Sage India: sinking roots in Indian publishing

SAGE India is expanding its reach in the country. In an interaction with Vinutha Mallya, the managing director and CEO of Sage Publication India Vivek Mehra discusses the company's new moves

17 Feb 2016 | By Vinutha Mallya

Between August and September 2015, Sage India, the Indian subsidiary of the renowned independent academic publishing house, Sage, marked a new phase in the company’s growth map. It announced the formation of joint imprints with leading independent publishers – Popular Prakashan, Stree Samya, and Yoda Press.
At a time when global publishing is witnessing corporatisation and the consolidation of larger publishers, who in turn are investing in and buying over smaller imprints, Sage India’s step signals a different route: collaboration. The model is not alien to India, where joint imprints and other forms of collaboration between publishers have been known to exist. In its press releases, Sage India has referred to its new imprints as mutually beneficial agreements that leverage each other’s strengths. The imprints are, for all practical considerations, an integral part of Sage. This association, according to Vivek Mehra, CEO of Sage India, “will help in contributing towards a sustainable responsible development of our respective publishing houses”. He said, “The very things that make small presses commercially unviable make them a good fit for global publishing houses such as Sage. They are nimble with low overheads and a passion that money can’t buy. For Sage, each of these relationships is a mutually beneficial one. We get content that we would have otherwise struggled to develop and smaller presses get global audiences.”
Popular Prakashan is one of India’s oldest independent publishing houses with a 90-year history in which time it has published over 4,000 titles on different subjects, in English and Marathi and other languages. Stree Samya, which publishes academic works in the social sciences, memoirs and classic fiction in translation in English and Bengali, is a publishing partnership between Mandira Sen and Ramdas Bhatkal of Popular Prakashan. The first to sign up with Sage India in August 2015 was Yoda Press, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in November 2014. The first title of Sage Yoda Press imprint, Nothing to Fix: Medicalisation of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, edited by Arvind Narrain and Vinay Chandran, was released in early December 2015.
Sage was established in the US in 1965 and has been in India since 1981. The company publishes books, journals, and maintains online databases, in social sciences, humanities, health sciences, life sciences and engineering subjects. Vivek Mehra joined the company as deputy managing director in February 2005 and became MD and CEO in December 2006. In his tenure he has innovated many products and growth strategies for the company.
PrintWeek India (PWI): What is the nature and terms of these partnerships? Has Sage acquired a stake in these companies or are they marketing agreements?
Vivek Mehra (VM): It is actually none of these. They are new imprints where both Sage and other publishers play to their respective strengths and bring synergy in making the project successful. The imprints are in the Sage fold but jointly administered. Sage hasn’t invested in these companies directly, but yes they get access to global practices. The involvement is the same with all three [companies].
PWI: What is the division of roles between Sage and each publishing house? What level of control and what level of autonomy would each retain?
VM: All I can say is that we have divided our responsibilities based on our respective strengths. (I can’t divulge details as these are strategic in nature.) We are both adding resources in our respective companies. These are of course in a phased manner.
PWI: Will the partnerships improve the availability of books published by the independent companies?
VM: Globally availability of the books should see a dramatic improvement.
PWI: Has Sage partnered with independent publishers elsewhere in the world or is this a first?
VM: We have had strategic partnerships with institutions in the past. In that sense, these partnerships are not really new. But I can’t think of such partnerships overseas; we have usually acquired and subsumed brands.
PWI: Sage has been in India since 1981. How does the global management of Sage view the Indian publishing market today?
VM: Sage is very committed to India and has been for the last 34 years. It begins with committing to books and journal publishing and now expanding into Indian Language Publishing. Sara Miller McCune [co-founder of Sage] personally unveiled Sage Bhasha’s logo earlier in 2015. Academia and the market have responded favourably to this. Sage continues to invest in growing publishing – the partnerships are a form of investment. Sage Texts is another (new) imprint targeted at students. We bring core textbooks to the undergraduate/graduate students at affordable prices. We soft-launched this product line about six years ago and watched the market. Today we have launched a full-fledged program. Our textbooks are already adopted in major universities in India (Mumbai, Pune, etc). This is another form of investing into publishing in India.
PWI: The training and development facility in Dehradun managed by Sage is also part of your expansion strategy in India.
VM: The Dehradun facility has become a global delivery center for Sage. This includes Sage India too. The vision was driven by a few factors. The destination had to be close enough to Delhi but not as expensive as Delhi. It needed to have sufficient basic infrastructure to support any enterprise. We wanted it to be cost-effective for Sage to invest in building a training and development facility. The facility now globally supports many key functions that don’t exist anywhere else in the company. The Center also serves to ensure that Sage retains talent and that it has sufficient bandwidth to develop it. In 2016, the Dehradun facility will roll out a host of paid services for academics, authors, and contributors.
PWI: Sage is an independent publishing company in the US, but it is a multinational company in India. How different is Sage India from the corporate multinational publishers in India in its vision and functioning?
VM: Sage is clearly different in many ways while it remains similar to other publishing enterprises. The key difference lies in Sara McCune’s vision. She believes Sage should remain an independent publishing company forever. To this effect, she has set up an estate plan that drives her vision. Our independence helps us make longer-term investments into our business. This, in turn, helps us nurture projects differently. In India, we have taken the approach of “sinking roots” rather than “skimming the market”. Sage India’s growth has been organic and not through acquisitions. This has been possible because of the central vision of remaining publishers. We don’t have deep pockets (when compared to publishers who have remained in existence for over a century or more) and yet we are good at placing bets that help give us sustained returns.
PWI: What is Sage India's print and ebook strategy for books and journals? Does everything get printed? Do you adopt Print-on-Demand?
VM: The answer is yes, everything does get printed and we adopt POD. There are some digital-only products that cannot have a print version. Conversely, we have a range of products that are print only! They are deliberately not made digital. I believe that print and digital will always co-exist. There will be product lines that may have different mixes but I don’t believe one will cause the death of the other. I remain a firm believer in the power of the digital world while continuing to hold on to the world of print.

Vinutha Mallya is a publishing consultant and editor