We at YourStory.in recently spoke to Suman Chakraborty, Publishing Entrepreneur and Founder of ROMAN Books, publisher of high-quality literary fiction and poetry for the general trade with a strong overseas market.Suman was also one of the finalists at the British Council’s Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards in 2008. To know more about the Young Publishing Entrepreneur Awards, click here. To follow the Young Creative Entrepreneur Awards on Facebook, check out http://www.facebook.com/YCEAwards
Suman, tell us about ROMAN Books.
ROMAN Books is an independent publisher of literature and literary criticism. We publish high-quality literary fiction and poetry for the general trade, and literary criticism targeted for higher academic libraries. Our market is primarily located overseas—we have grown a strong trade and sales network in UK and USA. Our books are available in all major bookstores in UK, Ireland, USA and Canada, including Borders, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and Amazon. We directly work with the global leaders of book trade like Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Bertrams or Gardners Books. Our books are reviewed by the top industry magazines like The Bookseller.
What is your background? What is the story behind starting ROMAN Books?
I was born in Calcutta in 1983. My Dad, Mr Jahar Chakraborty, is a printer. He owns Roman Printers Pvt. Ltd., a leading printer of East India which has been doing business for more than three decades. After my first degree in English from the University of Calcutta, I studied Literature at the University of Glasgow for my Masters. During my stay in the UK, I tried to take a closer look at the country’s retail book industry — just for curiosity, not from any business angle. After returning from Glasgow, I wanted to join the local academia and, in order to fulfil that dream, published two books for the undergraduate students of English Honours. To my astonishment both the books became very successful. It was at this time my friends, family and advisers encouraged me to start a publishing business on full scale. It was at this point ROMAN Books was born — not as a part of our printing business, but as a completely separate entity with a creative vision.What were the challenges you faced while starting up ROMAN Books?
From the very beginning, I wanted to focus on the UK and US markets, because at the very outset I could realize that Indian market is not for us. Mainly because, we wanted to mix creativity and quality, and in the Indian publishing sector(at least for small or emerging publishers like us) these elements are not profit-generating qualities. So, for me, I think the major challenge was to understand both of these overseas markets. UK and US book industries are two of the most highly sophisticated, complicated and minutely organized industries. Both the markets use state-of-the-art digital technologies in the business everyday, at every single point—starting from pre-production to the ultimate sell of the book to the reader. I think the most challenging part of my business was to completely understand the actual and practical procedures by which both of these markets work.
How long have you been operational? Where are you based? What is the size of your team?
The company was formed in September 2008, though we properly started functioning with our first title from the middle of 2009. We are based in Howrah, West Bengal. Though a separate entity, our office is integrated to the administrative premises of Roman Printers. In India, we are a very small group of people with me working full time and the others working on a part-time/project-by-project basis. In the United Kingdom, we currently have four Sales Representatives and we are in contact with them almost everyday.
How are you different from other players in the market?
I think we are different from two angles — firstly we are a small publisher focussing on the UK & US market with general trade books. I am not aware of any other small publisher in India working in similar sector. The other publishers working in the similar field(i.e. general trade books) are part of a large publishing group like HarperCollins, Penguin or Hachette. Secondly, we try to meet the global standard of book publishing with our quality, content and production standard. We also print some of our titles from overseas in order to meet such standard, though most of our books are printed by ROMAN Printers, and we can meet the British or American standards here.
What is the size of the market you are trying to capture?
Both the markets are incomparably big. US Book industry(for general English trade books) is probably the largest in the whole world.
What according to you are publishing sector specific challenges?
Well, to be frank, there are thousands! I think in India the main challenge is the problem of co-ordination. Indian publishing market does not have any unified / single system. No publisher can have a single distributor for the whole country—business, markets and distribution change from zone to zone, area to area, city to city. This is the major and most problematic gap in the Indian publishing sector. The irritating point is, we can not even unify the Indian publishing industry even if we want to, unless everyone is using the standard classifying system, i.e. the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Only about 30% of the books published in India follow proper ISBN barcoding method [Source: ISBN International website] and 70% fail to meet the EAN/UPC code classification. This makes the books India-wide and globally unmarketable. The ISBN registration system is still paper-based in India and issuance of new ISBN takes long time. Additionally, there is no standardized book registration system in India through which retailers can receive book data from centralised servers of a data-registrant. In UK & USA the main problem is the crisis of existence because the market is dominated by global publishing giants.
Please tell us about some of your publications.
We have authors from all over the globe—USA, UK, France, Bulgeria, Poland and, of course, India. We have recently come up with some extremely good literary works like From Under the Bed by Fiona McClean. This book was highly praised by The Bookseller, the largest book industry magazine of UK, with “compelling . . . fulfilling read.” Information Sheet attached. Our March title The Sufi’s Garland was reviewed by many US media—see the attached sheet for review links. We also have couple of really good literary works forthcoming which includes Descendants of Evil by David James or The Fourth Passenger by Mini Nair. Information Sheets for these titles are attached herewith.What are your expansion plans at ROMAN Books?
We are currently researching on the Australian market and will be expanding to Australia with few selected titles by August this year. Depending on the market response we plan to have a fully functioning network in Australia by December 2012.
So, share with us your experience at YCE.
YCE has been an extremely encouraging part of my career as a creative entrepreneur. I was shortlisted for the Young Publishing Entrepreneurship Award in 2009. It was really awarding as I had started my business only for few months at that time. In 2011-12 we are doing an Indo-British collaborative project with the University of Derby in England. Dr Jason Lee from Creative Writing Department of the University of Derby will select a creative work and ROMAN Books would mature that work to meet the market needs in order to publish the book. The project will culminate with me visiting the University of Derby as a Visiting Lecturer where I would be speaking on how we can develop the skills of new writers. British Council is partially funding the project with the YCE grant. We endeavour to repeat this project every year.
Anything else that you want to share with YourStory.in readers?
Yes—we also try to sell paperback rights of our titles to Indian publishers who have good national distribution channels. Indian counterparts of many International publishers are interested to buy paperback rights of our book and we have talks/negotiations in progress.
Varsha Adusumilli | YourStory.in