Thomas Abraham, MD, Hachette Livre speaks to Pallavi Polanki on the publishing scenario in India.
How would you describe the publishing scene in India today?
I’d say it is in transition. We’re still evolving and have some way to go before we can say that the industry has really changed over to being modern and professional. What is new is that trade (consumer) publishing is finally a resurgent force rather than being a minority player with just one or two trade houses or being an offshoot of the educational business.
What opportunities do you see for young people in the industry?
Great opportunities. But as in other industries, talent is the single biggest problem. So retention becomes a key thrust area. But the problem isn’t really salaries. It’s getting the right incumbents, particularly in editorial. Sadly, there are no real training or professional courses that would interest the average campus leaver (the way IIMC or MCRC would interest students wanting a career in mass-com). But even more than editorial, a greater gap exists in sales and marketing. The future will belong to those sales and marketing people who are readers to boot.
What are the positive trends?
More publishers are coming to India in the sense of being full publishers (both local publishing as well as imports). With more players, and competition, there will be improvements in quality, wider targeting of readership which will thus expand the market, and a better end customer experience. But equally importantly, there’s also scope for a lot of collective action regarding industry issues (IPR, piracy) in a way that didn’t exist earlier. We’re also seeing retail expansion.
What are Hachette’s plans?
We’ll be confirming our commencement of business date soon; probably May. We’ve mapped out a phased growth plan that will see local publishing kicking in with a sustained programme from 2009. There will be a slight emphasis on the commercial as that’s where the biggest gaps exist in the market. Though we already have a few great books that we’ll be launching with, we’ll be formally accepting manuscripts from July 2008.
Your advice to a young person who wants to be part of the industry.
The publishing industry needs you. But think hard before you come aboard. Publishing is about books, and whether literary or commercial, it is about working with the greatest minds that entertain or inform. Therefore if you have an inclination, it can be more rewarding than any other business. But the key thing to remember is, that it is in the end a business. A business that has to be run profitably just as any other. Too many people pursue publishing starry-eyed about working on the next Vikram Seth or Amitav Ghosh book, without any real idea of what it takes.