Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Books to look forward to in 2018

Ask fanboys about their most anticipating read in the coming year, chances are they would say it’s George RR Martin’s long-promised next instalments to A Song of Fire and Ice saga, The Winds of Winter. With release dates perpetually being postponed, we have no idea if we will finally get to read the book this year (the same is the story with Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Girl, isn’t it? After the author returned his advances to Penguin Random House, Aleph had announced that it will publish the book. But no sign of it as yet!).

But we needn’t worry; we have enough books and some coming up in 2018 to keep us busy. Here are some highlights.


The world over, 2017 was the year of #metoo. So start 2018 with the memoirs of one of the heroes of the movement, Rose McGowan’s Brave, where the actress and activist chronicles her childhood in a cult and her complicated, painful experiences at the hands of the Hollywood machine.

Not That Bad

In this age of feminist resurgence, another not-to-be-missed book is Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxane Gay, where rising and established authors examining the realities of living in a society where men pose the greatest threat to a woman's safety and well-being.

The Flame
Leonard Cohen may be gone, but his flame of his memory lives on. Shortly before his passing in late 2016, Cohen sat down to assemble this collection of previously unpublished poems, called The Flame. Completed just days before his death, the book represents not just a portion of Cohen's voluminous life's work, but also a window into the mind of an exceptional artist.

Coming home, India is a country of young people. This generation lives between extremes: more connected and global than ever, but with narrow ideas of Indian identity; raised with the cultural values of their grandparents, but the life goals of American teenagers. Journalist Snigdha Poonam tracks these young fortune-seekers, aspiring Bollywood stars and clickbait gurus, the Cow Protection Army hoodlums and India's first female student union president, all united by the belief that they were born for bigger and better things, in Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing the World

The Himalayan Arc
Edited by Namita Gokhale, The Himalayan Arc: East of South East focuses on a crucial, enthralling, politically turbulent, yet often underreported part of the Himalayan belt. With over thirty contributors such as Sanjoy Hazarika, Janice Pariat, Prajwal Parajuly, Thomas Bell, Ma Thida, Salil Tripathi, Catherine Anderson, and Indira Goswami, it attempts to describe the sense of shared lives and cultural connectivity between the denizens of this area. Poetry, fiction, and mysticism are juxtaposed with essays on strategy and diplomacy, espionage and the deep state, photographs, folk tales, and fables.

Zakir Hussain: A Life in Music
In conversation with Nasreen Munni Kabir, the book will take the reader through the life and times of Zakir Hussain, the early years of growing up in Mahim, his training from age four with his extraordinary father, and how his passion for music helped establish him as a world musician of our age, a huge music star, and for many young Indians today a revered role model.

Chapter One
Through her many avatars (the outspoken appearance on Bigg Boss; the caustic, intimate weekly columnist and, most famously, the founder of the hugely successful salon Mad-o-Wot), the irrepressible Sapna Bhavnani has assumed poster-child status as a powerful female figure. Chapter One is her story – the story of losing her father, surviving rape and domestic abuse, shattering stereotypes and emerging stronger than ever.

The McMahon Line

Sir Henry McMahon, a British colonial administrator, drew a line along the Himalayas at the Simla Convention of 1913-14, demarcating what would in later years become the effective boundary between China and India. The boundary, disputed by India’s northern neighbour, has had a profound effect on the relations between the two Asian giants. General JJ Singh – former Indian Army chief and the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh – brings his long years of experience to bear on Sino-Indian relations in The McMahon Line.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Full Disclosure

Read the full review at

The crunchy road to making an Indian brand

It’s hard to believe that at Rs 5,000 crore, the brand value of Haldiram, the makers of the savoury snack called bhujia, is high than McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, especially when it spends very little on promotions. It doesn’t need to, because the brand, started by an impoverished trader from Bikaner, Rajasthan, who tasted the market at the grassroots, it has struck to the first rule of business — know what the customers want and deliver it. In the book, Bhujia Barons: The Untold Story of How Haldiram Build a Rs 5000-Crore Empire, author Pavitra Kumar offers a fascinating insight into the bumpy rise of the homemade conglomerate.

It’s a rags-to-riches story indeed. However, what sets it apart from other such stories is how most of this was serendipitous than actual planning, and how it was guided by survival instinct and how it was a result of a curious, often fraught amalgamation of traditional way of doing business and adopting innovations.

The ubiquitous bhujia, a popular pan-Indian snack, was first introduced in Bikaner in 1885. Those were the thicker version, before Haldiram introduced the thinner version in 1920s, for which he designed a proprietary sieve with smaller holes.

Building a brand
Born in 1908, Ganga Bhishen Agarwal, who would later be known by a nickname his mother gave him, Haldiram, started making bhujia at the age of 12. By then, Bikaner was a thriving trading town, and when Bhikharam Agarwal, Haldiram’s grandfather, needed to find a trade, he decided to fall back on a family recipe, taught by his daughter, which she picked up from her mother-in-law. It was a small shop selling bhujia on day-to-day basis, for it was a perishable item. Family lore says Haldiram, working at his grandfather’s shop, perfected the recipe for which it is still known. A brand was born — Haldiram’s bhujia.

At the age of 35, still making the popular bhujia, he was already the father of three sons and one grandson. Then one day, at the insistence of his wife, he broke away from the family business. Penniless and nearly on the street, Haldiram got Rs 100 from a friend and started a new venture, selling moong dal, made by his wife, on a cart. This venture too worked. But Haldiram’s heart was in making bhujia. So when he found an opportunity to open a shop in the premises of the Chintamani Temple in Bikaner, he took it. The shop was called Haldiram Bhujiawale — the brand came into existence.

For an impoverish family of traders, making bhujia every day and selling it in a reasonable profit would have been a good business proposition, and Haldiram and his family would have been satisfied with it. However, a chance visit to Kolkata to attend a wedding changed everything. Haldiram made his trademark bhujia for the guests in Kolkata and it was an instant hit. So the idea of setting a shop in Kolkata was floated. Though Haldiram was resistant to the idea in the beginning, he finally relented and sent his two youngest sons and his first grandson, Shiv Kishan, who would later play an important role in expanding the Haldiram empire from Nagpur, to Kolkata. The expansion had begun.

Expanding a family business
There was very little capital investment. They started small in Kolkata, as they did in Bikaner, selling the snack on a cart, giving it to customers in newspaper cones, introducing a new taste in the market. As the popularity grew, they gradually scaled up, first a small shop and then a bigger one. Finally, the business was divided into the two brothers, the youngest of whom started an independent venture, Haldiram and Sons. This was the first of many divisions within the family business (some involving bitter legal battles), all capitalising on the legacy of Haldiram, who remained the grand patriarch of the divided family up until his dead in 1980s.

Then in early 1970s, another serendipitous chance took the third generation visionary Shiv Kishan to Nagpur, where he experimented on other items, besides bhujia and increased the scope of the Haldiram brand by established a series of sit-down restaurants. No wonder, today Nagpur is the headquarters of the main Haldiram brand, Haldiram’s.

How packaging changed the business
The foundation of the empire had been laid, but the model was still family owned trading. They had by then three locations, in Bikaner, Kolkata and Nagpur, and several selling points in the latter two cities. However, they were servicing only local customers, from their designated selling points. The packaging was still newspaper wrapping. Even the product had limited shelf-life (the bhujia had to be made every day like any other traditional Indian sweet) and there was no distribution network to sell it in retail stores pan-India as it is now.

One must understand that it was a business run by the workers themselves. Haldiram got his name by making bhujias, not just selling them. Even the next generation did not have much education, and everything they learnt about the business was hands-on and traditional. So there was no marketing, no packaging.

So, what was the secret of Haldiram’s early success? Pavitra Kumar has the answer. She says the reason Haldiram became popular was because he could catch the pulse of people’s taste at the grassroots and gave his customers what they wanted, as savoury which was ‘swad se bharpoor,’ as one of Haldiram’s grandsons explains in the book. It was this customer loyalty that played a major role in the brand’s success. Even after all these years, the family recipe remains the same, so are quality and taste.

The next major change in the Haldiram empire came when they decided to package the bhujia in plastic bags in 1970s. While Prabhu Shankar Agarwal, the current owner of the Kolkata business agrees that packaging was the main reason behind Haldiram’s success, the grand patriarch and his eldest son, Moolchand, was opposed to the idea in the beginning. This was the first clash between tradition and innovation. Haldiram was doing well and he was satisfied with it. He could not think beyond a growth trajectory where one or the other family member was not directly involved in making and selling the bhujia.

With the third generation actively involved, however, it all changed. The first step to packaging was low quality plastic bags where the bhujia was poured and then stapled, with the brand name ‘Haldiram Bhujiawala’ printed in letterpress. But this did not work, as words printed on plastic in letterpress would get smudged during handling. Yet, the company saw a demand for packaged bhujia from other traders. While the elders remained opposed to the idea, Moolchand’s son Mohanlal met with the people from Alphaflex Printing in Delhi who offered flexo printing in multiple colours. It was still a new technology in 1970s and the colour-printing results were stunning. So Mohanlal designed the famous V-shaped logo in red and white. But the cost of 15-16 paisa per packet appeared to be exorbitant. There was more resistance at the fear of losing profit margins. Mohanlal says in the book that he decided to take the risk anyway for some time and see what happened. The trick worked and Haldiram’s bhujia was now available in packages in local retail stores.

The brand name had been established. What was needed was way to reach out to more customers. This was done, and as they say, the rest is history.

The story of Haldiram and his bhujia is far from over. In 1970s and 1980s, Haldiram’s grandsons came to the fore and took more risks (including opening a business in the capital) expanded the business, initiated several new innovations (including the introduction of zip pouches for bigger bhujia packs) while fighting number of stumbling blocks, both outside competition and in-fighting within the family for individual shares. In this fascinating book, Pavitra Kumar describes these milestones of the sprawling family saga with breathtaking details. A worthwhile read.

Bhujia Barons: The Untold Story of How Haldiram Built A Rs 5000-Crore Empire
By Pavitra Kumar
Penguin Portfolio
Pages 220
Price 399

(First published in WhatPackaging?)

Friday, December 22, 2017

The next step of publishing

Paper, especially book, is here to stay. No arguments there. However, it’s time publishing industry stepped up and took the good old books to the inevitable next level. Dibyajyoti Sarma finds out how

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, the events set the moods for things to come. It was heartening to see how the both the events, instead of cribbing about the difficulties faced (all of which are very real and needs immediate redressing) and 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, Spl Commissioner and Chief Spokesperson, Delhi Police, spoke about how the police are creating printed material in the form of storybooks, comics and cartoons to educate people on crime curbing, road safety, traffic rules and also on safety of women, senior citizens and children. While highlighting the role of publishers in engaging young minds for maintaining social orderliness, 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 much better place to live in.

At a time when 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 Maj 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. I want 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. However, 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 big hit. Now, the stories are made available across different platform. There is an app, Indian War Heroes, where stories are available in the form of a graphic novel or a video. Each graphic novel is more than 40 page and is made in-form of an interactive book with a range of background music, effects and each page/panel can be zoomed in or out easily for enhanced reading experience on all form of mobile devices. 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 IP
The idea of a book as a static object, available only in print is now passé. It’s time to make books interacting. 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 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 beyond this. The key to a success IP is that it has to be popular. One of example is the character Chota Bheem. The cartoon character is so popular is 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 something 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 inherent sense of trust between writers and publisher in trade publisher that authors tend to send their manuscript via email, without as much as noting that this is a confidential document.

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 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 rights of the author and what are the rights of the publishers. He also talked about acquisition of different type of rights, transformation of rights and copyright and plagiarism. “There is a lack of understanding about the copyright laws both at the publishers and authors end. When it comes to motetising IP, it’s important for a publisher to know what it can do with the content or 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 publisher where a publisher used to sell a book for author no longer applies. Today, the author, the creator of the content, needs to be active in promoting their 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 much try to lend itself to interactivity. There are limitations one can do you 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 may hold the key.

Ulrich, who freelances from Berlin, Germany, studied printing, but realising that printing is not the future, she shifted to electronic publishing and now works on electronic publishing, where she converts content to be published 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 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 more interactive. One can use voiceovers, music, animation, the possibilities are endless.

The same can be done on a printed book with the help of Augmented Reality. 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 picture 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.

Indian publishers too are warming up to the idea, though pricing might be a concern for now. Speaking Tiger, for example, has five Augmented Reality titles, include ‘The Little Prince’, all of which are priced above Rs 500. Meanwhile, Ahmedabad-based Mapin Publishing has introduced Augmented Reality 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 there are even Indian service providers, like Gurgaon-based Gamooz.

Beyond borders
Beyond fancy technology, what Indian publishing needs right now is a bigger market beyond the home ground. The German Book Office, New Delhi, a part of Frankfurt Book Fair, has been working towards this for years, connecting Indian publishers with other markets. Now, Frankfurt Book Fair has also 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.

IPR License is a fully transactional rights 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 our services, tools and support to drive their rights sales and enhance market visibility. 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 this year, China South Publishing & Media Group also acquired a part of 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 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, which allows publishers to monetise their backlist or small rights deals in a stress-free and time-efficient manner, providing a solution for a good return on investment in low-value/high volume deals. These could be deals in particular parts of the world or on lower value titles, meaning publishers can focus on the bigger deals. Designed to fit into any publishers’ existing rights eco-system, Instant Rights is fully customisable, ensuring publishers retain full control over which rights deals are handled automatically and which are sent directly to their own rights professionals, whilst also allowing publishers to monitor their sales activity and track interest in their rights listings. Edinburgh University Press, who have just adopted Instant Rights have just completed their first Instant Rights deal.

“And thirdly, we create and 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 increasingly an 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, an almost thousand-fold increase,”

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 very strong scope for our Indian rights seller members selling to regional Indian languages, building not just their international but domestic sales through our platform,” he added.

(First Published in PrintWeek India, December 2017 issue.)