Friday, December 23, 2011

2012 will be game changer for Indian Publishing


Shobit Arya, the founder and publisher of Wisdom Tree on what we can expect from the Indian publishing next year.

Technology is like an object in your rear-view mirror. It is always closer than you think it is. In fact, for us in Indian publishing, it may actually just be ready to jump out of the mirror.

Let me first put this in perspective. Last year around the same time, I was asked by a business magazine to comment on the Indian publishing trends for 2011. I had said then that lack of efficiency in chain stores is bound to diminish gains in medium to long term. The sentiment was not without basis. Over the last year itself, we have seen three of the five biggies getting into extremely choppy waters. Most of them seem to have been caught in the trap of going after margins on paper, running the show mostly from an accountant's perspective.

Books, interestingly, are not like any other FMCG commodity, where data mining could be singularly relied on. This, coupled with the blind race of scaling up, can be a sure recipe for disaster. Hopefully, towards the latter part of 2012, some of these chain stores would have begun to find their feet again.

But during the initial phase of this churning, with most of these show-stoppers in bad shape, we are bound to see new independent stores coming up, though the ones to survive will be those which are completely passion-driven. They will need to remember that it was the romance of having a book shop which got them to begin one in the first place. As long as the fire keeps kindling in their heart, they are safe. Conventional book business in India has never been a money spinner, anyway.

The saving grace among chain stores has been Reliance Time Out, who with their prudent use of technology and a responsive and engaged team led by Deepinder Kampany, Tarun Singh and Jacob Johnson, seem to have got their act together. The rapid expansion bug seems to have caught them too though, which by its very nature is high risk-prone. Fingers need to be crossed on that.

In 2012, as we saw in 2011, fiction's percentage in the overall book sales will continue to increase in conjunction with the rise of paisa-wasool literature. We have seen the Rs.100 chick lit novels (inflation has ensured a price band of Rs.100-150) mushroom and almost every 20-year-old Indian is an aspiring writer today. This will continue in 2012 with smaller towns increasingly shaping the trend, thereby keeping the non-mainstream book wholesalers in business. The beautifully complex dynamics of Indian society ensures that what is looked down upon by one may be aspirational for the other.

This brings me to the other trend which I bet on - consolidation of book e-commerce. The phenomenon continues and we will see a rapid maturing of this zone - a few managing to scale up and most of the others who have just joined the bandwagon without appropriate long-term plans and awareness of the challenges of book e-commerce getting weeded out.

The open secret is that Amazon India is slated to begin operations in 2012 and you can be certain it will change the way books are bought, sold and read in India. But the one with the real ace up its sleeve seems to be Flipkart. They have understood the dynamics of Indian publishing and logistics like nobody else and have the crucial first-mover advantage. It is imperative that they will bring in their own intelligent e-book reader in 2012. Between Amazon and Flipkart, they will definitely negotiate territorial e-book rights with differential pricing with the major international players.

For an Indian reader, it means that an e-book in India will be cheaper than the e-book, say, in the US or the UK, and also cheaper than its Indian printed edition. Indians are known to be among the most intelligent and money-conscious consumers who want to remain updated with new technology and it's anybody's guess how e-books may take off here over a period of time.

2012 may then well be the watershed year for books.

Though the lines between the delivery platforms will get increasingly blurred -- books, e-books, applications, films, television and games will witness an interplay never seen before that you can be sure two things will never go out of fashion - content and customers.

(Shobit Arya is the founder and publisher of Wisdom Tree. He can be contacted at and

Friday, October 14, 2011

Indian Publishers Need to Take a Leaf Out of the Young Authors’ Book

Slightly edited version of article for IANS published in The Times of India and various other publications.

The camaraderie is infectious. Their zest and spirit will put the top rugby team to shame. They back one another like there is no tomorrow.

The world though labels them and their writing as irreverent. Irreverent they are, but only about the fact that they are competing for the same space under the arc lights. You guessed it. I am talking about India's brand new generation of pulp fiction writers - chick lit, lad lit et al.

The support these young writers lend to one another goes beyond 'likes' and 'comments' on Facebook. A young first-time author, Faraaz Kazi, launches another debutant novelist Sweta Srivastava Vikram's book in Mumbai while he himself turns to a more established Tuhin Sinha for his own novel. Tuhin incidentally belongs to the bunch which really 'started the fire', along with Chetan Bhagat and Tushar Raheja.

Our young Faraaz then goes on to review another young novelist Aditi Talwar Sodhi's book on an online forum while yet again manages to get an established Anuja Chauhan to do the honours for him in Delhi. And the cycle continues. Sujata Parashar, Amrita Suresh and Sonia Kundra Singh - names like many others that you may not have heard of in the literary circles but who are writing prolifically, and writing with a vengeance - to find not just their place in the sun but their identity too.

These young novelists share an interesting symbiotic relationship with book e-commerce sites like Flipkart, Landmarkonthenet and Infibeam. The sites attract eyeballs thanks to them and the authors don't have to lose their sleep over a Crossword or a Landmark effectively stocking and replenishing their books. A chain store with effective inventory anyways sounds like an oxymoron in modern times. That calls for another extensive article though.

Now, compare it to how publishers in India collaborate (or don't). The only time you would see an inclusive and eclectic bunch of publishers together would be under the aegis of a foreign institution. Reverse discrimination apparently is something we continuously hold close to our hearts. Most of the other times, you would see members of federations and associations playing musical chairs in their respective executive bodies, much like their more infamous Indian sports federation cousins.

Talking about foreign bodies, credit must be given to the German Book Office (GBO), Delhi, for doing exceptional work in Indian publishing. Their recent MoU signed by Jurgen Boos, president of the Frankfurt Book Fair, with the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad to jointly set up a long-term training programme for students interested in publishing is a praiseworthy and welcome step.

These though are challenging and exciting times for the desi publishing industry. It needs the vigour of youth and their enthusiasm to think out of the box and steer it forward. Remaindered books, poor and mismanaged supply chain, lack of fresh talent across fields like sales, promotion and editorial and many other issues need immediate redressal. It is imperative that we get together to face these challenges and make the best use of all the technological advancement before it is too late.

In the meantime, there is no harm in taking some team spirit lessons from our young author friends.

(Shobit Arya is the Founder and Publisher of Wisdom Tree which has recently started a special imprint called Offshoots for young novelists. Some of the authors mentioned in the article are published by Wisdom Tree. Arya serves on the advisory board of GBO (also mentioned in the article)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


If you think the headline of this article is an oxymoron or that I am a soiled-kurta-clad, beedi-smoking glum publisher in his sixties who hardly ventures out of his dark den full of books, let me confess it’s neither. I am fortunately a part of a rare tribe—a young first generation independent publishing entrepreneur—and considering I have survived for almost a decade now, there is a bright chance that I will be able to recount romantic stories to my grandchildren about venturing into a zone that sane men and women mostly avoided like hot fire. And you thought that dynasties meant business only in Indian politics.

Come a new year and if you are a publisher in the twenty-first century version of the city of Shahajehanabad (mind you, if you are a publisher situated in the mecca of Indian publishing—Ansari Road—you are closer to Shahajehanabad than you are to New Delhi) all you hear as parting phrases are ‘See you in Jaipur then’ or ‘I know you will be busy with Jaipur’ or the likes. Let me reiterate what I have already shared with you; I have never been to the Jaipur lit fest (JLF) and have never had a strong desire to. I find the experience of reading an evocative book more intimate than watching an author perform on a stage and going and shaking hands with him. But I urge you to not get swayed by my opinion. My track-record in such things is pathetic. Last time, when a gorgeous Bollywood superstar launched one of our dear author’s books, she almost gave up on me because of the lack of a post-great-event excitement. It was only when she saw that I was supremely excited in doing naughts and crosses on our flight back did she infer that I am just differently wired.

JLF is a great concept for Indian literature, and everyone associated with it should be commended—the festival directors—Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple; Teamwork Productions and the sponsors DSC. Their efforts have gone a long way in making books and authors fashionable. However, there is a genuine need to make the festival more inclusive. Recently, one of the JLF directors is quoted as having announced that the onus of contacting them and participating in the festival is on independent publishers and authors. I would like to humbly submit that actually, the onus of being accessible and welcoming lies with the powerful and it will only be a positive reflection on JLF’s strength and self-confidence if they were to reach out to the larger Indian publishing world.

Let’s begin with what matters most—the authors. JLF needs to provide a platform to fresh voices and a select number of the deserving and new authors could be made part of some of the panel discussions. It could invite requests on its website with transparent parameters thrown in. Even take informal interviews if you have to! And now let’s talk about what matters even more—the books. Ten best representative books from trade publishers could be invited on a complimentary basis to be delivered straight to the venue. The books can be sold during the last two days. Visitors would be able to get a real and comprehensive flavour of Indian literature and JLF would be able to make the process a self-sustaining one. I would even suggest that like this year’s focus was ‘bhasha’ literature, the 2012’s could well be the Indies— the independent publishers and authors.

I, though, intend to do full justice to my role as a publisher and would be immediately writing to the directors of JLF to facilitate the participation of our authors. Who knows I may be sharing my thoughts with you the same time next year with a headline that says ‘Confessions of a first-time visitor to the Jaipur Literary Festival’. Till that time, keep reading.