Saturday, November 26, 2011

'There are more Indian best-sellers now'

Says Andrew Phillips, the CEO and President of Penguin India

Photo: Ravi Deecee of DC Books, (left) with Andrew Phillips at the newly opened Penguin book store in Kochi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Andrew Phillips, the CEO and President of Penguin India, is upbeat about the market in India. “We are growing by 10 per cent every year,” he says. “However, the Indian market has the lowest prices in the world, because buyers are very price-conscious. The average price for the top 500 titles is Rs 270.”

Despite that, Penguin took a risk by placing Amitav Ghosh’s ‘River of Smoke’, the second book in his Ibis trilogy, at a steep Rs 699. “Nevertheless, the novel has been the highest-selling in the literary fiction genre this year,” he says. ”We are happy about that and realized that there is a niche audience who is willing to spend money to read high-quality fiction.”

Non-fiction is also doing well. “One of our best-selling titles this year is ‘The TCS Story…and beyond' by S Ramadorai, the vice-chairman of the company,” says Andrew. “It is about the great success story of the Tata Consultancy Services. There is an appetite among people to read Indian authors who write well and, secondly, to hear about local success stories from the business world.” Incidentally, the No. 1 on the non-fiction best-seller list today is Vinod Mehta's 'Lucknow Boy', which is also published by Penguin.

Unlike in the past, many more Indian authors are writing best-sellers. “The reason is simple,” says Andrew. “Firstly, there are more books by Indians. Secondly, there are more book shops, more publishers, and more readers.” However, Western writers continue to make a mark. Jeffrey Archer’s latest novel, ‘Only Time Will Tell’, has also sold very well, apart from the Harry Potter books, which has been a phenomenon in India.

But does Penguin India miss a writer like Chetan Bhagat, who is published by Rupa, and is selling millions of copies? Andrew is unfazed, and says, “We have Ravinder Singh, whose debut novel, ‘I Too Have a Love Story’ has done very well. His new book, ‘Can Love Happen Twice?’ will be released soon. Ravinder has been the biggest-selling mass-market author after Chetan.”

But the market is changing. E-books are rapidly making inroads, especially in the US. “Yes, the growth in the US has been relentless,” says Andrew. “Everything else increases by 10 percent, but e-books have been growing by 100 per cent every year. However, it is much slower in every other country, including the UK, but, recently, I am told, sales have begun to take off in England as well.”

In India, one of the keys for a digital revolution will be to have a cheap e-book device. “In the US the e-book took off, because of the sale of Kindle devices,” says Andrew. “More recently, the Nook, as well as the I Pad has also come up. Between them, millions of units have been sold. In India, if a cheaper gadget arrives, and sells a lot, then Indian publishing will be changed.”

But Andrew is not worried. “In the US we have started digital publishing,” he says. “Most authors realise that there is still a valuable place for the publisher even in the digital format. You need somebody to edit the copy, to make it look presentable, and, more importantly, for marketing, distribution and sales. Without a publisher’s reach, it is difficult for an author to make a mark.”

Penguin opens a bookstore in Kochi

As soon you enter the Bay Pride mall, on Marine Drive, Kochi, there are plastic footprints, in the familiar orange of the Penguin book jacket, placed on the floor. It leads us to the first floor, where a 2700 sq. ft. store has been inaugurated by Andrew Phillips, the CEO and President of Penguin India recently. It is a spacious store, and, perhaps, its USP is that one side, glass-paned, with an elevated stage, faces the sea; the sight is soothing and elevating.

So, why a book store in Kochi, and not in Delhi, Chennai, or Mumbai? Says Andrew: “In Kerala, you have a high literacy rate. We have been working with [CEO] Ravi Deecee of DC Books. And we felt that it would be a great partnership to bring the Penguin imprint to the biggest book chain in Kerala.”

Chiki Sarkar, the publisher, gives another reason: “We want to be in places where there are not too many book stores. Then you can immediately carve out a niche.” And of course, it helps that Kerala has two major book shows: the Kovalam and the Hay festivals. “It is a book-loving state,” says Chiki.

Hemali Sodhi, vice-president, marketing and corporate communications, says, “We are going to launch merchandise like caps, mugs and stationery. Our aim is to project the Penguin brand.” Meanwhile, Ravi Deecee has plans to make it a cultural hot-spot. “There will be monthly author readings, contests, and readings for children,” he says.

(The new Indian Express. Kochi)