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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.