Sterling Publishers
Vol. 5 No. 5,6 & 7 April - June 2011
ONE TO ONE with Sridhar Balan, Consultant at Ratna Sagar
  20th New Delhi World Book Fair
  Book exports exempted from archaic Act
  Online Bookshops becoming Popular
  David Davidar, Rupa launch Aleph
Dear Publishing Professionals,  

Indian Publishing is in a vibrant phase as there have been a number of changes in the job profiles of publishing professionals from one publishing house to another. Recently, Saugata Mukherjee, managing editor and rights director at HarperCollins moved to Picador as publisher and editor. Shruti Debi, editing, marketing and publicity chief at Picador moved to head literary agency Aitkin Alexander Associates of UK in Delhi. Ravi Singh, editor-in-chief of Penguin is due to join Alef, Rupa’s new publishing division, in collaboration with David Davidar (Ex-Penguin). Chikki Sarkar, chief editor at Random House has moved to Penguin as publisher. So there have been lots of changes in the publishing industry at a professional level.

Secondly, there have been publishing conferences being held from time to time. Recently, GBO organized Globalocal: The forum for content – the other english speaking world. In September there are going to be two publishing conferences- Publishing next, being organized in Goa by Mr. Leonard Fernandes of Cinnamon Teal Publishing on 16th & 17th September, 2011 and PubliCon-2011: The Business of Publishing organised by FICCI on 28th & 29th September, 2011.

Thirdly, NBT has been organising publishing courses in various parts of the country. In July they are going to have their annual 3 week course. The Institute of Book Publishing has just completed their 4th Intensive Course for Editors in Publishing from 23-28th May, 2011. It was well attended by participants from India, Singapore and Nigeria. This shows that Indian publishing is really on the move. I hope many more events like these will keep on happening in the future.


with Sridhar Balan, Consultant at Ratna Sagar in conversation with S.K.Ghai

Q. How and when did you come into publishing?

Ans. I was an academic prior to joining the publishing industry. Initially, I was a consulting editor to a ‘Right to Property and Fundamental Rights’ book and a 2 volume series on the Indian Constitution edited by Justice Hidayatullah and published by Arnold Heinemann. My first regular job in publishing was as a senior editor in Macmillan in 1983. I joined OUP in 1985. I left my formal position as a director in OUP on 1 January 2003 but continued with them as a consultant till the end of 2004.

Q. You were a freelance columnist with the leading newspapers & a professor. What attracted you to publishing? What subject you were taking?

Ans. I guess I like both teaching and writing. The teaching job in the Dept. of Political Science at the North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong was both exciting and challenging and I must say I enjoyed those years. I had started contributing academic articles to newspapers even then and started writing regular columns for newspapers after I joined publishing. The only difference was that these were now articles on issues facing the industry.

Q. How did you like the change?

Ans. Ironically, if you review the careers of most of the stalwarts in the publishing industry, you would find that most of them ‘drifted’ into publishing after having started somewhere else. A colleague of mine had once remarked that the best publishers were ‘failed’ academics. I don’t know how good an academic I was, but I hope I have contributed something to publishing.

Q. Which profession did you like the most: Teaching/Columnist/Publisher?

Ans. If you like books and reading, I guess you will like publishing. It’s a very creative profession calling for diverse skills. At the end of the day, if you hold a well-designed product in your hands that is, at the same time, eminently readable, your satisfaction can be great. The monetary compensation may not be great initially but being in the company of educationists, academics and general authors more than makes up. I certainly look back with satisfaction at the years I spent and continue to spend, in publishing.

Q. You were a Course Director for a 3 months course on Publishing with FPBAI. How was the experience?

Ans. I enjoyed the 3 month stint as director of the course on publishing at the FPBAI in 2003. Actually, my involvement was longer than that as there were organizational matters to attend to, prior to the course. It was a well- structured course with full academic rigour including periodic tests and assignments. The course was the vision of three stalwarts in the industry, Mr Sukumar Das then of UBSPD, Dr N. Subrhamanyam then of TMH and Mr Nair of Konark. We had some bright students too who were later absorbed in the industry.

Q. You have written so many articles, why have you not written a book? Are you planning to write one?

Ans. All the articles that I have published in books have been commissioned ones and have involved some research. As a columnist in The Hindu, The Economic Times, The Indian Express and The Financial Express (at different times) I was free to write my own pieces, provided I stuck to the word-length! I love contributing to the Biblio (where I am a trustee) because we are a little liberal with the length. No, I have not thought of writing a book because no one has yet asked me.

Q. What is your assignment at Ratna Sagar?

Ans. When I joined Ratna Sagar in 2005, my appointment as senior consultant just carried one line "to help Ratna Sagar grow in every way". In the 29 years since its inception, Ratna Sagar has consolidated its position to become one of the leading publishers in India. Growth has helped it to diversify its product range. In addition to its educational books, it now has a distinguished academic imprint, Primus and also some fine medical and health related books in collaboration with Byword Books. We have also taken on a range of dictionaries for exclusive promotion and distribution from HarperCollins. I hope I have played some role in Ratna Sagar’s growth.

Q. Do you influence recommendations of textbooks with teachers/professors?

Ans. I help to build a positive relationship with Ratna Sagar and its customers, be they educational and academic institutions and the trade. If, in this process, Ratna Sagar increases its business, well and good! I am particularly happy with a program I take on reading in leading schools. There is widespread concern about a decline in the reading habit among children. I hold an interactive session with teachers about how we can redress this and make the world of books come closer to that of children.

Q. What are your views on globalization in publishing?

Ans. Rightly it’s said that publishing has not changed as much in the last 200 years as it has in the last 20! The frenetic selling and buying out of companies in the 1970s and 1980s has resulted in much more integration and consolidation now. The publishing company has become one more arm of a multi-billion dollar octopus – a conglomerate. While this has resulted in the greater availability of financial resources for publishing, it has also resulted in books being viewed as revenue generating commodities. The conglomerate’s approach to publishing is very different to that of the great publishing gentlemen of yesteryear who established great imprints in their own name. Today, a book is seen as ‘a product to be quickly produced, attractively packaged, effectively advertised and completely sold!’ Unfortunately, the nature of books is such that they do not easily lend themselves to such an approach. The flip side of globalization has resulted in India feeling t he need to compete in the int ernational market. It has resulted in the industry becoming more professional. We see this in better editing, better layout and design and better finished products. This has helped in better acceptance of our books both in the domestic and foreign markets. India is no longer looked as merely a market for imported books but is an active co-publishing partner with international publishers. Greater technological innovation and inputs have resulted in maturation of the printing industry and resulted in increased export earnings. The publishing industry has played a complimentary role in getting global recognition for Indian writers in English.

Q. What are your hobbies?

Ans. As can be guessed, I love reading both fiction and non-fiction. I reserve a part of my weekend for reading and spend at least a couple of hours on this. I also use the books I am reading to illustrate a point or two in my articles. Since I travel on work quite a bit, I find it a great opportunity to catch up on reading. As our home underwent renovation recently and all my books had to be packed off into cartons, I found the occasion to write a piece, ‘Books Are Memories on Shelves’. While packing my books, I found myself reminiscing about when and where I had got them. One of the most difficult things is to discard books. All of them have given you so much pleasure. I love sports and watch most games on television. In the 1960s, I had seen some memorable cricket and tennis matches live on the ground. Two of them stand out. In the year 1966, Gary Sobers’s team from the West Indies gave us an innings defeat, in the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, in 4 days after the crowds rioted and play was abandoned for a day. In 1968, Ramanthan Krishnan made a memorable comeback after being down 2 sets and 2-5 in the third set in the Davis Cup tie against Thomas Koch of Brazil. That memorable win took us to the Challenge Round against Australia.

Q. What is your message to young publishers?

Ans. I consider myself as still young, in the sense of learning new things continuously! As far as young publishers are concerned, I think they need to be aware of the changing environment of publishing. While books may still endure, the jury is still out whether the future of reading will still be in the print format or will it become digital. I would like publishers to keep themselves open to publishing in the digital format and see the enormous possibilities of e-publishing. The e-pub format gives you better scope for an ongoing relationship with the reader in the form of reader reviews, discussions with the author, etc. Also, publishers could think of innovative ways in which the e-book could support the promotion of the printed book. Customers would need reading matter to be read on various devices across different platforms. The publisher, being the master of content, would have to provide this.

Q. How would you describe a good book?

Ans. A good book can be described as something that should excite the imagination and keep you engrossed. It’s not necessary to read the book in one go. Rather, the book should make you ponder, think and sometimes you may like to look up references for what you have read. I have seen many readers marking passages in the book they are reading or scribbling notes in the margins. While I would prefer notes should be made separately, nevertheless I am happy the book has made such an impression on them. We need to do a lot more for books and for the printed word. Reading can be strengthened with both visual and audio support. It’s a great experience to read while listening to an audio version of the book. I think appropriate visuals too will greatly enhance reading.

Q. What is the future of a book?

Ans. With the advent of the e-book and reading becoming widespread in a digital format either on e-readers and other devices, people have been quick to sound the death knell for the printed book. I think the p-book having endured for so many years, is quite resilient and may well continue for some more years. Ultimately, the consumer is the king and publishers will have to serve content to be read across a range of devices, as per the customer’s choice. The print format will have to be thought of as one more device for reading. There is a lot of romance and nostalgia associated with a freshly printed book, holding it, feeling it and even smelling it! Against this, we have to contend with the seductive charms of the i-Pad, the Kindle or the Samsung Galaxy. To each, his own! The saving grace is, that reading continues. A happy marriage would of course be, where the e-book and the p-book complement each other and where one format can be used to promote the other!


20th New Delhi World Book Fair
The theme of 2012 New Delhi World Book Fair is “Point of View: An International Rights Exhibition of Books on Indian Cinema”.
Space booking has started for the New Delhi World Book Fair to be held from 25th Feb-4th March, 2012. Participants can book their space on National Book Trust site
NBT is collecting all inprint and out of print books on Indian cinema and display during the fair. The fair will enter in their 40th year of foundation. First being held in 1972, held every alternate year since then.

Book exports exempted from archaic Act
Delhi customs stopped the export of Indian books in May stating The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867 which required that every book published in India should have the name and address of the publisher printed in it. After hectic meetings with the Director General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce & Ministry of Finance, the notification was issued by Ministry of Finance clarifying that export of books is allowed even in cases where the books do not have the name and address of publishers or printers. This will really help the printers to do the work for the International Publishing Industry.

Online Bookshops becoming Popular
“The current size of the online book market is estimated to be about Rs. 70 crore in annual sales and it is increasing at the rate of 50 per cent year by year”, said Rahul Sethi, President, E-Commerce, ibibo Web Private Limited, which launched TradusBooks.In, an online bookstore for India.
“The increasing internet penetration, consumer confidence in online retail as a format is driving this growth. The convenience of shopping online and the wide choice and attractive prices available online are also growth drivers”, said Sachin Bansal, CEO and co-founder, Flipkart.Com
“On an average 10,000-12,000 people shop for books everyday. Most are men within age-group of 25-35. Almost 50 per cent of the orders come from the top eight cities and the remaining come from B & C class towns,” said Rahul.
“The Online book market is steadily growing. We expect the industry to grow at around 15-20 per cent annually, with online sales doing better than physical transactions.”
The Asian Tribune, 29 March, 2011

David Davidar, Rupa launch Aleph
Publishing professional, David Davidar and Rupa Publications India, a leading Indian publisher and distributor, announced in New Delhi that they would be partnering to start a new literary publishing firm, the Aleph Book Company. Aleph will be head-quartered in New Delhi.
David Davidar said, “I’m thrilled to join hands with Rupa to launch this venture. We will be looking to ensure that each book we publish makes its mark and to that end any title that Aleph takes on will be distinctive, original and of outstanding literary quality. Our books will be creatively packaged and innovatively marketed through traditional retail and print outlets as well as digital and online channels. However, no matter how excellent the editorial and marketing capabilities of a publishing company, for any book to succeed in India, a deep understanding of the market and an effective distribution network are essential. Rupa has an excellent relationship with retailers nation-wide and its sales and distribution capabilities are unmatched. It has seven full-fledged sales offices around the country and reaches deeper into the market than any other distributor and so every Aleph book and author will have an excellent chance to succeed in this market.”
May 17, 2011


A publisher’s functions and responsibilities have expanded a great deal over the last decade. On the one hand, he has to hold the whole publishing chain together from conception, commissioning to marketing to ensure there’s profit which means he must also have a firm grip on the finances.
With the new breed of management accountants who have invaded publishing houses, publishers are being constantly reminded that the game today is about money, not about books! An academic has no such accountability and certainly no commercial pressures of the kind that publishers have to face.
Ravi Vyas, The Telegraph, 29 April, 2011


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