Thursday, December 17, 2009

Article in The Hindu on Kindle

Virtually yours

It's not just for those in the business of publishing, ordinary readers too can gain immensely from e-books

A certain Mr. Gutenberg may be turning in his grave because of it. Many conventional book lovers would rather be caught dead than use this devil. The publishing industry is biting its nails not knowing what shape this semi-explored genie will take. But one thing is for sure — e-book readers are here to stay. Rather — even at the cost of making preposterous predictions — let me say that e-book readers are here to rule.

I'll tell you why. The biggest challenge in the book business anywhere in the world is distribution. Whether an author rolls out a bestseller or not, he/she will always have the complaint against the publisher that not enough copies of his/her book have been made available at the x or y bookstores. Suppose we look at the scenario where people only read e-books, a book would never go out of stock. It can be downloaded to a hand-held gadget within seconds in any part of the world. Technology has the power to be a great leveller here and can rid the publishing industry of distribution hiccups, arguably one of the biggest headaches it suffers from.

Affordable pricing

Now, it's not just about people associated with publishing, book lovers too can gain immensely from this technological revolution.

Almost half of a book's cover price is what could be termed as ‘middlemen's margin'. Add to that the cost of production of the book, warehousing, transportation, wastage in the form of damaged copies and the cost of managing these operations. If you shift to e-books, the price, say of a book that costs Rs.100, can come down to Rs.30! What more could a book lover ask for — being saved from the disappointment of not finding the book he/she wants to read in the neighbourhood book shop and actually getting it at the click of a button from the convenience of her study at an absolutely affordable price. Add to this, the contribution e-books would make to our environment. According to statistics, more than 40 per cent of logged trees are used in making paper. Couple this with the air, water and sound pollution caused by the paper mills, the printing press, the vehicles used for transporting raw materials. Also, materials like inks, chemicals, rubber rollers and plastic get used regularly. The resultant collateral damage to the environment is colossal. A simple e-book reader can save our earth from all this, and it works well with coffee.


(The author is the publisher of Wisdom Tree, the first Indian publishing organisation to sell its books through Amazon Kindle.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The world is the market for e-book readers

Article on e-book readers published in The Economic Times, Khaleej Times etc

Shobit Arya

Last Updated: November 29,2009 11:36:39

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is a novelty, a fad. These were the words uttered famously by a president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer Horace Reckham not to invest in the Ford Motor Co. in 1903. Blame it on the Theory of Technological Evolution or call it the Survival of the Fastest (with due respects to Mr. Darwin) but for a majority of people, travelling in an automobile is as much a part of normal activity as may be bushing their teeth. The day also is not far, oh you lover-of-the-scent-of-paper, when e-book readers will fall in the same bracket.

Coming back to the story, Rackham ignored the advice and bought $5,000 worth of stock and eventually made a fortune by selling it for $12.5 million. The natural question here is: in whose position would you like to be? Horace Rackham's or the banker's? If that's not already easy to answer, let me make it easier for you.

Kindle, the popular e-book reader was the #1 bestselling, #1 most wished for and #1 most gifted item on Amazon. Nook, the brand new e-reader unveiled by Barnes & Noble (who claim it to be the world's most advanced e-book reader), is already out of stock because of unexpected demand.

This is when e-book readers today are priced a bit uncomfortably around $250 and are in a nascent stage in terms of features, much like the first Ford car, if I may carry forward the analogy. By the end of 2010, it is expected that 10 million people will be using e-readers. And if by any chance they break the $100 barrier, which I believe they will eventually, the floodgates will really open.

There are reports that we already have an enterprising Indian publishing industry representative planning to bring in an economical e-reader for the Indian market with Chinese collaboration. And Apple, of course, is rumoured to have a real ace up its sleeve. So, apparently, there is a lot waiting to happen in the near future which could turn things completely around for electronic reading.

This really brings us to the all-important question -- what's the whole song and dance about? We are pretty happy reading our books, why do we need an electronic reader?

For one, it weighs approximately the same as a paperback but can store about 1,500 books; so that's like your personal library moving around with you -- to the conference, on a flight, in the waiting lounge, just about everywhere.

And then, you don't have to desperately keep looking for that elusive copy of the book you have been looking forward to read because it's just a click away -- log on to a supporting website like and you have the book downloaded in less than a minute in almost any part of the world.

Mind you, there is no extra fee, apart from paying for the book. If that's not all, your e-book reader also remembers the last page read for each book and has a zoom feature with various levels of text size among a lot of other features like letting you take notes on a page and saving them, MP3 playback and basic browsing to check your e-mail (where available) as also working like a GPS.

Still not excited? All right, the biggest bonus is that an e-book already sells at a lower price than a physical book and soon we should see a dramatic lowering on that -- you can expect the price to be actually lower than half of what it is now.

Do I finally see your eyes lighting up?

Let me confess I am no techno-freak. Actually, I just about manage to use my phone for sending and receiving calls and messages. Also, I quite love the look and feel of a book. In fact, my wife perennially complains that she married someone who was already married -- to books. But at the same time, I can see that the future of reading is beckoning us and there is no use closing our eyes to it.

I am planning to switch sides. From a love marriage with books, I plan to get into an arranged marriage with an e-book reader. I am sure love will follow, because I could feel it at first sight.

Let me invite you to join the party too, unless you want to be in the company of the legendary Thomas J. Watson, the former president of IBM and one of the richest men of his times, who had famously remarked in 1943: 'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers'.

For the whole world is a market for e-book readers.

(Shobit Arya is the publisher of Wisdom Tree, first Indian publishing organisation to sell its books through Amazon Kindle, the popular e-book reader. He can be contacted at or

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I am an Indian

Ideally, there is a first mover's advantage, which, unfortunately India has seldom had. If that wasn't enough, we don't even inculcate learning-from-the-first-mover's-mistakes advantage. So what have you ? Most of the newly born and toddler book retail chain stores in India not learning from their grandpa like stores in the West. They seem to be repeating the same mistakes, if not actually inventing graver ones. Book buyers looking at what gives them better profit on paper rather than understanding what a book has to offer is certainly a doomsday call in book-selling. And then you have salespersons in book-cum-music-cum-gift stores who don't know their Erich Seagal from their Enrique or their Jagjit Singh from Khushwant Singh. Singh is King after all, same difference !

A great lesson for them could be Foyles Bookstore at Charing Cross Road, London. An amazing bookshop where the salesperson is also the book buyer. In one stroke, they seem to have eliminated most of the recent day problems in book retailing and seem to be doing
wonderfully well.

This is nothing madamji ( pardon me sirji, i prefer concentrating on what deserves concentration), look at what we have managed to do with the deadly-but-let's-not-call-it-so Swine Flu...err H1N1 virus... lest the pigs take offense. We knew the whole world was getting it; we knew we have cities with some of the highest density of population in the world; we knew we have the maximum number of young people in the world, yet what did we do ? I can give you a first hand account. A brave me with my wife and our two young angels (did you hear devils, that was my wife, sorry) arrived at I.G.I.A, New Delhi straight from New Jersey, USA in the middle of the H1N1 scare. The anxious masked young girls sitting behind the desk looked at us with an expression that said don't-be-angry-but-even-we-don't-know-what-we-are-doing-here and quickly parroted what they had been trained to say — " Do any of you have fever ? Or a cold ? Or a cough? If you get any of these symptoms, do call me dearies, for now, please leave." This, in a country where confirmed patients run away from hospitals and ministers have to personally ensure that they are fetched back.

I don't know why i am sounding so skeptical. I am an Indian. Upar wala sab theeek karega. He will take care of all of us. After all, He is the one who also created the pigs.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Books — everyone's punching bags ?

"Do you have a Rakhi gift for me?"
"Yes, a book,"replies the young boy.
" A book?" asks the sister with a grim expression and suddenly her eyes light up when she realises the gift pack actually has chocolates inside. Hmm, so what the creative copywriter is trying to say is books are boring, are they?

Now move over to an ad of ' teach yourself English' CD. This guy actually has the audacity to literally throw away books and choose the CD because one CD can replace a whole encyclopaedia in book form. Hmm, stuff for another P.I.L, is it?

The first thing to suffer when the government has a resource-crunch — books of course!

The first thing corporates decide to deduct their budgets from in recession — you guessed it, books!

And finally, the first thing newspapers ensure vanishes from their pages during meltdowns — book reviews, what else!

The Times of India, India's leading newspaper, has no space for books in the main paper, not even in their Hindi version. The only little space they have is for spiritual books, that too is actually sublet to their sister concern Indiatimes. Now, these poor fellas apparently have something that the whole world is ailing from — a resource crunch and to beat that, they have started selling that space. Thankfully, no self-respecting publisher wants to get into a frivolous arrangement, so what do you have? All kinds of strange books being showcased in India's flagship newspaper. But who is the sufferer? Books and book lovers!

Hindustan Times, the other print biggie recently shifted the book reviews to Saturdays, ( from the leisurely Sundays) a bit of a letdown, but they still give it a whole page. May Goddess Saraswati bless them!

I would be failing in my duty if i were not to mention the messiah of writers, book lovers and publishers — The Hindu. They have stood by their values undeterred — recession or no-recession. May both Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Lakshmi bless them!

And for rest of the above, may Ganesha bestow them with some good sense. Amen!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Knowledge Trinity

It seems i am getting hooked to blogging, haven't blogged for a couple of months and i already have withdrawal symptoms. So here i am, returning from back-to-back London and New York trips which kept me away from the routine ( thankfully i still take a bath everyday unlike a lot of people in London :)

London and New York, two big cities — two of the biggest hubs of world publishing. It is almost as if they were separated at birth — strikingly similar and teasingly different. Let's begin first with what binds them. They say the London weather is as unpredictable as Indian women, if that's the case then New York weather is no different from a T20 cricket match, to use a cliche, the only thing predictable about it, is that it is unpredictable. The roaring, rather deafening subway trains in the two cities— the New York Subway and the London Underground — almost simultaneously built in the beginning of 20th century are remnants of the might and vision that was, and a loud (literally) reminder of the need for constant improvement. Another queer similarity is the number and kind of Indians you come across — be it on the Wall Street or the Oxford Street — and mind you a lot of them are not the "Paaji, ki haal hai ? ( 'Brother how are you? ' in Punjabi) types".

Talking about Indians, most of the Indian restaurants in London are actually run by Bangladeshis — majority of them serve good-for-nothing food and are actually doing a dis-service to both Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine. To top it, they are downright rude.
I have a suggestion. I think all Indian-run restaurants should start writing "Run by Indians" underneath the restaurant names to retain the brand-value of Indian cuisine. Food reminds me of the American tradition of 'big things' — from big cars to bigger buildings and the biggest portions of food you would ever eat, they seem to have a fetish for size. Bookshops in New York faithfully follow the pattern too, though as of now, there are more people buying books in a London bookshop than in its compatriot in New York. Americans seem more clued on to the mind-body-spirit genre while for the British, lifestyle books appear to champion the non-fiction genre. There is of course far more interest in India and Indian subjects in London than in 'The Big Apple'. A visit to the museums in the two cities clears any misconceptions that one may have on this. British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum also display the inherent capacity of the British to look beyond the obvious. Their impeccable upkeep is even more creditable because they don't charge a penny in entrance fee, (except for special shows) unlike the US museums which have more-than-a-nominal entrance fee. No wonders British take pride in their sense of history.

It is time the book people of Darya Ganj too realised that they have a chance to create history — to make New Delhi one of the three big cities of world publishing — the missing link of the knowledge trinity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Blowing Our Own Trumpet

Alright, i am trying to be not my usual self. To begin with, i will try and blow our own trumpet.

Wisdom Tree, since its inception ( or is it germination) has been involved in some pioneering and path-breaking work. Be it doing books in unconventional sizes based on unconventional themes or selling them through unconventional mediums, we are known to be the trendsetters. Don't believe it ? Alright then, here we go.

We brought Garfield books to India, priced them at Rs 50 and sold them though Barista coffee shops and really started the connection between coffee and books in India. The book cafes followed. ( For documentary evidence visit

Understanding that reading is a one way process, we started Wisdom Tree Interactive and Under the Wisdom Tree to bridge the gap between our authors and readers and made the process interactive.

We gave value addition to our books — adding a free magnetic compass to a vaastu book or a tulsi mala to a book on mantras; sold our books through pharmacies, restaurants, garment stores; sold rights to our books in more than a dozen countries and established a global distribution network.

We again did pioneering work in book marketing by distributing complimentary preview booklets for one of our books and are mentioned in the Limca Book of Records for being the first Indian publisher to do that.

Flying in authors from abroad for book events ( well before a certain Mr Archer decided to look up India) to organising a live conference with the much loved and my absolute favourite Paulo Coelho, we did it all and ahead of the rest of the publishing world.

Now I am told, our experiment with the genre of graphic novel, Indian by Choice, which we believe is again inherently unique and Indian — it is colourful and bright unlike the usual graphic novels, has got Indian publishing industry really excited and if my information is correct, you will see many graphic novels from India in the future. The credit for this one goes to our dear author Amit Dasgupta and artist Neelabh Banrjee.

And here is the latest. We are launching Indian by Choice on 19th April at India House and Indian Saris and Indian Birds in Focus at the Nehru Centre, London on 20th April coinciding with the London Book Fair. To add to it, we have placed a one page advertisement featuring our UK lead titles in the prestigious UK magazine The Bookseller.

Did you say another first? I did'nt.

Phew! That was taxing for me. Imagine you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lucky by Choice

It's usually between 6 and 8 in the evening that i reign supreme in the office. That's because i am the only one around that time. What stops me during the day, you could ask. Now, i would like to believe that i am quite a democrat and we all know the state of Indian prime ministers, don't we?

It was one such evening, around 7:30 when the calming silence of Ansari Road — an interesting place caught in the middle of old and new Delhi and infested with people who are ready to give their lives to get space for parking their severely dented cars, (my car and driver included) was broken by the loud ring of the phone. Unwillingly, i took the call. A heavy but warm voice with a strong South Indian accent beamed, "Is this Wisdom Tree? What is the price of Zen and the art of Happiness ?" 'Okay', i thought to myself, 'here we go.' The gentleman did know how to get me out of my shell though. He ended the fifteen minute conversation with these words, "My dear young man, i must really compliment you, the kind of books you publish, it's really commendable and you should feel lucky that you are earning your money by doing what i think is actually social work. God bless you." I muttered something like "You are being very kind, thank you." and hung up.

It was only after a few seconds that what he really said registered in my mind. How many people in this world receive a call from a 70-year old complete stranger, sitting several hundred miles away, blessing them for what they have been chosen to do?

I surely feel really lucky to be a publisher.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Reading Effect

In economics, they have what they say is the 'lipstick effect', wherein, during the times of meltdowns, the sale of lipsticks goes up significantly. The reason is understandable — lipsticks don't cost much and have a special 'feel good' effect.

I believe books are much better — most of them cost as little as a lipstick, sometimes even lesser, and the 'feel good' effect is far more endearing. Not to forget, a book is not a consumable and gives us wisdom that may change our lives for good.

So go ahead, intuitively pick up a book from the millions available (don't bother about those funny bestseller lists) and beat the 'meltdown blues'.

That also makes publishing one of the most recession-proof professions, so better still, join it !

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Boycotting Books from Pakistan

So what is more important — nationalism or universal brotherhood? While Pakistan relentlessly bleeds India with a thousand cuts, we continue to create stars out of Pakistani singers, comedians and writers. The nation of Gandhi seems to be following his philosophy of offering the other cheek when slapped on one religiously. We are the big brother — forever resilient and pluralist. In that sense, is the Oxford Bookstore's decision to ban books written by Pakistani authors the right one? Or is it merely a knee-jerk reaction?

Well, if they have done it because it's a well thought out stand and they would replicate it across India, we should respect their decision and maybe even follow suit depending on our free will. But if they have done it because they are scared of extra constitutional powers or out of some pressure, all of us who believe in the power of democracy should condemn it in no uncertain terms. Our freedom of speech and independence are our strengths and we must do everything in our means to preserve them.

Forced bans are absolutely unacceptable, voluntary boycotts though are always welcome. Remember we live in India, not Pakistan.