“India is emerging as the fastest growing market for English language books”

Shares Sameer Mahale, Associate Vice President – Online & North India (Sales), Penguin Random House (PRH) India in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

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Book distribution plays a pivotal role in the literary ecosystem, connecting authors and publishers with readers across the globe. A well-organized distribution system ensures that books are readily available through various channels, such as bookstores, libraries, and online retailers. The evolving landscape of book distribution reflects the dynamic interplay between technology, market demands, and the diverse preferences of readers, ultimately contributing to the accessibility and democratization of literature.

Sameer Mahale, Associate Vice President – Online & North India (Sales), Penguin Random House (PRH) India gives an insight into the PRH distribution network in India. Excerpts.

AABP: What is the extent of PRH distribution network and how do you operate?

Sameer: PRH has the widest distribution network and one of the largest sales teams in Indian subcontinent. We have a 24-head strong sales team with decades of experience. As many as 15 colleagues are 100% involved with on-the-ground activity, with top notch back-up support from product managers and customer service based at the head office in Gurgaon. PRH is the only trade publisher in India to have a dedicated sales team for different verticals such as Online Sales, School, Export, corporate sales and sales to alternate channels.

AABP: Which all publishers do you work with and from which countries?

Sameer: World’s leading publishers have trusted us with their books. To name a few – Harvard Business Review, Ingram, Hay House, Faber & Faber, Atlantic, Canongate, Walker, Little Tiger, Source Books, Seagull Books, Granta, Sterling etc. We are also entrusted to distribute large range of books by University Presses such as Princeton, MIT, Columbia etc.

AABP: What criteria do you consider when selecting publishers to collaborate with and which genres?

Sameer: We consider three factors: quality of books, size of the catalogue and relevance to our market. We are not really restricted by genres. We distribute publishers who publish in across the genres.

AABP: Do you have regional distribution centres, and how do they contribute to efficient book delivery?

Sameer: We’ve channel partners in every region who actively stock and sell our books in territories allocated to them. We ensure availability of our core list and front list with channel partners and that helps us to efficiently catering to the needs of booksellers.

AABP: How does your company leverage technology for inventory management, order processing, and tracking shipments?

Sameer: PRHI has state of the art warehouse facility with modern Infrastructure in North India. We are constantly upgrading and investing in space, technology and manpower to cater to our channel partners efficiently.

We’ve moved to a robust ERP system, SAP, in FY 22 to streamline operations and order management. SAP is helping us in centralizing the data, improves communication between departments, and enhances overall efficiency.

We are also in the process of moving to EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) which will help us fast-track large orders and improve our speed to the market.

We have also enabled a process wherein invoices with tracking details are sent to customers as soon as goods move out from our warehouse. Tracking is not real time, but it gets updated every day by our delivery partners.

AABP: What trends do you see emerging in the book distribution industry, both globally and in India?

Sameer: India is emerging as the fastest growing market for English language books in the world. All projections indicate that print books would continue to grow in high double digits in India. Several global publishers, big & small, are looking to capitalize on growing number of affluent customers in India by establishing their presence in the country. These publishers prefer to be represented by a well-known partner with superior infrastructure and a proven track record. Hence, we get approached by several global publishers and currently represent more than 20 international publishers. Our team keeps an eye on demand for books by global publishers in our market and proactively approach them for distribution in the Indian Subcontinent. Most of these international publishers have reported significant jump in revenue with professional distribution set-up, local availability, and a wider reach of their books in the country.

AABP: Who are your primary customers?

Sameer: We work with couple of well-known national distributors who provide us regional stocking points and have effective presence in all metro cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Pune. Our channel partners stock our core list as well as all our key front list. Their sales teams travel extensively alongside PRHI Sales Team to tier 2 & tier 3 town to sell our books and cater to all their needs.

AABP: What are the challenges in book distribution industry, and how are these challenges being addressed?

Sameer: We anticipate substantial growth in business from Tier 2 and tier 3 towns. Since our distributors are based in metros, speed of delivery to smaller towns is longer than we’d liked.

It takes even longer if stock is unavailable with distributors. We are working on tech driven solutions to maintain optimum inventory with distributors and prioritising supplies to booksellers in smaller towns.

AABP: What sustainability initiatives are in place, especially regarding packaging and distribution practices?

Sameer: Sustainability has been one of our biggest priorities. Here are some the key steps undertaken by PRHI:

  • Printing – We are migrating to 100% recyclable paper to print our books and this will give us significant saving on CO2 emission.
  • Packaging – We’ve undertaken several initiatives to reduce the usage of plastic in packaging and use recyclable/biodegradable packaging material.
  • Sealing – We’ve developed a hot glue sealing packing method to completely avoid plastic tapes.

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