|Vol. 6 No. 5-6, April-May 2012
|Dear Publishing Professionals,
recently travelled to Ahmedabad, now Amdavad, after 25 years, to
participate in a seminar - The Role of Editor in a Publishing House -
which coincided with the National Book Fair organised by the Ahmedabad
Municipal Corporation. The book fair was held on the river front, which
is being developed by the Gujarat government as a tourist attraction. It
was held in a made-up hall, duly air conditioned. I think after Delhi,
this is the only book fair that was held in an air conditioned hall. The
exhibitors were happy as there were large crowds coming to the book
fair to buy books, read books and enjoy the food court in a cool and
having interviewed so many publishing professionals, I have come to
believe that publishing is a small scale industry - a family business,
continuing from one generation to another, leaving aside the
multinationals and a few large houses. Children from most of the
publisher families join the family business after completing their
education and try to learn on the job; get practical experience and
learn the ropes by making mistakes. The second type of publishing
professionals are the ones who started their careers as salesmen, got
promoted to management positions or started out as editorial assistants,
got promoted to senior editorial positions and then as commissioning
editors have ventured into starting a publishing house. There are many
living examples of successful publishers who have had beginnings such as
these. In this issue I have interviewed a person who joined his
father’s business at a very young age on his demise and then became a
successful Gujarati publisher - Mr Bhagat Bhai Sheth. I hope you will
enjoy reading about him as much as I have enjoyed interviewing him.
good news for the industry is that now after 40 years and 20 book fairs
since 1970, the bi-annual New Delhi World Book Fair has become an
annual event. The 21st New Delhi World Book Fair will be held in Delhi
from 4th to 10th February, 2013. Let ‘s hope the NBT will be able to
handle this successfully.
attended the London Book Fair in April, where China was the guest of
honour country just like India was in the year 2009. I came across an
article,”A beginner’s guide to 20 things one should know about
publishing in China”, and thought it will be a good idea to share it, so
have included the same in this issue.
with Bhagat Bhai Sheth, a leading publisher of trade books in Gujarat.
Q. Tell us about the Read Gujarat Movement Programme.
The Read Gujarat Movement programme was started on the 50th anniversary
of Gujarat as an individual state by Mr Narendra Modi, the CM of
Gujarat. It was started in 2010-2011 to promote ‘book reading habits’
throughout the state. Under the programme, a competition was held in
schools for reading and games. The students who won received coupons
ranging from Rs. 250- Rs. 1000 for buying books. The schools also got
coupons ranging from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 8000 for purchasing books for their
libraries. We, at the association level selected 5000 best Gujarati
books from 32 publishers and then organised book fairs at 65 places in
the state – 26 at the district level and 39 at the Taluka level – for 4
days. We had also offered 20% discount to students and schools. The
venue and publicity of the book fairs were organised by the Government.
It was a successful programme. At Bhavnagar and Junagarh, all the books
were sold in 2 days and we had to close the fair. Twenty members of the
association participated in these book fairs. Mr Narendra Modi also
coined a slogan – “don’t present bouquets or flowers, present books
only”. Now, people have started giving books as gifts on birthdays,
weddings, anniversaries, festivals and at government functions. This has
given a boost to book-reading and book-buying habits in the state.
Q. Please explain how it has improved the reading habits?
There is more awareness now regarding the advantages of reading and
education and the programme has helped in spreading this awareness.
Moreover, as the saying goes ‘old habits die hard’, the reading habit
once formed in the early years, lasts for a lifetime.
Q. Your opinion about the Ahmedabad Book Fair.
The book fair is a part of the celebrations of the formation of Gujarat
as a state. Also, it has now been made into an annual event and the
dates have also been fixed from 1 to 7 May - since the Gujarat state was
formed on 1st May, 1960. The book fair, though being held for the first
time, has made quite an impact. People are coming with their friends
& families and spend time in an air-conditioned dome and buy books
and have fun in the well-organized food court. The organizers have
arranged many programmes like author readings, professional seminars,
daily launches of new books, etc. These events are also publicised in
the print and electronic media a day in advance of the event. There are
two seminar halls with a capacity of 1000 and 100 people which are being
used for these programmes. This is a positive development for Gujarati
people and for the book industry in Gujarat.
Q. Where would you place R.R. Sheth in the Gujarati publishing scene?
We are the leading & most admired publishing company in Gujarati
language. R.R.Sheth represents a wide spectrum of Gujarati publishing,
be it number of successful titles, be it production quality, eminent
authors, pricing, promotion, network, etc. We believe in innovation and
that leads us on to the higher level. We’ve received Distinguished
Publishers & Distinguished Booksellers Award from Federation of
Indian Publishers. So far, we have published 5,000 titles from which
more than 2000 titles are in print, and annually we publish 60-70 new
titles and reprint of 150-200 titles. Our reprint ratio is 75%! We
publish general titles in all subjects and we’ve also expanded in the
translation field. We regularly visit international book fairs. We have a
galaxy of around 80-90 authors.
Q. When did you join R.R. Sheth & Co?
I had joined the company when I was just 17 and a student of class 10.
This was due to sad demise of my father Shri Bhurabhai Sheth in 1959.
Needless to say, I had no experience but our managerial & loyal
staff helped me in learning the publishing business. I have maintained a
good relationship with our authors and developed many more in the
process. Since then, it is my 53rd year in publishing!
Q. Who started R.R. Sheth & Co and why was it named so?
My father, Bhuralal Sheth was a freedom fighter and went to Yaravada
jail with Gandhi ji. He was impressed with Gandhi ji’s philosophy and
after his release from prison, my father started selling Gandhian
literature as a hawker. In 1926, he started R.R. Sheth & Co along
with his brothers in the memory of their youngest unmarried brother
Ratilal Ranchhodas Sheth, who had passed away at a young age. My father
started with publishing Gandhian literature and other literary books in
Gujarati. In 1956, there was a division and my father bought over the
company by paying his brothers.
Q. When did R. R. Sheth & Co. become a private limited company from a proprietorship one?
The company was converted from proprietorship to Pvt. Ltd. in 2010 on
the advice of a chartered accountant in the interest of the business.
Q. How do your sons Chintan and Ratnaraj help you in running the company?
I have two sons and a daughter. My daughter is married and well settled
in Dallas, USA. My two sons after their graduation joined me in the
business and have taken over the responsibility of running the show.
Chintan, the older one, looks after the editorial and production
department and the younger one, Ratnaraj, looks after sales, marketing
and promotion. I am glad that due to them I can afford to take a long
break from work.
Q. Which is your recent bestseller?
Recently we have published Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and made it a
No.1 Gujarati bestseller. It has sold 5,000 copies in just 2 months! We
have commissioned and published ‘Chankyament’, a management book based
on the philosophy of Chanakya. His wisdom is still relevant after 2300
years! Chanakyament implies the amalgamation of Chanakya &
Management. Most importantly, we have registered the title as a
trademark in 2011 for its name - Chanakyament. The first edition with
10,000 copies has already been sold out, so now we are issuing the first
reprint. We hope to sell at least one lakh copies in a short time.
Q. Are you expanding into eBooks?
We believe in innovation. Our digital publishing department has
innovated technology in order that our Gujarati fonts can be converted
in to proper eBooks. We have already started converting our printed
books into digital format. We will be launching our eBooks sales
Q. Do you have a showroom?
Yes, we have one of the biggest air-conditioned showrooms of Gujarati
books in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Our readers are very pleased to see our
entire range in the showrooms. We also inspire booksellers to visit the
showrooms and place orders. Owning two showrooms in the most prominent
cities helps us promote our books and various book clubs & other
You are a senior member of the Gujarat Prakashak Mandal now. When you
were the President, how did you contribute and now continue to
contribute toward it’s growth?
I was the President of Gujarati Literary Publishers Association in
1970. In those days, during my tenure, our entire general books’
publishing trade, managed to offer a uniform discount structure of 10%
for schools, colleges & libraries. We had convinced RRLF officials
to purchase books at only 10% discounts. We were controlling prices of
the books within a common formula. Thus we had imposed code of conduct.
These policies went on for 10 years then collapsed. Thereafter, in
2006-2007, we merged the above association with Gujarat Prakashak Mandal
(GPM), when the government imposed VAT on maps, charts, globes etc. We
protested against it and got it removed. Since then, we all have been
working under the GPM. Currently, we are in tune with the government to
innovate on new ideas of promoting books in the state.
Q. What are the problems that you face in Gujarati publishing?
New creative authors are not emerging and the old ones are not able to
write for the youth of today. But we at R.R.Sheth, are always
intensively searching for good authors and we’ve succeeded to some
extent. On the other hand, compared to the way technology is supporting
other languages, we find lot of problems in finding good proof-readers
& good editors. We visualise that the future of the regional
language publishing is going to be very strong. On the whole, we are
glad that being an 86 years old publishing house, we have learnt that,
in Gujarati language, only those publishers will survive who have deep
Q. How do you spend your leisure time?
Ans. I love reading poetry and ghazals. I also like listening to old film songs.
Q. You are going to the US. Do you have any specific agenda?
I have no agenda, I am going to spend time with my daughter and her
family and enjoy my stay. I will miss my daily routine in Ahmedabad.
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE ABOUT PUBLISHING IN CHINA*
Paul Richardson identifies 20 things you should know.
Paul Richardson is a director of China Publishing Ltd, a consultancy
company that offers support to Chinese publishers in the development of
their strategies for “going abroad”. he was the first foreign researcher
at the Chinese Institute of Publishing Sciences and a member of the
international advisory board of China Book International, and has
written many books and articles on history and publishing.
1. A big economy getting bigger?
centuries up to 1895 China had the world’s largest GDP and will reclaim
pole position within a decade or so. Predicted export-led growth of 8%
in 2012 may be knocked back by recession in Europe, and China will be
overtaken by India in terms of population, but with 1.3 billion people,
97% literate, and GDP per head running at $7,600 a year and rising
(twice India’s level), it remains the main engine for growth in the
2. So the world’s biggest book market?
in volume, though output is falling slightly from a production peak of 7
billion units a year in 2008 and print runs per title are falling as
well. China, with the USA and UK, is one of the big three in terms of
new title production. And the good news for publishers is that prices
are rising and that this is a market where reading is still cool for
young people. So, soon the largest by value also.
3. Well connected?
but the best is still to come. It’s easily the largest internet market
in the world with 513 million “netizens” (but that is only 38% of the
population) and 916 million mobile phones (400 million to go). The
young, urban and educated are totally turned on to the digital world,
and almost everyone else aspires to be.
4. But there’s social change and tension?
Gini co-efficient says China has a gap between the richest and poorest
of almost Brazilian proportions. It’s the biggest market in the world
for luxury goods (think Rolls Royces and vintage Burgundies), but more
importantly there is a huge aspirant managerial/professional class with a
hunger for education for children. And in 2011 more than half the
population of this quintessentially peasant civilisation were living in
towns and cities - with bookshops. More than 75% of books are bought by
5. So it’s mainly an educational market?
textbooks were half the market, but not any more. Primary school
enrolments are falling as a result of the One-Child Policy and textbook
prices are still strictly controlled. But college, university and
professional education are booming, the consumer market is burgeoning
and prices there are not controlled.
6. But the educational market is still huge?
is, but it is now more fragmented as publishers other than the old
central and provincial educational presses are allowed in. There is more
choice; there is a market shift from primary to secondary; there are
new subjects (environmental science and the very perplexing matter of
sex education); and books are now designed to be re-used.
7. Can Westem publishers get into the educational market?
in partnership with local publishers -licensing, adapting or developing
curriculum material from scratch. eLT is obviously the prime area and
oUP, Pearson, Macmillan and others have built massive business with
Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press (FLTRP) and the Commercial
Press, but smaller players have found their way into this market as
8. And higher and academic publishing?
huge growth area, from textbooks to scholarly (online) journals. The
giants such as Science Press and Higher Education Press have
long-established two-way links with Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and
McGraw, but there are still plenty of opportunities in key areas:
biosciences, business and management, medicine, planning and so on.
China will overtake the USA as the largest source of internationally
published scientific research in the next three years - so think of
buying as well as selling.
9. The consumer market must be very different?
is: for instance, there is a massive market for young adult fiction,
mainly written by superstar authors of the same age (18-25) and often
online before print. Older people still read the Chinese classics; the
in-betweens go for self-improvement and popular business. International
bestsellers (Rowling, Meyer etc.) do hugely well, as do media tie-ins.
In 2011 the top cinema box office takes went to “Transformers: Dark of
the Moon”, “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger
Tides” ahead of the top Chinese productions “The Flowers of War” and
“Flying Swords at Dragon Gate”. But the book market is not all lowest
common denominator stuff: The Unbearable Lightness of Being and, for
children, Charlotte’s Web appear regularly in the bestseller lists. And
China has its own excellent BookScan look-alike, Beijing Open Book. You
can subscribe to an English-language version and see that bestsellers in
China have a much longer life than in the West.
10. What do the bestseller lists look like?
the run up to Christmas the fiction list was headed by the popular
genre of “workplace” novels selling at around £4, but Marquez’s A
Hundred Years of Solitude was at number four. Isaacson’s biography of
Steve Jobs at £9 headed the non-fiction list. The children’s list
featured Chinese and Japanese picture books, but Charlotte’s Web was
indeed there at number five for £1.70. In terms of numbers they can be
huge -Wolf Totem has sold more than five million copies to date - but
outside the textbook market they may be quite modest: 100,000 in a year
would get you into the top ten fiction list.
11. But aren’t they all switching to ebooks?
are, but not in the same way as in the US or UK. A huge amount of young
adult fiction is mainly downloaded on mobiles or PCs. Ereaders are
available but struggling and Kindle has not yet come to the market.
Digital delivery is very important in the educational and college
markets, but the printed book market has not yet suffered in the way it
has in, say, Japan.
12. And isn’t everything being pirated anyway?
central authorities are waging a powerful war on piracy, but it is a
huge task in a country of this size and complexity. “The emperor is far
away and the mountains are high”, so locally all sorts of things are
tolerated, including illicit copying by educational establishments.
There was no copyright law from 1949 to 1991, and public attitudes to
intellectual property are still shaped by the socialist past. However,
there is sound copyright law and the means to enforce it.
13. And censorship?
is a big apparatus, but censorship is mostly self-imposed by publishers
themselves. They know the limits and are regularly pushing them to meet
popular demand. The authorities are still rather prudish, but much less
so than a decade ago (see Chinese Cosmopolitan). Religion (Falun Gong,
Muslim fundamentalism, but not ordinary devotional stuff) and certain
political issues (Tibet/the Dalai Lama, Tiananmen Square, the status of
Taiwan) are very sensitive. A lot of banned books get into circulation
under the wire - an upside of piracy and book smuggling from Hong Kong
14. So how do we get in?
a foreigner you can, with approval, invest in printing, distribution
and book retailing, but not directly in publishing. However, there are
acceptable forms of joint-venture projects. At this stage you are best
served by a relationship with good local partners.
15. Who are they?
are around 200 national publishers based in Beijing, and nearly 400
provincial publishers (remember some provinces have populations of
nearly 100 million people). They are all state entities, but in the last
couple of years they have almost all been transformed into business
enterprises, sometimes floated in part on the Shanghai and Hong Kong
stock exchanges. Many of them have been drawn together into Groups,
conglomerates supposedly capable of facing up to the international media
giants. These may also be central, such as the China Publishing Group,
which includes the most prestigious and longest established imprints in
China, or provincial such as the mighty Phoenix Publishing and Media
Group based in Jiangsu. Do not be intimidated by their size. Phoenix,
for instance, may have a strategic relationship with Hachette Livre, but
anyone can do good deals with its lively imprint Yilin, which
specialises in foreign books.
On the one hand there is still the
overarching presence of GAPP (General Administration of Press and
Publications), the state ministry of publishing, which sets the
strategic agendas. On the other hand there is a booming private “second
channel” - private packagers and publishers who provide the most
creative part of publishing, especially in consumer books, and who are
now recognised to the extent that the state publishers can invest in
them as well as buying their products. The best are worth contacting.
16. But how do you do business?
can export directly through designated Chinese importers, led by the
China National Publishing Import and Export Corporation. Imported books
are expensive, so this works best with specialist books, STM etc, or
“must have” - it used to be the latest harry Potter in english. In 2010
the UK imports led ahead of the USA, worth £33 million, up 50% on 2009
and ranking as our 16th largest export market.
distribution is still very much work in progress. The old state system
of Xinhua bookstores is being modernised and there are some amazing book
cities (book superstores) in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as excellent
smaller private bookstores. On the other hand there is local
protectionism and national distribution is still hard to achieve.
Eretailing is booming through Dangdang and Chinese Amazon.
obvious alternative is licensing and this is suitable especially for
media tie-ins, children’s books, illustrated popular non-fiction,
reference books and so on. In recent years the UK has licensed 2,000
plus titles a year to China, 20% of the total, second to the USA with
about 4,000. Deals can be done through official copyright agencies,
commercial agencies such as Andrew Nurnberg, or directly with
publishers. Terms are standard, but advances are small given the low
local prices. Payment may be slow thanks to the bureaucracy, but comes
Whatever the route in, it is important to remember that
the Chinese authorities are deeply concerned about the “cultural
deficit”. In 2004 the ratio for copyright licence imports to exports was
about 15:1; now it’s 3.5:1, but the exports still go mostly to regional
partners in Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong, and the sales into the
West remain very limited.
a two-way street by licensing Chinese material, perhaps in an adapted
form, for Western markets may open the gates to much bigger sales into
China, and all sorts of favourable cost-sharing deals may be struck as
Chinese publishers seek to meet their quota for “going abroad”.
17. Where’s the competition?
everywhere. The big multinationals, whether in consumer or educational/
academic/STM, all now have representative offices in China; small
Western companies work through agents and meetings at international book
fairs including Beijing. The Publishers Association and the Independent
Publishers Association have presences there you can buy into. There is
intense competition for the market from regional publishers, notably
Japanese in STM, children’s books and manga, South Koreans in fashion
and fiction, and Singaporeans in lifestyle/ design.
the local competition is getting better and better. Baidu has beaten
Google not only through political pressures; Bertelsmann retired hurt
from bookclubs/distribution; Amazon is not all powerful, but
head-to-head with local Dangdang; Chinese publishers have captured
swathes of the self-help market from the Americans; and so on.
18. What are the other threats and risks?
big one is the Chinese economy having a hard landing in the next year
or so. That could have not only commercial implications, but lead to
social unrest and political backtracking. However, it has to be said
that in the scheme of things China seems a better bet than the Middle
East and at least on a par with India.
19. But is it hard to do business there?
publishers are very friendly and open. Like publishers everywhere they
are up for a good meal and a few toasts. Guanxi, networking for mutual
benefit, is at the heart of long-term business relationships.
Decision-making is usually quite slow and collegiate; Chinese do not
favour one-to one dealing.
20. Anything else?
serendipitous facts. This is a country where the government is putting
massive investment into the development of community libraries,
especially in rural areas -sounds unfamiliar? Within the next decade
China will be the second largest tourist destination and the second
largest source of international tourism in the world. Watch out at LBF
2012. For the first time there will be Chinese publishers seriously on
the lookout for UK publishing house acquisitions.
*Publishers Weekly London Show Daily, Book Brunch, 16 April, 2012
www. publishersweekly.com • www. bookbrunch.co.uk
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