing collaborating with organisations that will help books adapt to changing tastes and perhaps extend themselves into innovative platforms that cater to a variety of entertainment choices.

AABP: Anything else you would like to add…

Vikas: When the pandemic attacked the world, publishing went through a very difficult time. Books are not considered to be essential items and hence even online sales were not possible during the lockdown. But publishing somehow managed to wade through this and come out successful because of innovative ideas and embracing technology. The Indian readers’ love for books has seen us through one of the worst times in recent human history, and I am positive that trade publishing will evolve and succeed for many more years to come because of our genuine love for a good story.

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