Recently, New Delhi, the hub of Indian publishing industry, saw two interesting and important events back-to-back — PubliCon 2017 organised by Ficci and Publishers Training Programme for Young Professionals organised by GBO, New Delhi. Ahead of the New Delhi World Book Fair, to be held from 6 to 14 January 2018, where the publishing industry hopes to get over the funk caused by the recent policy changes, namely demonetisation and GST, the events set the moods for things to come. It was heartening to see how both the events, instead of cribbing about the difficulties faced by publishers (all of which are very real and need immediate redressing) and the competition from digital platforms, talked about ways to find newer avenues for books, and ways to bridge the gap between print and digital.
Books for change
During PubliCon 2017, Dependra Pathak, special commissioner and chief spokesperson, Delhi Police, spoke about how the police is creating printed material in the form of storybooks, comics and cartoons to educate people on crime, road safety, traffic rules and also on safety of women, senior citizens and children. While highlighting the role of publishers in engaging the young minds, he also urged the industry to cooperate with the authority in preparing such texts of social relevance. He urged Ficci to collaborate with Delhi Police in engaging publishers and suggested that Ficci could consider forming a working group on devising possible measures towards curbing crime and making society a better place.
At a time when the lack of reading among children is a common concern, this can prove to be an interesting project. And, everything moral doesn’t have to be boring.
This was explained by Major Gen GD Bakshi, creator of War Hero Books, during a PubliCon panel titled ‘Strategies for Content (IP) Monetisation across Platforms’. “I grew up reading Commando Comics, which featured Allied Forces fighting the Nazi during WWII. This is the reason I decided to join the army, that too, the infantry. With War Hero Books, we are telling the stories of the brave soldiers of India and we want to instil the same sense of inspiration among the young readers," he said.
He added that he wanted to ‘mythologise’ the armed forces heroes the way Amar Chitra Katha has mythologised epic characters. The beginning, however, was not easy. Bakshi started with printing small booklets with the stories of Veer Chakra winning soldiers who laid their lives for the country.
It proved unsuccessful. “Children, already burdened with so much of compulsory reading, did not want to read more,” Bakshi said. This is when he and his son, Aditya, hit upon the idea of creating comic books based on the stories, and it was a hit.
Now, the stories have been made available across different platforms. There is a mobile application, Indian War Heroes, where stories are available in the form of a graphic novel or a video. Each graphic novel is created as an interactive book with a range of background music, effects. It comes with two complimentary graphic novels, The 1965 War and Capt Bana Singh, PVC. The rest of the books can be purchased. Now, there are even talks about making a film based on the stories.
Monetising intellectual property (IP)
The idea of a book as a static object, available only in print is now passé. It’s time to make books interactive. We are not talking about content anymore. We are talking about intellectual property (IP). This was the focus at both PubliCon and the GBO event, and for good reasons.
The massive success of Game of Thrones (based on George RR Martin’s series of books) has yet again proved that if we plan well, a popular content can be converted into a successful IP. So, we now we have the TV series, comic books, and merchandising and licensing. In fact, in the US, licensing of IP accounts for 30% of profit.
In India, this market is yet to be tapped. Often, a book is converted into a film (Bajirao Mastani was based on the Marathi novel Rau; all of Chetan Bhagat novels have been made into movies), but no one has exploited the possibilities to its fullest.
The key to a successful IP is that it has to be popular across mediums. One example is the character of Chota Bheem. The cartoon character is so popular that it is now available everywhere, from toys to key chains to school bags and bed sheets. It’s a massively popular IP and other producers of content can learn a thing or two from its success.
Knowing the rules
However, how much of the use of Chota Bheem in various mediums is licensed or how much of it is copyright infringement is a real question. India has one of the strongest copyright laws, yet there is a general lax attitude towards copyright and its violation. Karthika VK, publisher, Westland, said there is such an inherent sense of trust between writers and publisher in trade publishing that authors tend to send their manuscripts via email, without as much as noting that this is a confidential document.
People think copyright means the right to copy, one expert joked, highlighting the general attitude towards the issue.
With copyright comes the issue of piracy. The experts at PubliCon asserted that comparatively Indian books are the cheapest in the world. Therefore, piracy is an added deficit. For this, the experts said there is a need to educate readers and the general public about the rules of copyright violation and its impact on the industry.
Meanwhile, at the GBO event, Vivek Mehra, CEO, Sage Publishers, gave the attendees a high-level view about IP and copyright, how contracts are created, what are the rights of the author and what are the rights of the publishers. He also talked about the acquisition of different type of rights, transformation of rights and copyright and plagiarism. “There is a lack of understanding about copyright laws both at the publishers' and authors' end. When it comes to monetising IP, it’s important for a publisher to know what it can do with the content and what it cannot. At times, there is even the basic lack of understanding between copyright and plagiarism,” Mehra said while speaking to PrintWeek India.
He also said that the traditional rules of publishing where a publisher used to sell a book on behalf of the author no longer applies. Today, the author, the creator of the content, needs to be active in promoting his work. “The authors need to understand that they are the ones who will benefit from the popularity of the book,” he said. Plus, readers/ audiences are going to believe him more about the content he has created than the publisher who is just distributing the content.
Making books interactive
All said and done, printed books are a static medium. This is a charge levelled against eBooks as well (eBooks are just digital reproduction of a book, with no scope for interactivity.) But we live in a world of interactivity and books must try to lend itself to its posibilities. There are limitations one can do with printed books. But according to Carolin Ulrich, creative engineer, di:public, Germany, who was at the GBO event as an expert, believes Augmented Reality (AR) may hold the key.
Ulrich, who freelances from Berlin, Germany, studied printing, but realising that printing is not the future, shifted to electronic publishing and now works on electronic publishing, where she converts content to be published in different platforms, including print, eBook and books for mobile platforms.
Juggernaut Books may not have been as successful as it intended, but Ulrich believes books on a mobile phone still holds enormous potential, for people are constantly reading on mobile, whether on Facebook or in WhatsApp. (With the news that Airtel has acquired a major stake in Juggernaut Books, it looks like the company still has some tricks up its sleeves for books on mobile platform.) However, Ulrich conceded that to be successful on mobile, books have to be more interactive. One can use voice-overs, music or animation, the possibilities are endless.
The same can be done on a printed book with the help of AR. She gives the example of a children’s book with picture. The book is also available on mobile, where the pictures are animated. On the book, the pictures are static. However, if you point the camera of a mobile device on the images, they come alive on the screen, with sound. Ulrich achieves this with the help of a software called TigerCreate from Germany-based Tiger Media International. She said the AR technology allows a content creator to set up a connection between the print medium and its digital equivalent.
The Times of India has been experimenting on a similar technology through its 'Alive' platform.
Now, Indian publishers too are warming up to the idea, though pricing might be a concern. Speaking Tiger, for example, has five AR titles, include The Little Prince, all of which are priced above Rs 500. Meanwhile, Ahmedabad-based Mapin Publishing has introduced AR to its high quality illustrated books, where one can download a free app called BooksPlus and experience the magic of enhanced content from these books. Bipin Shah, publisher, Mapin, hopes this technology will retain print customers to continue to read with the pleasure of digital technology. It’s the best of both world, and now there are even Indian service providers, like Gurgaon-based Gamooz.
Beyond fancy technology, what Indian publishing needs right now is a bigger market beyond the home ground. The German Book Office (GBO), New Delhi, a part of the Frankfurt Book Fair, has been working towards this for years, connecting Indian publishers with other markets. Now, Frankfurt Book Fair has turned its focus on rights and licensing through IPR License.
Martin Jack, senior sales manager, IPR License, UK, was at the GBO event to give an IPR demo and to talk about global trends in licensing, and global rights trade.
Martin Jack of IPR License
IPR License is a fully transactional right and licensing marketplace for publishers to trade rights internationally. Jack said IPR aims to build a global rights community, having rights sellers take advantage of the company's services, tools and support to drive their sales. Established in London in 2012, the Frankfurt Book Fair acquired control of the company in 2016, with the Copyright Clearance Center taking a minority stake. In June, China South Publishing & Media Group also acquired a part of the IPR License.
“Our aim is to work with and for publishers by linking buyers and sellers of rights together to drive publishers’ rights sales and enhance publishers’ marketing visibility, providing an additional route to publishers’ rights markets 365 days a year,” Jack said.
The company attracts a critical mass of customers and match them, allow them to transact and optimise their own processes. It is done in three ways — IPR Platform; IPR ToolBox for rights sellers; and marketing.
The IPR platform allows rights buyers to search, offer, negotiate and complete deals for rights, licenses and permissions and rights sellers can present their catalogues to an international audience all year round and increase sales from their front- and back-list, simply, quickly and cost-effectively.
The IPR ToolBox for rights sellers allows publishers to monetise their backlist or small rights deals. These could be deals in particular parts of the world or on lower value titles, meaning publishers can focus on the bigger deals. Edinburgh University Press, which has recently adopted Instant Rights, has just completed its first Instant Rights deal.
“And thirdly, we deploy a marketing strategy for each publisher individually to enhance publishers’ visibility. We proactively market titles worldwide in a variety of ways, from the rights magazines going out at key international book fairs to bulletins going out to targeted subject-specific buyers,” Jack said.
He added that for IPR License, he is working to build a truly global community of rights buyers and sellers, and India will be an increasingly important part of that. “We have a lot of activity from India on our rights trading platform. Previous year-to-date, we had 2,326 visits from India, the same period this year, from 1 January 1st to 1 December, there have been 25,273 visits, an almost thousand-fold increase,” he said.
Jack said a majority of this audience are buyers with the first rights deal using the company’s new automated profitability tools being done by an Indian buyer. “Interestingly we get lots of traffic in non-Hindi speaking regions. We had a case earlier this year of an English language Indian book having the rights sold on IPR for Malayalam language rights, and I believe there is a strong scope for our Indian rights seller members selling to regional Indian languages, building not just their international but also the domestic sales through our platform,” he added.
Surender Pathak: Pulp fiction is a misnomer
Delivering his keynote address on the future of Indian pulp fiction, popular writer Surender Mohan Pathak (he chose to speak in Hindi, being a Hindi writer) highlighted that today the word pulp fiction is a misnomer, as the pulp paper used to print those racy popular stories are no longer manufactured. As publishers shifted from pulp to white paper, Pathak said, it marked the end of pulp writing in Hindi. Those pulp paperbacks were popular because they were cheap. Pathak went down the memory lane to remember the heydays of Hindi pulp, when authors like Gulshan Nanda could make a living out of writing books. When his novel Jheel Ke Us Paar came out in 1973, his publisher released a full page advertisement in a newspaper saying that five lakh copies of the book will be printed. Ruing that those days are gone, Pathak singled out Chetan Bhagat as the Gulshan Nanda of English popular writing. Bhagat today commands 25 lakh copies in first edition. Pathak chose to blame the publishers for the decline of Hindi pulp saying that publishers are unwilling to publish untested authors and as a result, no new writing is coming out in Hindi. At one point, New Delhi and Meerut were filled with publishers of Hindi pulp. Now, New Delhi has one and Meerut has just three publishers. He also pointed a finger at mainstream English language publishers saying that though all of them have Hindi lists, they publish just a handful of Hindi books compared to their English counterparts.
‘Economy and knowledge should go hand-in-hand’
PubliCon 2017, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Ficci) on 1 December 2017, focused on enabling the publishing sector by facilitating effective dialogue and debate over policy issues, addressing the copyright issues, strategies for content monetisation through various platforms, presenting possible international business tie ups and emerging marketing trends.
In his keynote address, Baldeo Bhai Sharma, chairman, NBT, India, said the knowledge economy is beneficial for developmental and societal change at large, as it will change the mindset of people.
Ratnesh Jha, co-chair, Ficci Publishing Committee and managing director, Cambridge University Press, briefed the audience about the progress made by the Ficci publishing committee in terms of its contribution in creation of the knowledge economy. He stressed on the copyright playing an important role in knowledge economy. He expressed his concerns towards an impact of changed tax regime after implementation of GST on the publishing value chain. He also highlighted the value created by the books of private publishers. He urged all the stakeholders to come forward and create value for publishing industry and society by using FICCI platform.
Urvashi Butalia, chair, Ficci Publishing Committee and founder, Zubaan, welcomed the delegates and lauded the Ficci initiative to felicitate best literary work on various categories through Ficci PubliCon Awards.
Lessons in safeguarding and commercialisation of content
The 4th edition of Publishers Training Programme for Young Professionals, organised by German Book Office (GBO), New Delhi, was held on 1 and 2 December 2017 at the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, New Delhi. This edition was all about safeguarding and commercialisation of content. It was two days of intensive learning and hands-on training where the participants were encouraged to rethink their backlist and contracts from an IP perspective.
All participants were sent reading material to familiarise themselves with the topics to be covered during the course of the programme, along with a list of questions that they could ponder over in relation to their own content and business.
On the first day, Prashasti Rastogi, director, GBO, welcomed the classroom of 29 participants with a diverse mix of young and senior publishing professionals, authors and management students.
The constitution of participants and the execution of the training was one of the highlights of the workshop on the second day. The participants were divided into six groups: each group consisted of three publishing professionals, one author and one business manager. In the role of business managers were management students from the Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi.
Carolin Ulrich with the participants during the Publishers Training Programme for Young Professionals organised by GBO, New Delhi
The day began with a brief recap from the three experts, following which the task was explained in detail to the participants. Each group had to choose one product from their backlist and build a business pitch for it. They were asked to focus on product transformation potential, rights and licensing parameters, capital and human resource, product pricing, target audience and marketing strategy. The groups worked for four hours to create their pitches with inputs and guidance from the experts. For the final stage of the programme, the groups presented their pitches, addressed questions and received feedback from other groups and the experts.