Westland Books does not have a new owner. The publishing company which the e-commerce giant Amazon Inc announced the closure of on February 1 has not been purchased by anyone and has formally ended its existence as an Amazon company on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
But starting soon, there will be a new publishing company to take the place of Westland. It is being started by Pratilipi, the online platform where writers in as many as 12 Indian languages post their fiction for readers to read, rate, and discuss, with co-founder and CEO Ranjit Pratap Singh having sparked the initiative to enter book-publishing through this venture.
This new division of Pratilipi.com, which is owned by the Bengaluru-based Nasadiya Technologies, is being set up by largely the same publishing, editorial, marketing and sales team that ran Westland Books when Amazon decided to close it down. Among those who will be with the new company from June are Karthika VK, former publisher, Westland; Ajitha GS, former managing editor of the Context imprint; Minakshi Thakur, former publisher of the language division; Vidhi Bhargava, former publisher of the children’s imprint Red Panda; and Gautam Padmanabhan, former CEO of Westland.
Is this Westland 2.0?
Whether the new venture is named Westland or not (this will be known shortly), it will continue with the publishing programme that saw some of the most talked about books in India published under imprints like Context, Tranquebar, Westland, Eka (for translations into English and Indian languages), and Red Panda (for children).
If negotiations with Amazon are successful, the new company will retain these imprints. If not, it will have to create new names for its imprints, and even revive East West Books – founded in 1962 – which changed its name to Westland Books after being acquired by the retail chain Landmark in 2008.
But what does this mean for all the authors and books Westland used to publish? Will they automatically go over to the new company? Will this mean the end of the apprehensions of many authors published by Westland who were fearful of their books being pulped and going out of the market from April 1 onwards?
According to the communication from Westland to its authors after Amazon announced the closure, all publishing agreements would come to an end after March 31, 2022, unless the company was acquired. Since the Pratilipi move is not an acquisition, none of the writers is under contract anymore with any publishing company for the books published earlier by Westland.
So, the new venture will have to sign up these writers and their books afresh if they want to publish any, some, or all of the titles that Westland did. It is likely that choices will be made by both the publishers and authors—after all, not every author may want to work with the new company, especially with other publishers also looking to sign them up.
However, several authors – many of them were published under Westland’s Context and eka imprints – are believed to be ready to stay with their old publishers and editors at Westland, even if the company is technically a new one. This will enable the new venture to hit the ground running when it starts publishing, with a readymade backlist of books.
Of course, the new company, too, may not want to republish all the books that were on the Westland list, which also means that some authors may not find a home for their earlier books with this venture. Things will be clearer as the new publishers reach out to the authors who had published with Westland.
What lies ahead?
Interestingly, most, if not all, these authors may end up making unexpected gains. For whoever wants to publish their existing books will have to pay for the rights – a payment that the authors would not normally have received had Westland been bought as a company. For the most popular authors on the former Westland list, this may even lead to a round of bidding. It is known that multinational publishers like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins are interested in publishing some of the authors and their works.
One of the author movements that will be observed with great interest is that of Chetan Bhagat. His Rs 36-crore six-book deal with Amazon, which saw the former Westland Books selling his books in India, is also over with the closure of the company, for Amazon is exiting the publishing business in India entirely.
Will the new company be interested in signing Bhagat up? It’s not a possibility to be ruled out. Will Bhagat choose to self-publish, assured as he is of his readership, instead of sharing the spoils with a publisher. That isn’t impossible either. Other top-selling authors who used to publish with Westland, such as Amish and Rujuta Diwekar, will also have decisions to make, especially if the successor to Westland wants to publish them.
What lies in wait for the new company? There is an obvious synergy with Pratilipi, on which over 2.7 lakh writers have published over 27 lakh stories of varying length in 12 different languages. All of the new books to be published will potentially find readers on Pratilipi’s digital platform, extending their reach enormously beyond what printed books can offer. For both writers and the publishers, that could be satisfying as well as lucrative.
As for Pratilipi, this acquisition will give it access to more material it can repackage for OTT platforms, which is one of its current revenue streams, for which it considers the most popular stories posted on its platform. The company, founded in 2015, has had five rounds of funding and is currently valued at $265 million on that basis.
And with the English language publishing world in India finding it difficult to grow as quickly as it once did, not to mention the lack of new ideas in marketing and distribution, the entrance of a technology company into publishing may well shake things up in a good way.