We talk about market for Hindi Book Publishing with Meera Johri, who is an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, University of Delhi and a partner at Rajpal & Sons. In this Part I of our discussion, we talk about the history of Rajpal and Sons, how the publishing house has grown over the past century, some of its acclaimed authors and poets including Presidents and Prime Ministers, Nobel Laureates and poets and authors such as Harivanshrai Bachchan, Narendra Modi and Devdutt Pattanaik. We talk about the publishing process, impact of technology on distribution and retailing of books, and working with Late Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, the former President of India.
In the 20 years that she has been at Rajpal & Sons, Meera has developed a range of multi-lingual dictionaries that widened the scope of publishing in English, and set up an infrastructure for selling language rights of books to overseas and regional Indian publishers. She has established a vibrant translation publishing programme of authors of global and national acclaim.
(My) Idea is to pick up books which will live beyond me and beyond the author
– Meera Johri, Partner, Rajpal and Sons
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Discussion on Hindi Book Publishing
- Rajpal and Sons is more than a 100 year old publishing house which started from Lahore which is now in Pakistan.
- After India’s independence the business moved to Delhi, and they branched into publishing books other than religious books.
- This publishing house is known for dictionaries, translated works of International bestselling authors, Nobel Laureates, Prime Ministers and Presidents.
- They have the exclusive Hindi rights for Amartya Sen and Patrick Modiano, both Nobel Prize winners.
- Some of the books published by Rajpal and Sons, such as Harivanshrai Bachchan’s Madhushala and works by Acharya Chatursen are still selling briskly. These are “Evergreen Classics”.
- Meera is a third generation publisher/ entrepreneur. With each generation, a new business line has been added to this publishing house. Meera’s contributions include selling rights to International and regional language Indian publishers.
- Some of the authors and poets whose books have been published till date include Kamleshwar Nagar, Mohan Rakesh Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Narendra Modi and Devdutt Pattanaik.
- When Harivanshrai Bachchan used to live in Delhi, his birthday used to be celebrated at the house of Meera Johri’s parents.
- Meera is a published author herself with more than 4 books to her credit. Inspirational Thoughts is one such book.
- Meera talks about the challenges faced by the Hindi book publishing industry, where typically the distribution and retailing of books has been a challenge. Before the arrival of chain of bookstores such as Crossword, majority of bookstores that sold English language books would not sell Hindi books and vice versa. This made it very difficult to get books for the end customer
- According to Meera Johri, the e-commerce companies such as amazon and Flipkart have made it easier for readers to obtain books that they otherwise would not have been able to order and read.
- Logistics still remains a challenge for transportation of books, collections and returns, particularly in smaller towns such as Begusarai in Bihar.
- The state of the bookstores and book publishing, according to Meera, is like the record stores. With change in technology, music consumption changed from LP discs to cassette tapes to CDs and now there are very few record stores. Similar situation could arise for bookstores- but people like to walk into bookstores to “touch and feel” the books.
- Meera Johri spent several years as a marketing consultant before she decided to join the family business. According to her, “words flow in her veins”.
- According to Meera, booksellers need to move beyond selling a book and should provide a “positive book-buying experience”.
- Books that are published today are easy on the eyes. they are more comfortable to read compared to books published in 1950s and 1960s- the font, spacing, etc. are different in books that are published in recent times compared to the books published in the past.
- The process outlined for publishing is noted as follows: Rajpal and Sons accepts completed manuscripts only. The same is evaluated by 3 different reviewers. Upon getting a positive feedback, an agreement is signed with the author(s).
- Following this the layout, and look and feel of the book is finalized. – example, decisions on whether a book should be published as a hardcover or a paperback,etc. The paginated layout is proofread and goes another round of editing, the cover design and blurb are finalized.
- Some of the above processes may be familiar to a lot of readers but have been included for the benefit of those who may not be aware of the different processes that go into the publishing of a book
- Meera mentions that it is very difficult to evaluate the size of the market of book publishing in India in monetary terms, but she notes that due to the rise of e-commerce sites and technology,particularly for regional language books, the market has grown.
- Rajpal and sons commission books as well as accept new manuscripts.You can learn more about Hindi Book Publishing in part II of this interview.