Apart from being a prominent player in India’s luxury homeware market, Good Earth has also long been famous for its collection of beautifully produced maps and travel books. The homeware brand has now expanded further into the world of publishing with finely-crafted, illustrated books for children that bring to life Indian myths and stories. Swati Mitra, Executive Publisher Goodearth Pvt Ltd spoke to Scroll.in about what to expect from this new imprint.
Eicher Goodearth has been publishing maps and travel books for over two decades. What made you decide to get into the highly competitive and fraught children’s segment after all these years?
All publishing segments are fraught these days. The idea of getting into the children’s books segment was actually Simran Lal’s. She is the CEO of Good Earth and as mother of two young boys, she strongly felt the need for beautifully produced children’s books on Indian history, culture and landscapes that also told fascinating stories that fired their imagination. While looking for books for her young sons she felt there was a vacuum in the market, for books of high quality – finely written, illustrated and produced – that would draw children to the histories and mythologies of India, to acquaint them with who we were. Books about our kings and queens, scholars, musicians; our forests and grand buildings...
You find such superbly-produced books abroad. Why don’t we have such well-crafted books on India and Indian culture, we thought? With our resources we could afford to fill this space, to create books that were of international quality and could be benchmarked against the best in the world.
While ours are fun children’s books, they are thoroughly researched, both the text and the illustrations. We place a high premium on authenticity, and expect our writers and illustrators to study their subject well – be it architecture, history or geography. We are also very fastidious about our illustrations, and spend a considerable time looking for the right illustrator to match the sensibilities of the story. The gentle watercolour illustrations in our Babur book are influenced by Mughal miniatures, and have been rendered in a modern, youthful style. We thought Prashant Miranda’s vibrant style would do well for The Case of the Missing Tiger Cub, set in the Bandhavgarh forest of central India. Archana Sreenivasan’s illustrations for our new book, Krishna Deva Raya are inspired by Vijayanagara period murals in the temples of Lepakshi (in Andhra Pradesh) but articulated in a fun, animated style. All our books have a “Back of Book” section that introduces children not only to the history of a place or a person, but the larger context of the world around.
It’s interesting to note that your children’s division is focusing on expensive, illustrated books at a time when mainstream publishing houses with long-standing children’s divisions are cutting down on art-heavy books. What’s the business strategy behind this?
We believe that there is a market for high-quality children’s books in India, and there are few publishers producing such books. Beautiful books are keepsakes, and parents are investing in them, keen for their children to enjoy this sensory indulgence. Each one of us remembers a childhood book we treasured for the story it told, the pictures it contained, the way it smelled and felt in our hands and the way it transported it. We want the Good Earth books to be treasured like this, that parents and children consider them special and keep returning to their stories and their art. I believe the easiest way to draw young children to books and cultivate in them a life-long love for reading is through beautiful pictures and an engrossing story, which are books endeavour to do.
Admittedly, we’re tapping a niche market, but we believe this is just the beginning. We feel higher disposable incomes and a growing appreciation for good stories well told will help these books find a lasting home. This is also the reason more international children’s titles are being marketed here – books often priced between Rs 500-Rs 999. Our fully-illustrated books are priced at Rs 450.
Unlike most mainstream publishers, children’s books are a part of our diverse product portfolio and we are fortunate to be in a position to allocate the necessary resources to them. We are also not looking at a high turnover of titles, but content to publish a few, well-made books a year, for now.
Tell us a little about your first book, The Story of Babur. How did you go about commissioning it? Did it do well for you?
The book did very well, and is currently in its second reprint – this is a hardbound book, priced at Rs 699. Babur was co-published with Penguin as a one-off experiment.
Having done travel books on India for years, the rich and diverse history of our country has always fascinated me. I had recently visited Uzbekistan – birthplace of Babur – and was enthralled by Samarkhand and Babur. Parvati Sharma, the author of the book, was a senior member our team at the time, and had just finished reading the Baburnama. The story of Babur seemed the obvious choice.
The stand-out author on the list is Roopa Pai who is writing with Krishna Deva Raya: King of Kings, about one of the greatest kings of Vijayanagara. Was it hard convincing her to be part of a new list?
Actually it wasn’t. Roopa had read The Story of Babur and was keen to be part of the list.
How long does it normally take to design and publish these books?
Typically, the gestation period between the idea and the printed book is almost a year. The writing and research could take two months. The art is highly detailed and borrows from artistic styles that are consonant with the time and place of the story, so it needs to be researched as well. In addition, every page is illustrated. The illustrator could take up to eight months to complete the artwork. All of this of course is contingent to everyone meeting deadlines!
Like many other children’s imprints, does your imprint also plan to work primarily with established authors?
Not at all. We are, in fact, focussed on discovering new talent, including those new to children’s writing. Once we identify a subject and do our basic research on it, we look for people most appropriate to write it. We consider their proximity to the subject, naturally; review their writing style, and finally their enthusiasm about the idea. We reach out to writers we know, to journalists whose writing catches our eye, to academics even!
Do you have your own distribution network or do you sell primarily through the Good Earth outlets and online portals?
Having been in the books business for over 20 years, though for maps and travel guides, we sell our children’s books through our regular retail channels like book shops and ecommerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart. We also sell through Good Earth stores and their website. Our first title, Babur, was co-published with Penguin, and also distributed through their network. Our new books will continue to be distributed by Penguin in the Indian subcontinent.
What is the proportion of books sales between the Good Earth stores and regular retail channels?
It’s hard to say as we were, until Krishna Deva Raya, only two books old and one of those books was promoted and sold by Penguin. We’ll be able to observe more reliable sales trends with the new crop.
How are these books displayed in stores? Is there a separate section?
Since it is our own product, our books are prominently displayed in Good Earth stores, in the children’s section, Gumdrops.
Are the advances and royalties offered by you on par with the major publishers?
Yes, they are on par with major Indian publishers.
How do you plan to market these books differently from other children’s publishers? Do you invest in physical book launches, festivals and online promotions?
We are only a few titles old, and only just finding our feet in the children’s market. As it was co-published, Penguin took care of the marketing and promotion of Babur, while we focused on the editorial aspects. They took the book to litfests and organised readings. With the new set, we’ve tied up with Penguin for the distribution, but are drawing on Goodearth’s own marketing team, and also on freelance consultants to promote the books in schools and at litfests and bookshops.
In what ways do you plan to achieve synergy between the Good Earth brand and these books?
Good Earth produces beautiful lifestyle products anchored in Indian culture; we produce beautiful books. To our mind, the synergy exists already. As Simran Lal, our CEO, says, “I felt the need for books that told stories about India’s history through real historical events, and people who have influenced these events; stories about our jungles, rivers and animals, and stories about our mythology and cultural history. I wanted to create books that ignite their curiosity about where we come from and who came before us.”
The books, like the rest of Good Earth’s portfolio, are rooted in history, culture and art. The common wellspring we share are stories of the past that have shaped our identity and culture. Good Earth’s lifestyle products draw on great artistic traditions to craft beautiful objects, while we dip into Indian history’s deep well for legendary figures, and reach across its atlas for rivers, mountains and forests to which we want to draw children. The objectives are the eventually kindred – to cultivate an abiding interest and appreciation for the finer things of our past.
How big is your team? Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Ours is a small team, largely editorial, but then we outsource the designing of the book. In a couple of years we hope to establish ourselves more firmly in children’s publishing, with greater visibility in bookstores and online, and at literature festivals and grow into a brand young children will instinctively reach for.
How many books do you plan to publish in a year?
We are taking baby steps in our children’s publication efforts and are looking to do around six to eight books a year.
What is the level of involvement of the top management of Good Earth in the selection and publishing of these books?
I look after the publishing business at Eicher Goodearth Pvt Ltd, however Simran Lal is deeply involved with the children’s books, offering her insights and recommendations.
Some children’s publishers generate a substantial amount of revenue from institutional and bulk sales. Clearly, this doesn’t seem likely in your case due to the prohibitive price of these books?
I reiterate our price is not prohibitive – Rs 450 for a book of our quality and content is not at all expensive. In fact, our books have been well received by school libraries. I must say, our weakness lies in our marketing efforts and our reach, and we are trying our best to rectify that.