R. Sriram, whose name is related more to Crossword Book Store, in an insight session provided literary alludes and compelling examples, and a importantly worldview that sought to look at change of book forms positively. He meant to convey that the content and its utility should be the focus and not the form in which it is delivered. In a 25-minute presentation on ‘Inventing Our Future’, he showcased examples of how the audience is behaving to changing formats offered. McKenzie Wark who wrote Gamer changed the way people read the book, said Sriram. Calling print book the “last bastion of the old business model,” he impressed upon the audience to look at ebooks as a natural evolution in the printing processes. This stirred many thoughts on why the print books’so-called imminent disappearance one day shouldn’t be mourned or the invasion of ebooks into our lives is not such a bad thing at all. “The way to change the future is to invent it,” concluded Sriram.
In a panel discussion on ‘Getting Rookies on Board’, the panellists provided different dimensions to addressing the problem of discovering new content through new authors. While I stepped into the discussion, Vatsala Kaul Banerjee of Hachette was training her guns on language publishing and said that part needs to be encouraged. Vinutha Mallya, independent publishing consultant, felt media spaces for book reviews have shrunk. Anne Zaidi, writer, said that the short story tradition practiced in regional magazines is not followed in English magazines. Tanushree Hazarika, magazine publisher from Assam, provided example of a television serial director becoming an author through a process of impressing upon her to write though she wasn’t thinking of writing at all. But the resulting product that portrayed 30 inspiring women of Assam was well received.
K. Priyamvada, a first-time self-published author and an editor with Taylor and Francis, had a tough time finding a publisher. Yes, that’s not uncommon. Rejection letters we know were received by literary stalwarts and shouldn’t be a case of grouse or complaint. In the new invading avenue that is threatening to throw a gauntlet at the citadel of publishers, self-publishing avenues provide authors a handy publishing tool to wipe away their depressive states of not getting published. Priyamvada, in a workshop on self-publishing, provided a step-by-step guide to how to get self-published and provided generous tips on how to price your self-published book, how to produce it with quality, and how to market it. Self-publishing seems a contrary avenue to poems that are met with disdain by publishers.
R. Sundar Rajan, of Strata Retail, in another insight talk session, started off saying how he became an accidental entrepreneur after starting a library out of his own savings. Now Just Books library is present in 10 cities and has 60 libraries. He stressed that finding the first 1000 customers is not difficult but to sustain them after 5 years is the challenge. Then he explained that publishers can look at libraries to hunt for data on reader habits and reader profile, which he felt is strongly ignored. Providing a warmth dimension to neighbourhood library, he stopped short of saying libraries are agents of social lives of its patrons.
The panel discussion on ‘Expanding the Publishing Pie’ saw sharp exchanges, some contradictory points of view expressed by audience, and provided a lively debate unlike the other sessions. Subhromoni De, partner, Chhatim Books, said entrepreneurial bent of publishers is not up to the mark (you could call that), which was refuted by Vinuta Mallya, publishing consultant. She said ever since publishing was liberalized in 2000 with FDI cap withdrawn on publishing, there has been intense activity in the sector. Rajest Jog, an investor, saw tremendous future in digital books and devices, while Sriram, of Next Practice Retail, reemphasized that print books is not a perfect product that should be kept on for ever. K. Muralidharan, a TV journalist and founder of Madurai Press, explained how a Tamil publisher is reinventing his sales channel through a blog. The readers are advertised on forthcoming books for which they pay and then the book is published. This way the books sell 1500 copies a month and these are comic books.
The booksellers’ woe debate again provided ground for some point and counterpoint exchanges, with Vikrant Mathur of Nielsen providing a presentation on how data helps publishers with better publishing decisions. Instead of shooting in the air, the publisher will get to know the real on-ground sales figures of books. Nielsen publishers Top 250, a list of 250 best-selling books per week. Penguin’s Rahul Dixit agreed with Vikrant and provided a brief on how it helps Penguin. K. Vaitheeswaran of IndiaPlaza charged that publishers haven’t been able to respond to several changes that are quickly happening in the market over the last few years, which was refuted by Rahul Dixit who said Penguin consistently responds to the market. Vaitheeswaran’s contention was that the supply chain has several layers that what the reader wants is not quickly reaching them. Aashish Goel, formerly with Amar Chitra Katha, steered the discussion effectively when Fredrick Noronha was complaining how online retailers dumped back unsold stock at the end of the year, adding to the woes of a small publisher. Heavy discounts at retailers and distributors is a sure pain point for which there seems to be no real solution at present.
Finding Kids in Us to Help them Read
As I missed the printing workshop, I was tuned to Sayoni Basu-led discussion on how to market to a young audience. Sayoni is founder of Duckbill Books along with Anushka Ravishankar. The panellists in this discussion provided different perspectives on how they served children’s reading needs. Shoba Vishwanath of Karadi Tales seeks to enrich storytelling through audio books and Karadi Tales is still the only audio book publisher for children in India. She showed how a story Rumour reverberates across cultures and evokes the same feelings. Chandni Khanna of Hippocampus explained how the library for children she built has evolved with stocking iPads in its new Adyar location in Chennai. Suzanne Singh touched many a heart as she took the audience through the presentation. Providing a social and nonprofit dimension to children books, Pratham Books has become a social warrior in impacting lives of 20 million children through its novel initiation of children into the world of letters. A Book in Every Child’s Hand is the motto of Pratham Books. Suzanne later told me about 70% of school children drop out before they reach high school. To address that problem, Pratham Books invented a new method of teaching alphabets through storytelling by printing books in big fonts and relating the alphabets in the story to learning new alphabets. Swati Das, who runs a children’s library and got to think out of the books to create a literary festival for children, Bookaroo, explained how children are fed by mothers till they are seven. The panellists regretted that Indian stories are little registered in children’s minds while they take to Western stories easily. Again, the floor was opened by interjection of Vinuta Mallya who sought to know what National Book Trust was doing to encourage children’s reading. Sumit Banerjee of National Book Trust provided an explanation of what NCB is doing, added more by Rubin D’Cruz of NBT. Many in the audience sought to add to the points of view or provide contradictory facts to the panellist thoughts and this was the way discussions went through out the day.
Sumit Gupta, Director of FICCI, who heads the publishing part of FICCI, said that the diverse participation of audience appealed to him. He also said that people outside publishing are taking part in the conference. Vinutha Mallya was happy to see focused discussion and diverse speakers.