Meet the Publishers

India’s publishers are determined to make you read more books in 2016

There’s plenty of change coming, predict three leading publishers, who are convinced they can rebuild – or grow from scratch – the reading habit in the country.

Here’s how the year in publishing is looking to Karthika VK, publisher and chief editor, HarperCollins India; Diya Kar Hazra, Publisher, Pan Macmillan India, and Chiki Sarkar, founder-publisher, Juggernaut. Excerpts from three conversations.

On whether there’s room for all kinds of books any more:

Karthika: It has been dispiriting, watching sales of literary fiction slide, which to my mind is that part of the list that takes genuine risks, finds new voices, publishes work that challenges existing notions about life and literature – in short, the kind of books that should be in the front of shelves, not tucked away at the back.

The good news is that narrative non-fiction has gone up rapidly in the reading stakes. And there is a new spirit of ambition and enterprise that has begun to inform this genre, with the result that some of the best and most incisive writing is located here.

Sarkar: I do think not enough people are reading and I am not sure I have a cohesive argument about why this is the case. But again (there are) key issues – subjects for books, outreach, lack of effective communication, lack of leisure culture in India, where most things are seen as instrumental. What’s interesting is that when a book is a hit it sells at numbers higher than ever.

Kar Hazra: Oh there’ll never be enough people reading – publishers will always feel that way – and I wish our literacy rate was better, but I think there are plenty of people reading in India. And our reading is far more varied now. There are also more people reading online content on their smartphones. So the challenge is to seduce a growing reading public to books, when readers are less confined to books than ever before. The best literary festivals are about writers and their work, and it’s about ideas. In a world where books are competing with a range of other platforms/distractions – social media, gaming – anything that encourages reading is reason to celebrate.

On the the challenges in 2016:

Sarkar: Our announcement of the company and our catalogue announcement were both big – we trended on both announcements, which gives me hope for publishing. It’s nice to see folks get excited about books and publishing.

Authors are loving this – especially celebrities and debut writers.

Telecom, payment wallets, online retail, and online news sites have all shown interest in engaging with us in very exciting ways.

A whole bunch of independent children’s publishers want us to be their platform partner and I think we could do fun stuff with other publishers in the long run.

What it’s shown me as a book publisher is that the digital can open up interesting conversations and partnerships I simply won’t be able to have just doing physical (publishing).

Kar Hazra: There are more publishing houses in India now than there was five years ago. The market is crowded, with conglomerates and independents, giants and start-ups. But this challenge is an enormous opportunity for a mid-sized publisher like us, because we can focus on our books and authors and really nurture our lists (Picador, Pan and Macmillan).

We’re a small, passionate team that works very closely together – it’s one of the most collegial teams I’ve worked with – which makes all the difference. There’s lots to be done but we intend to publish every book better than the last. We have plenty of room to grow, and we plan to do that by focusing strategically, on core areas, and on quality over quantity. New talent has always excited me, so we’re looking forward to adding to our existing list of prize-winning authors and established names with outstanding discoveries.

On good writing versus good marketing:

Karthika: It isn’t so much a matter of one or the other, or one versus the other. The combination of great product and great marketing is what one strives for. But the real sweet spot is word-of-mouth, which isn’t easy to manufacture, however much you may spend on the marketing campaign or however many influencers you may attract to your cause.

There is no doubt that writers are now part of the marketing process in a way they weren’t earlier. There are just too many books out there and too little space, and we need to go all out if we are to make people sit up and take notice of a new title. Also, publishers work with limited budgets and resources and for sustained promotions to succeed, we have to work closely with authors. So yes, I am afraid the reclusive writer is somewhat obsolete, and a very few exceptions exist to prove the rule!

On the importance of disrupting the Indian publishing industry:

Sarkar: I hate the word “disrupt”. It feels slightly arrogant. But here are the questions I am asking and that I want to answer in the next ten years of my life:

How can I get more people buying books in a country where the average sales are 3000 and where book retail isn’t thriving, and the distribution model is very faulty (six months’ repayment).

How can I learn more about who buys my books – a question more possible to answer now than it’s ever been for anyone.

Lastly, how can I become a far more author-centered publisher – easier and simpler contracts, quicker royalty payments, etc.

Kar Hazra: Publishing will always be about giving life to books and it will always be about people. That will never change. It is crucial, therefore, in this challenging climate and crowded environment, to reinvent oneself, find new ways of doing things.

Karthika: Eventually, what matters is not what you say about your books and how well you can talk them up, it’s about what readers perceive as discerning content that plugs into current needs and trends and has the potential to stand the test of time.

On what youre looking forward to publishing this year:

Karthika: A strong mix of fiction and non-fiction, literary and commercial, new and familiar, p-books and e-books. I’ll mention just a few titles that are going out to stores for a January release, the flag-off for what promises to be another exciting year: The Z Factor by Subhash Chandra, Alphabet Soup for Lovers by Anita Nair, Strangers to Ourselves by Shashi Deshpande, All Quiet in Vikaspuri by Sarnath Banerjee, Olive Witch by Abeer Hoque and Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, translated by Srinath Perur.

Sarkar: Most of our releases in Juggernaut, of course! But I can’t wait for Aman Sethi, Hussain Haqqani, Twinkle Khanna and some of our crime. Abheek Barua and Praveen Swami’s stuff is just riveting.

Kar Hazra: It’s a Jeffrey Archer year for us with the next two in The Clifton Chronicles. We publish his Cometh the Hour, which is set partly in India, next month, with the Gateway of India on the cover. Squash star Maria Toorpakai’s memoir A Different Kind of Daughter is a sensational story; Don DeLillo’s Zero K in May, The Muse by Jessie Burton and The Wonder by Emma Donaghue.

The two I’m most excited about are Khalid Akhtar’s award-winning Love in Chakiwara, one of the greatest Urdu novels, translated for the first time by Bilal Tanweer. It’s an extraordinary satire set in 1950s’ Karachi, a modern classic. And Maha Khan Phillips’s thriller – an absolute page-turner set in Mohenjodaro and modern-day Karachi and London.

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Meet four companies using crowd-sourcing to put you at the center of their businesses

Allowing users “behind the curtain” is paying off in big ways for these organizations.

The web has connected companies and consumers like never before. Whether through websites, social media or messaging apps, an exciting two-way dialogue has emerged. A few select companies have realized how to harness these linkages for more than just likes, shares and fancy Instagram snaps. Rather, they see true value in bringing their customers “behind the curtain” and crowd-sourcing their input on current and new products. For the companies listed below, this shift towards greater transparency and accountability is translating into much greater customer satisfaction.

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Google Maps “Local Guides” program. Ever wonder how Google Maps tends to be so spot on? Meet their “Local Guides” program, which rewards active users who rectify and add new pins to keep the maps as up to date and accurate as possible. The rewards are distributed in a “level system” whereby people who make small contributions are entered into giveaways or given special access to new Google features. More significant contributions come with greater rewards, too: a level 4 user, for example, is granted 1TB of Google Drive space for 2 years.

Wikipedia. Knowledge is for everyone, and the democratization of knowledge is the fundamental principle that led Jimmy Wales to start Wikipedia. The internet encyclopedia project is free of charge and allows users to copy and change it as long as they follow certain guidelines. The project has been alive since 2001, and is available today in 275 active language editions with 41,000,000 total registered users. The user community actively edits and adds information, and the encyclopedia is always in a constant state of update and improvement.

Airtel. Another initiative that is pioneering new standards for transparency and accountability is Airtel’s Open Network initiative. Through this move, Airtel wants to create a seamless mobile experience for customers by partnering with them to improve its network. The Open Network website allows users to track coverage and signal strength across the country in real-time and provides a direct channel for communicating leaks in service. Customers can see where Airtel’s current network towers are and even the ones the company plans to build in the future. It even lets customers offer up space for placing new towers in areas they are planned or were forcibly shut down.

This will help Airtel learn which spots need better connectivity and enable it to improve the network in those areas. With this hyperlocal knowledge and insight of customers, Airtel intends to build a seamless network that will cater to populations that may not have received the full benefit of its network until now.

By working closely with their customers, Airtel is readying itself for dramatic improvements in service and massive leaps in customer satisfaction. To check out Airtel coverage in your area, see here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Airtel and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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