‘Indian print firms need to assert a global reputation’

As the director of German Book Office, New Delhi, Prashasti Rastogi enjoys an enviable vantage point on the Indian print and publishing sector. With Frankfurt Book Fair in the horizon, Rastogi talks to Dibyajyoti Sarma on the state of Indian book printing industry, eBooks, and other publishing technologies, and explains why Indian firms must bag the reputation of being an international quality printing hub, like China or Taiwan

29 Apr 2015 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Dibyajyoti Sarma (DS): You operate in probably one of the most price-sensitive and competitive sectors. Is the market getting better?
Prashasti Rastogi (PR): Our market is a challenging space to function in. Publishing as an industry here is also on an inflection point. Ebooks are no more a discussion as it’s taken to be a given. While India has a growing adoption rate, estimations on whether it will flatten further, pick up the pace or fall back are being done globally. It is a challenging time, but it also opens up a plethora of opportunities. The industry, especially print, is seeing an upward turn and the sentiments are upbeat.
DS: The global publishing number is USD104.3 bn. India's net revenue share (in minimum) is a mere USD2,604. How can we improve our stake in the pie?
PR: There are no precise statistics available for this. On market share, technology presents many opportunities, especially in gathering customer footprint to know who your customers are and what sells. Social media sites also enable reaching out to the audiences far and wide. The fast-growing eBook market in India will allow publishers to push sales for backlists and even reach international markets. Major online retail channels have set foot in India and cater to global book sales of digital backlists. The publishers are, and should aggressively pursue international markets for titles in translation through the foreign rights channels.
DS: The Indian market share for eBooks is almost negligible. With global revenue share of eBooks expected to be 22% in 2017, what are the trends in this space you are picking up, from Aptara to Reality Premedia?
PR: India is experiencing fast internet adoption, especially in the under-35 age group. However, the market share of book sales continues to be under 2% and there is also a lack of wide variety of eBooks in the regional languages. This limits the reach to urban audience.
DS: Does this make it more challenging, trying to compete across multiple markets like print and ePublishing and digital books?
PR: Digital strategy involves atomisation of content to make it platform-neutral. This means publishers think of every book as content and then figure out where it is best suited – to remain as a book or a film or a game. It’s a great opportunity for testing new revenue models.
DS: It is hard for a printed book evangelist to confirm, but is eBooks the future?
PR: We are now in 2015 and much beyond the discussion of print vs eBook. It is a widely accepted prognosis that both forms will find its space to flourish. Cookbooks are still a print favourite and the recently launched Quarto’s Personalised hardback cookbooks are evidences to this. Many experiments in the interactive book format for children have propagated the idea that interactivity doesn’t lead to higher sales. Many companies have bifurcated the interactivity over app and have returned to the vanilla version of the book.
DS: What’s the outlook for Frankfurt Book Fair 2015? Will we have stalls by tablets and digital device manufacturers?
PR: As a platform for and of the publishers and allied services, we are also reinventing our fair. This development will be reflected at the Frankfurt Book Fair with a new fair concept – and a new hall layout. In 2015, the book fair will be structured more according to individual themes and market segments. At the same time, for you as exhibitor, the proximity to other areas will improve.
Now, your relevant business contacts will only be a five-minute walk away. Frankfurt book fair tops the value/quality ratio for the customers who assess the product benefit. Imcosys, Pocketbook, Kobo und Tolino are going to be prominent players present in the publishing technology arena. Samsung Galaxy has been the Technology Partner of FBM since 2014. Not only the devices but also their eBook service was prominently featured across the fair. Adobe also presents its publishing solutions in Frankfurt.
DS: What is the history of FBF for our readers who don't know?
PR: The history of the Frankfurt Book Fair dates back to the 15th Century, when Johannes Gutenberg first invented the movable type, only a few kilometres down the road from Frankfurt. The German city remained the central and undisputed European book fair city through to the 17th Century. In the course of political and cultural upheaval, in the 18th Century, Leipzig came to play the part. The early Frankfurt book fair tradition was given a new lease of life in 1949 when 205 German exhibitors assembled on 18-23 September in Frankfurt's Paulskirche for the first post-war book fair. More than 60 trade-fair years later, the Frankfurt Book Fair is the largest of its kind in the world – the hallmark of global activities in the field of culture.
DS: Last year, there were some "problems" with the Capexil collective stand. Do you think that sort of attitude is unique to India?
PR: In 2013, there were some issues due to the mismatched quality delivered by the contractor appointed by the Indian delegation. I believe that the learning is being used to change the strategy for the coming years.
DS: How can an Indian print firm, which does not want to collaborate with Capexil, participate at FBF?
PR: The firm can take up a prefabricated system stand at the Fair or build its own as a custom-built stand. There are multiple other options to explore if the particular firm wants custom solutions, as the GBO New Delhi is dedicated to offering best possible solutions for exhibitors willing to come to FBF. Meanwhile, a digital service provider’s area is already in place in Hall 4.0, which is for international exhibitors with publishing services. There is also a dedicated area for printers within this hall. There is also a dedicated self-publishing area in Hall 3.1, with lots of author development programmes. Forum production has dedicated a three-day programme specific to production-oriented topics, strategies, processes and design with international quality experts.
DS: Back to you, tell us about the day-to-day running of GBO? What’s new?
PR: GBO is a platform for publishers, publishing solution providers, authors, content creators and disseminators. Keeping in line with the idea, a skill-training programme for young professionals has been introduced, the first edition of which was held in New Delhi in 2014. To serve and connect with professionals across the country, the annual congress of children’s content creators, Jumpstart, has moved base to Bangalore since 2014 and will continue to be a traveling festival. We have widened our reach and have intensified regional cooperation.
DS: What are the ambitions for the business? When I met you for the first time, you were keen to boost the regional book publishing authors. Any progress?
PR: We are trying our level best to reach out to publishers of Indian languages, to promote translations, international rights trade, development through Globalocal workshops and round tables. There are many success stories that keep us going – whether it is the birth of the new collaborative platforms like AuthorsUpfront (Manish Purohit and Arpita Das connected at Globalocal 2013) or collaborative content initiatives like Springer India and Byword books. Several books from German have also been translated into Indian languages.
DS: You’ve had some tough years too though, haven’t you? Your toughest moment?
PR: There were no tough moments as such, but I’m still hopeful of a representative and dynamic showcase of India at the Frankfurt Book Fair. We need to play on our strengths and assert a global reputation, especially through a collective national presence in Frankfurt.
DS: Your message for the Indian book print firm.
PR: India should bag the reputation of being an international quality printing hub like the neighbours China or Taiwan. We need to put concerted efforts to showcase India’s potential on international forums like Frankfurt Book Fair. Hall 4.0 alone houses 200 service providers out of the 1,000 publishing solution providers across the fair. About a 300 printers from China, Eastern Europe and now increasingly, from Italy, Spain, and Greece are exhibiting at the fair. I’d like to welcome the Indian printers to explore the potential for expanding international businesses at the fair.
DS: Print is memory. What print means to you?
PR: Print is performance. A story, news, an idea, a photo… words and pictures that define you.
 Like every city, Frankfurt also has an artists’ district. The hall named Sate of the Arts is where all  sorts of interesting people come together: publishers, printers, museum and photo agency  representatives, booksellers, designers, collectors, art enthusiasts, writers and many others.
 Exhibitors in Hall 4.1 present titles from the fields of art, architecture, design and photography.  There has been a spotlight on photography books in this hall, where the most innovative players  in this sector present their publications – a very good forum for printers to showcase their work as  well. The presentation is accentuated by a supporting programme that includes tours and events  pertaining to new developments in the ‘photograühy’ and photography book markets, also  relevant for printing establishments. Initiative such as Beauty and the Book, awarded to the most  beautifully designed book, give a fillip to the printing industry as well.
 In 2014, the APPL group of companies displayed Europe’s most advanced machines for print  production. The year will also have a workshop for young professionals to use innovative material  and production techniques for books.
 An impressive stall at FBF 2014

 The Gutenburg Museum Mainz, which is in the Hall – State of the Arts. It’s a creatively designed  stand showcasing the tradition of printing, which looks so tangible, so authentic that one wants to  know more about how it all evolved. The Samsung arena in 2014 was also a splendid display of  technology.