Sterling Publishers
Vol. 6 No. 5-6, April-May 2012
Dear Publishing Professionals,

I 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 pleasant atmosphere.

After 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.

The 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.

I 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.
Bhagat Bhai
Q. Tell us about the Read Gujarat Movement Programme.

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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.

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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 platform shortly.

Q. Do you have a showroom?

Ans. 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 schemes.

Q. 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?

Ans. 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?

Ans. 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 roots.

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?

Ans. 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.

Paul Richardson identifies 20 things you should know.

Paul Richardson
Professor 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?

For 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 world economy.

2. So the world’s biggest book market?

Already 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?

Yes, 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?

The 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 urban dwellers.

5. So it’s mainly an educational market?

School 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?

It 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?

Only 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 well.

8. And higher and academic publishing?

A 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?

It 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?

In 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?

They 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?

The 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?

There 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 to Shenzhen.

14. So how do we get in?

As 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?

There 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?

You 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.
Book 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.
The 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 eventually.
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.

Creating 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?

It’s 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.
And 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?

The 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?

Chinese 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?

Three 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.

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*Publishers Weekly London Show Daily, Book Brunch, 16 April, 2012

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