Monday, June 30, 2008

Sivakasi printing industry in decline

Business Standard article talks about how while India has seen 300% growth in the printing industry, Sivakasi's growth has been less than 15%. From a high of 60% market share of the Indian printing, the small souther Tamil Nadu town has now merely a 20-25% share.

Sivakasi for long has been the printing capital of Tamil Nadu. It still continues to be, though if one believes the BS article, Sivakasi is fast losing out. More corporate investments have probably not happened there. I can see a lot of solid investments in printing machinery and infrastructure happening in Chennai. Other state capitals have also shown significant investment in this space.

In Chennai alone, there is massive excess capacity in printing because of RR Donnelly setting up a massive printing facility in Nokia SEZ in Sriperumbudur. Till that point in time, Nokia were giving a lot of jobs to various Chennai printers, but now they get all the printing done within the SEZ.

Sivakasi's leading printer Srinivasa Fine Arts may still be growing at the rate of 30-40%. They seem to have significant overseas orders. However, other, smaller printers in Sivakasi may be facing trouble. The only hope for a lot of them is to open up marketing offices in Chennai and other state capitals, aggressively seek out jobs and then get them executed in their Sivakasi facilities.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Self-publishing for Kids

Via The Christian Science Monitor Via Boston Herald

A site called Tikatok allows children to write a story, draw pictures, scan them and send them to the site, where the same will be put together as a digital book, which can be purchased for $20.

This is a great idea.

I thought of a similar idea when we launched our children's imprint Prodigy Books. My idea was to go to a school, get all the kids in a particular class involved in putting together a story, then each of them to draw specific pages, put them all together right there as a digital book, print them and give each child a copy.

We never implemented this.

India will require a different costing model.

I have been trying to convince my daughter to do a book but she has not spent enough time on this. She loses her interest after she draws a page and goes on to other things - worse, mostly it is to watch television. I should show her this site and encourage her to finish a full book!

I have also tried convincing my wife and daughter together to make an animated flash movie, for which the story and pictures are to come from my daughter and the animation effort and flash packaging from my wife. That has also not materialised, so far.

Pulp fiction in Tamil

My colleague Satya blogs about Mukul Kesavan's glowing review in Outlook of an English translation of Tamil pulp fiction from a new publisher called Blaft.

Mukul says,
When I was in college, railway station bookstalls were crammed with Hindi novels by Gulshan Nanda. I never read a novel by him, which I regret because it’s strange to be cut off from someone that so many are reading. But like many Anglophone Indians, I find reading in an Indian language a chore. The reason our reading lives aren’t nourished by popular novels set in locales we know is not because they aren’t written, but because they aren’t translated.
I am reasonably aware of the pulp fiction scenario in Tamil Nadu. Popular weekly magazines provided a fertile ground for the pulp fiction writers. Fiction was serialised through these magazines. Once the serials were completed, they were published as books, but never sold in large numbers. Most avid readers will tear the pages from the magazines and bind them together. Such bound volumes were even circulated by the lending libraries.

In the late 1980s when computer aided typesetting and offset printing flourished, several pulp writers found new avenues for publishing. They started writing full-length "novels" - which were mostly 80-90 page, 20,000 word stories, as opposed to weekly serials. Thrillers, murder mysteries, sex crimes, problems faced by a young married woman in her husband's house, mother-in-law vs daughter-in-law, people possessed by demons, tantriks and witches and what not - these were the themes. A new crop of publishers came up to publish these novels in the form of monthly magazines. They acquired single print run rights from the authors. These magazines contained other features too, in addition to the novel. There were one or two page short stories, a few (badly written) verses, some jokes etc. Exclusive monthly magazines were started to publish novels from a single author, month after month.

The authors had the right to take the same novels to other publishers, after 5-6 months, for long-term print rights.

In the magazine format, the novels cost Rs. 5 to start with and then moved up with the inflation to Rs. 10. Even now, this format is alive and typically they cost between Rs. 8 to Rs. 20 and sometimes even Rs. 25. They were and are printed in fairly low quality newsprint paper, badly edited and poorly packaged with lurid, brightly coloured wrapper. After the single print run, the same novel was made available normally at around Rs. 50 or so in a slightly better quality maplitho paper with a cardboard wrapper, perfect bound.

In the magazine format, in their heydays, these novels sold as many as 50,000 copies in a single print run - in some cases even more, within a period of 10 days. As is the case with India, these books were read by multiple readers, so the readership could be as much as 200,000 or more. Then they were sold in the seconds market, and resold till the newsprint crumbled. Even after that, it was sold as packaging material for grocery shops!

In the mid-1990s, cable television started spreading fast across India. Their soaps and serials captured the imagination of people. This impacted the pulp market substantially. The space for serialised stories in weekly magazines started coming down and now in 2008, the space has shrunk to zero. Short stories were also killed over this period. Pulp writers as a breed started vanishing. Several have become old and write little or nothing. New pulp writers have not come up or have not become popular enough for want of space.

Even now, a few monthly magazines publishing pulp continue their business. The best print runs are around 10,000. Only Ramani Chandran continues to get 20,000-25,000 print runs.

Blaft's anthology consists of stars from yesteryears. Rajesh Kumar doesn't write much any more. Pattukottai Prabhakar and Subha don't put out many. Indira Soundarrajan has found writing screenplay and dialogues for television serials more lucrative.

Pulp fiction is an important genre. It creates more readers for the more serious literature.

In Malayalam, the dominant book publisher DC Books also publishes pulp fiction under an imprint 'Janapriya Sahitya'. It is time, serious Tamil publishers too focus on publishing pulp and create good pulp writers.

If good pulp is available in the Indian languages, they will get translated into English and Anglophone Indians like Mukul Kesavan can have their fill too!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Business Standard article on Publishing in India

This is a general story with no major insights in Business Standard. Claims that the story attempts to "[make] sense of change in the Indian publishing industry, by meeting the people at the forefront" but falls well short of that. I can't see any obvious "change" happening in the Indian publishing industry, particularly the English language industry. There are excellent growth opportunities, but existing players are merely doing what they have been doing all along and nothing innovative or new is happening there to my knowledge.

Friday, June 13, 2008

IMPAC award to Rawi Hage, Lebanon born Canadian

It is amazing that a novel (De Niro's Game) written in his third language (English) and a debut novel at that has given Rawi Hage, an International award.



Monday, June 09, 2008

Behavioural targeting of Internet ads

The Economist has an article on behavioural Internet ad targeting being tested by couple of companies.
The ultimate way to work out what someone is interested in would be to intercept his web-browsing traffic and search it for keywords. And that is exactly what companies such as Phorm and NebuAd enable internet-service providers (ISPs) to do (see Technology Quarterly). Equipment in the ISP's network scans passing web pages for keywords that are then used to target ads. The ISP then gets a cut when someone clicks on an ad, which is why ISPs are so keen on the technology.
Until now, Internet ads involved a content site partnering an ad serving technology company. They planted a cookie in a customer's computer and delivered ads to the user depending on the country/state/town of the customer, day of the week, hour of the day etc.

Ad technology companies like Doubleclick (Now owned by Google) provide services to several content sites. In a way, this allows Doubleclick to track the web usage behaviour of the clients, albeit, only partially.

Now, the new proposal tries to target a user's behaviour completely, by bringing in the ISPs. Until now, the ISPs made no money from the Internet advertising. The money stayed with the content sites and the ad serving companies. ISPs will certainly like the proposal from Phorm and NebuAd.

Personally, I don't feel this is a major violation of customer's privacy data. Customers have agreed to view ads in content pages. How these ads are customised shouldn't get them worked up too much.

As for myself, I use Adblock in Firefox and filter out all the ads from the sites that I visit regularly.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Netcore to launch "Blackberry" like service

Business Standard reports a cheaper, home-made Blackberry like service to be launched by Netcore Solutions, a venture run by Rajesh Jain. The proposed service will cover all kinds of handsets unlike Blackberry.

[Rajesh Jain is an investor in our current venture, New Horizon Media Pvt. Ltd.]

Hachette Livre UK's tiff with Amazon UK

Hachette Livre, a top four book publisher is accusing Amazon UK of pulling out several of its titles from the e-commerce platform, demanding higher sales discount, reports Sunday Herald.

The ugly Amazon - from International Herald Tribune

Hachette claims that it is already offering more than 50% of the MRP as sales commission to Amazon, but that Amazon wants even more.

In India, the bane of English publishing is the distribution discount demanded by the distributors. You have to pay anywhere between 50-60%, and wait for 5-6 months to get the money. And it is on sale or return basis. With what is left, the publisher is expected to pay the royalty, advances, printing/paper/binding and the editorial overheads. This forces the publisher to hike the price of the books artificially, which forces the bookseller to offer discounts to the customer.

The whole think is sinister. Instead, if the booksellers and distributors agree to a decent margin structure, the pricing can be kept reasonable and the customers need not be offered any discount.

Thankfully, the Indian language publishing market is not polluted in this manner.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

E-reader: Cybook Bookeen

I had not read about this before. Another, along the lines of iLiad, but considerably cheaper and lighter, called Cybook Gen3. Read about this in this article on iLiad from The Telegraph.

Cybook or Bookeen - both sound horrible as brand names. I hope the product is better. Will look towards buying this during the Frankfurt Book fair.


Trying to post from Opera mini in a Nokia E51 through a slow GPRS connection.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bezos' effect on The Economist

Jeff Bezos has made everyone comment seriously on the e-book initiative. The Economist has a neat article this week. This article covers both e-books and e-readers as well as print-on-demand.
Between POD and the Kindle, Mr Bezos thinks he can sell “any book ever printed in any language”. But printers and distributors, like booksellers before them, fear the oncoming Amazon juggernaut.
Amazon, with its size, can certainly do a good job of English books in USA. In terms of selling “any book ever printed in any language”, Bezos will have to wait much longer. On POD, this is what The Economist says:
Although e-books may one day transform the industry, another new technology that is less visible to readers is already making itself felt. Print on Demand (POD), which allows books to be printed and bound to order, is making millions of books available even if they appeal to only a narrow readership. Here, too, academia leads the way.
We at NHM make judicious use of POD. It is a great piece of technology which will make a big difference to the publishers in India too.

POD will be the real innovation for the next few years. E-readers will have to wait, in my opinion. But E-books will make larger impact in the long run.

Paul Krugman on E-books

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes on E-books:
[Amazon's Kindle is] a good enough package that my guess is that digital readers will soon become common, perhaps even the usual way we read books.

How will this affect the publishing business? Right now, publishers make as much from a Kindle download as they do from the sale of a physical book. But the experience of the music industry suggests that this won’t last: once digital downloads of books become standard, it will be hard for publishers to keep charging traditional prices.

Indeed, if e-books become the norm, the publishing industry as we know it may wither away. Books may end up serving mainly as promotional material for authors’ other activities, such as live readings with paid admission. Well, if it was good enough for Charles Dickens, I guess it’s good enough for me.
In the recent Book Expo America, Amazon's Jeff Bezos showcased Kindle. This has captured the attention of several people.

A lot of the authors are against digital books because of the lack of copyright protection and the ease with which the book can be copied. Several publishers are gingerly approaching e-books. However, the idea should be to embrace the idea and not resist it. We need to put together sufficient safeguards, but not more which will make it difficult for the consumers.

As with other ideas, USA will lead this space. Those of us in India will look carefully at what is happening there.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

E-book readers, present and future

CNN has a detailed story on Amazon's Kindle, its e-book reader device and service, and then also talks about other devices and what is the future likely to be.

I have tested a Sony PRS and also an iLiad. I have seen a Kindle. Living in India, Kindle is not of much use right now. Nor is it likely to be for quite a while.

I have ported some of our Tamil and Malayalam books into PDFs customised for Sony reader and iLiad resolutions. These PDFs can be read well in these devices. iLiad has a better screen size, though expensive.

I will be looking forward to a better and more robust iLiad versions. Compared to the proprietary Sony and Kindle, iLiad uses Linux OS. The current hardware is a little clunky and needs resetting quite often as it freezes up.

iLiad cost us in all Rs. 35,000, including online ordering, shipping and customs duty. We do not see yet, a major market for these devices in India. But if the price falls down to Rs. 7,500, the market can flare up. However, more than the Indian language content, it is the English books that will be of huge demand. Unfortunately, none of the leading English language publisher in India takes any leadership in trying to promote e-book as a category in India. Which is sad.

HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide has a new CEO

HarperCollins - Murdoch owned publishing venture has a new CEO. Jane Friedman is leaving and is being replaced by Brian Murray.

NYTimes story

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2007 shortlist

Two of our Tamil->English translations figure in the short list for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2007, under the 'Indian Language Fiction Translation' category.

For the entire list across all the categories, check here.

The two 'Indian Writing' titles are:
  1. Star Crossed by Ashokamitran
  2. The Ghosts of Arasur by Era Murukan