Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chinese publishing company's dual language publishing idea

A Chinese book publishing company, People's Medical Publishing House has acquired BC Decker's medical and dental books. [news from Publishers Weekly]

Going forward, People's Medical Publishing House (owned by Chinese Health Ministry) will be publishing medical and dental books in English and Chinese. The parent company will also be translating several of the back titles into Chinese.

This is an excellent idea. There are several US, Canada, UK based small publishing houses which can be acquired by Chinese and Indian companies for the value of their content, and republish translations of such books into Chinese and Indian languages. Sometimes, this will work out better than merely buying translation rights.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pearson group revenue, profit up

In the first half of 2008, Pearson Publishing Group increased its revenue to UKP 1.97 billion, up 6%. Its operating profits was UKP 124 million. [The Guardian Report]

The breakup is interesting:

US Educational sales: UKP 713 million
Rest of the world Educational sales: UKP 365 million
Financial Times: UKP 374 million
Penguin: UKP 408 million
Other: UKP 110 million

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Espresso Book Machine expected to roll out in UK

UK's The Sunday Times reports that soon the US based OnDemandBooks will offer its Espresso Book Machine to Blackwell, a chain of over 60 book stores in the UK.

I was quite impressed with the concept of the Espresso Book Machine when it debuted.
The machines are 9ft long, 5ft high, and allow customers to type in the title they want to buy. After about seven minutes, the book is printed out, trimmed and bound, selling for the same price as its shelf equivalent at the shop.
The fun in this machine is not placing it in a book shop! But anywhere where there is some space - like restaurants, tube stations, reception area of a large office complex - typically wherever vending machines sell crisps and colas. The machine needs an internet connection and has a nice touch screen interface for browsing the books and a credit card swiper to grab the money.

This may not still work in the Indian context for a while. Or, I may be wrong. Who knows? We may have a bunch of such machines placed all over India within an year or two.

However, when it comes to really printing on-demand books for physical distribution or internet ordering, this is not the machine. Solid heavy-duty Xerox, HP printers can offer for better pricing. Amazon's BookSurge offers a much better pricing than the 7c a page offered by this machine.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Innovation in promotion?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Stepehn King's new short story collection is being promoted by converting one of his unpublished short story in to multiple episodes of animated video.

However, these clips (25 of them) are being sold through Amazon and iTunes for $3.99. I would have thought it would make more sense to make them freely available, allowing people to download and watch them in large numbers and then go on to buy the book by paying hard cash.

Anyway, an interesting model.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Canada publishing revenues in 2006

In 2006, Canada's book publishing revenue was Can $2.1 billion, down 1.2% from the 2005 revenues. [Source]

The operating expenses went up by 0.9% because of increased salaries, wage and other benefits. Thus, the profit margin has come down to 10.3% from 12.1% the previous year.

Interesting stats. Now, how long do we have to wait to get the stats for the year 2007?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Vodafone Crossword Awards

For the translation category, the award was shared by Chowringee and Govardhan's Travels.

Our two shortlisted entries didn't win any.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

IPL official website stats

The owner of, Live Current Media Inc. has revealed that it received "50 million page views from over 5.2 million unique visitors during 18 April to 1 June 2008", reports received substantial promotion in the TV coverage.

Whether this kind of page views can be justified by the $5 million tag deserves analysis.

Live Current Media Inc. has also indicated that it will "launch the official BCCI site in beta before the 18 July Test match between India and Sri Lanka and global cricket site in beta by August 2008."

Simon & Schuster's Christian imprint for children

Newsweek reports that Simon & Schuster is setting up an imprint called "Simon Inspirations", to publish Christian religious books for children. This is the first time a mainstream publisher is doing this.
The new line, which includes 13 titles this year, will skip Bible stories and focus instead on books like Karen Hill's upcoming "Finding the Golden Ruler," which teach Christian values without delving into specific doctrine.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Asli paperback writers

Nilanjana Roy, Chief editor, Westland/ Tranquebar writes in her column in Business Standard:
I asked one publisher who the average pulp fiction reader was. He admitted that most pulp fiction readers, especially in the languages of Hindi and Malayalam, were male. But he added, "College professors, site labourers, some housewives, young students, businessmen, salesmen, rickshaw-walas — everyone but you English-speaking types."

Pity the Anglicised, for they don't know what they're missing.
Indeed! Nilanjana also says:
There were whole worlds enclosed in these ridiculously cheap paperbacks, printed on either the thinnest or the most coarse paper one might get, that were unavailable to the English-speaking reader.
The Indian language speaker doesn't mind walking to the nearest corner shop to buy the "coarse" paper novel costing Rs. 10-15. The Anglophone wants something sophisticated, which will cost Rs. 200-500. It may be quite possible to create Rs. 10 paperback novels in English but distribution will become a nightmare.

In Tamil, for example, 25-30% will be the margin given to the agents, who in turn retain around 10% and pass the rest on to the shopkeeper. For a book priced Rs. 15, the retailer will mostly get Rs. 3, the agent Rs. 1.5, the author Rs. 1 - 1.5 (per copy), printing cost around Rs. 5-6 (at print runs above 10,000) and the publisher, the rest (Rs. 3 per copy sold!). Are the English publishers ready for this game? Even if they are, the distributors, even if offered 50%, will not touch it, for it is too cheap to deal with. Therein lies the problem.

This is why, real pulp will work only in the Indian languages and Anglophones will have to be content only with some translations once in a while.

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

Friday, May 16, 2008

IPL: A confession

I have started watching the IPL matches. I watch more matches than I thought I will. Travelling and staying in hotels could be a reason, as you get to do nothing otherwise. As a consequence, my reading has come down drastically. I do fervently hope the matches will be over quickly, so I can get back to my routine life.

Though I have watched a lot of IPL matches, it is the bowler-friendly matches that have grabbed my attention. Watching Shoaib Akhtar steaming in to bowl those three overs in which he destroyed Sehwag, Gambhir and AB de Villiers was amazing. I am waiting to watch, what he is going to do to Tendulkar, Jayasuriya and Uthappa today. Akhtar is a pest. Most difficult person to manage. Full of ego. But what a bowler!

Jayasuriya made Chennai bowlers look like little kids. They had no clue whatsoever. And he kept going on and on, with sixes all over the place. Tendulkar looks totally out of sorts. He will be ruthlessly exposed by good bowlers, and probably even by average bowlers.

I thought the semi-final line-up will be straightforward. Rajasthan, Delhi, Chennai and Punjab. Now, Kolkata and Mumbai too have a chance of squeezing in. Bangalore and Hyderabad are the only total losers. Chennai looks weaker by the day while Rajasthan, surprisingly strong.

There are a few things I hate about the telecast. Wiring of players in particular and the commentators attempting to make some kind of a conversation. I quickly reach for the remote and press the mute button. Commentators are by and large boring. The cricketers have adapted themselves to this form of cricket. The commentators are yet to do that. Whenever they gush at Lalit Modi, I cringe. No great insights from Gavaskar or Shastri. Tony Cozier is the best of the lot. Ian Bishop next. When even Greg Chappel offers nothing insightful, one can pardon Arun Lal and others.

In general commentators suck up needlessly to the sponsors. We are suddenly told, "it is a Citi moment of success". It is nothing of that kind, simply a possible twist to the match. "DLF maximum sixes" is easy to understand while "Kingfisher fair play award" seems difficult to follow.

Red cap for a top scoring batsman and pink cap for the highest wicket taker are great, but poor Gambhir most of the times bats with a helmet on. I saw him wearing the cap only for a short duration. By the way, do they use the same cap and pass it on to the next player? Won't it stink of sweat? :-) I have not seen any one wearing a pink cap yet, though Ian Bishop kept praising Lalit Modi. Now, we need a Blue cap for maximum catches, a Green cap for maximum dismissals for a wicket keeper and an Yellow cap for fantastic fielding saving more runs in the outfield. And also a Black cap for most muffed chances?

There should also be a special cap awarded to Dr. Vijay Mallya.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

New Horizon Media raises second round of investment

Indian language book publisher, New Horizon Media, raises second round of investment

To put out more titles and fund expansion and growth across multiple Indian languages

Chennai, India, May 06, 2008:

New Horizon Media (NHM), a Chennai based multi-language, multi-format book publisher announced that it has received a minority investment from Beacon India Private Equity Fund as part of its second round of funding. This round also saw investments from existing promoters as well as Emergic Venture Capital, which had invested earlier in NHM in 2006 in the first round.

New Horizon Media currently publishes general books across genres as well as audio books in Tamil, English and Malayalam and plans to expand its publishing programme to all the important Indian languages over time. With four Tamil imprints, New Horizon Media is now the leading Tamil publisher both in terms of number of new titles published as well as sales.

“Our rapid growth in Tamil publishing has been driven by innovative titles, high quality packaging and production, affordable pricing and effective distribution. The titles are a hit with readers. We intend to expand into various other Indian languages across the rest of India,” said Badri Seshadri, Managing Director.

This round of funding will help New Horizon Media put out more titles in Tamil, Malayalam and English, strengthen sales and distribution in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and grow its distribution network across India for its English titles.

Added K. Satyanarayan, Director, New Horizon Media, “This investment by Beacon India Private Equity Fund is the first venture capital investment in the Indian book publishing industry. It points to the tremendous growth opportunities for the book publishing in India, with the infusion of capital into the industry.”

"We are extremely excited about the opportunity in Indian language content in India and the strong leadership of the NHM team. In a short span of time, they have been able to publish innovative titles that are in tune with readers' interests, and drive sales and marketing efforts," said Deepak Shahdadpuri, Managing Director, Beacon India, who joins the NHM board.
About New Horizon Media

New Horizon Media (NHM) is a Chennai, India-based publishing house promoted in 2004 by Badri Seshadri, K. Satyanarayan and R. Ananthkumar. NHM is a multi-language, multi-format publisher of both fiction and non-fiction through printed books, audio books, DVDs, the Internet and mobile platforms. NHM currently publishes in Tamil, English and Malayalam. NHM is headquartered in Chennai and has editorial offices in Chennai and Trivandrum.

Badri Seshadri and K. Satyanarayan were both educated at IIT Madras and Cornell University, USA. Both of them were earlier part of the team of co-founders of, the world’s leading cricket website, which was sold to the UK-based Wisden Group in 2003. R. Ananthkumar is a software engineer based in Texas, USA.

New Horizon Media’s imprints (For more information visit

About Beacon India Private Equity Fund

The Beacon India Private Equity Fund is a $200 million private equity fund sponsored by Baer Capital Partners. Beacon looks to invest in growth companies across sectors with bias for consumer, infrastructure and businesses benefiting from India’s competitive edge. This is the Fund’s fifth investment. Past investments include art auction business Saffronart, real estate developer Vatika Ltd, power EPC company A2Z Maintenance & Engineering and food services business Impresario Holdings.

For further information please visit our web site ( or contact:

K. Satyanarayan
New Horizon Media, 33/15, Eldams Road, Alwarpet ,Chennai 600 018, INDIA
Tel: +91-44-4200-9601/03/04; Mob: +91-98840-65630, Email:

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sainath's ACJ convocation address

I recorded this talk, but my new recording device screwed up. It is not publishable quality, so here is a brief summary.

Asian College of Journalism is a Chennai based educational institution which provides a one year diploma course. It is run by Media Development Foundation, a trust currently driven by N.Ram and Sashi Kumar. Sashi Kumar is the head of the institution.

Sainath also teaches at ACJ a course on 'Covering Deprivation'. Here, his topic was 'The Moral Universe of the Media', a title which, he says, was inspired by Prabhat Patnaik ("an economist and a good human being, though usually the two do not go together!").

George Bush and Condolezza Rice had set the talk up nicely for Sainath. As I had predicted earlier, Sainath started with this and quickly jumped to his statistics that in the last 10 years, the average consumption of Indians has gone down by around 80 gms per day, per capita. Which means an average Indian family is consuming 100 kg less food per year.

Sainath's focus was that the media has a disconnect. It does not cover issues of major ramifications and instead focuses on frivolous issues. Agriculture coverage is going down. Sports is going up. Politics is going down, fashion and crime going up. He backed up his theory with numbers. In the height of agrarian crisis in Vidharba, when there were around 6 journalists to cover, more than 512 accredited journalists covered Lakme India Fashion Show, an hour of flight away.

He criticised Times of India without naming the paper and kept using the names of Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal and CII as corporate villains. ToI came for some real sharp criticism for its owner doing private deals with companies whereby Bennett and Coleman will take a stake in the company in return for assured good coverage in the paper. The comment by Sainath's ex-boss that "journalism is a business" came for criticism. Sainath contended that Newspaper is a business, Journalism is a calling. One can run newspapers without journalism - as one very successful paper is already demonstrating!

Sainath's talk was witty, but mostly a rehash of topics that he has been covering in the recent days. Nothing new. Indian journalists do not cover deprivation. Indian journalists and news media are not interested in 70-80% of the people. They are not interested in important issues. They are only interested in what is good for the big businesses, celebrities etc. Gandhi and Mark Twain were outstanding journalists.

Besides the agrarian crisis, Sainath touched upon internal migration as another major issue that no one has covered.

Gandhi, just before his death gave this talisman (so quoted Sainath): "I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."

Sainath said he used to give this advice to all his journalism students. But then it is time to change this. Then he made an ulta of the above quote, brought in big business and Mukesh Ambani and Lakshmi Mittal and ended his talk with the comment that, "In the last 10 years, journalists have failed in covering real India and real issues. Perhaps, the new breed of journalists can do better."

The wittiest portion for me was when he recounted his ex-students calling him about their newsroom bosses.

Ex-student: "I want to kill my boss. He is rude, he is crude, he is obnoxious."
Sainath: "Don't rush. Just answer one question. What will you do with the body? How will you dispose it off? If you know the answer to this question, go ahead, and be my guest."

[Last year, in a function to felicitate Sainath, he gave a lecture on 'When rising inequalities threaten Democracy'. The audio of this talk is available here.]

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bush and Rice are not to be criticised

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a few days back, talked about the growing nutrition in India and China as one of the reasons for increased food prices. US President George Bush has also said something similar.

The Indian news media have used headlines such as "Now Bush Blames India for Food Shortage". Neither Bush nor Rice has blamed India, if one sees the transcripts carefully. They have only tried to explain why prices are going up.

Indians need not be touchy about this. Indian consumption has gone up, on an average. Later today Sainath will be making a convocation address in Chennai Music Academy. He is bound to talk about the poor people in India getting poorer and not getting enough to eat while the rich in India and the middle class are eating (wasting) more food.

Whether Indian Government can curb the food consumption of the rich or not, it must provide more food to the poor. The nutrition levels required for rural, poor children are considerably more than the current levels. The rich will simply not stop their profligate ways overnight (or for ever). This would mean, India will need more food and therefore will have to grow more food. This will require massive changes in the agricultural sector.

Indian farming is heavily fragmented. There is very little new investment in this space. Most small farmers are heavily indebted, despite the occasional debt write offs by the state and the central governments. The scientific approach required in growing food crops and preserving and marketing the same cannot be managed by the current farmers. Nor can a country depend solely on debt funding in this sector. Corporations should be allowed in to farming sector urgently. Venture capital should be allowed. Foreign investment should also be seriously considered.

All of this may sound horribly neocon!

I can't see any alternative though. If we keep dithering, we may not have enough food in the next 5 years and there will be riots in the streets. Annual growth rate of 8%+ will not mean a thing, then.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Flipper On A Flat Track: IPL team loyalties

Talking of team loyalties in IPL, this Outlook article quotes me as follows:
Badri Seshadri, founder of, is convinced that more money won't equal more loyalty. "Loyalties are always built on firm values, and I'm not sure on what basis loyalties will be built in T20 cricket," he told Outlook. "It's funny to see Shahrukh Khan get so excited about Calcutta...he doesn't even belong to the place!"
I do not believe, team loyalties can be built in the way the IPL franchises are built up. When countries play cricket, loyalties are mostly driven by nationalism. If you are an Indian Muslim and you happen to like the Pakistani team, you are branded a traitor. I know of several people who I grew up with, who loved the West Indies team. They won almost every match they played then. They also played their matches with a swagger crystallised by Viv Richards.

Today, a lot of young boys I talk to are fans of the Australians. At this age, they do not understand what nationalism is. But they understand what winning is. They do want India to win, but they see the Australians winning.

In the case of IPL too, the winning teams will pick up some loyal followers. I can't see many Bangaloreans making any noise about their team. Chennaiites are... now. Next year, no one knows what will happen.

For most average Indian cricket fans, IPL games are quite interesting. You get to see a 4 or a 6 almost every over. Wickets fall at regular intervals too. In around 3 hours, someone wins. Someone loses. So far, there have been no rain interruptions.

But, for the serious fans, we can't see any strategy, game plan or anything that makes these games interesting. Several days, I just go to sleep without waiting for the matches to get over. The next day newspapers will anyway show the result.

Someone asked me whether I will be going to these matches. I normally watch every Test match played at Chepauk. I try to make it to the ODIs. At this stage, I am unlikely to go to the IPL games even if I get free tickets.

Book Retail entrepreneur Hemu Ramaiah

Book retail in India is in a poor shape. We do not have enough book shops for a country of one billion people. With retail space getting too expensive in cities, grocery and other high value retail occupy more space. Books are not essential commodities yet for the Indians, and hence per sq. ft. yield of books will always be low. Books are not FMCG.

There have been a few entrepreneurs who have focused on book retailing. Crossword emerged from India Book House, and through entrepreneurs who used to work for Landmark. Now the chain is owned by Shoppers' Stop and it is not clear what their growth model is. Corner Bookstore, once partly owned by DC Books of Kerala, now seems to be languishing.

Hemu Ramaiah built up Landmark as a single location bookstore in Chennai. The first shop was in Nungambakkam High Road, Apex Plaza, over a 5,500 sq.ft. space. It quickly became the destination for book lovers in Chennai. Access to capital must have been very difficult in the 1990s. It was only in 2001, a second shop was opened in Chennai Spencer Plaza. But by then, Landmark was more than books. All kinds of other accessories came in. In particular, the Spencer Plaza shop even had furnitures!

Forays into other towns and cities gave them mixed results. Kolkata was a joint venture with Emami group. Bangalore Landmark did well. A shop opened in Coimbatore didn't and was closed down.

Landmark created a joint venture with East West, a book distributor and a smalltime publisher based in Chennai, called Westland books - both for book distribution and for reprint publishing.

In 2005, Tata's Trent acquired 76% stake in Landmark, valuing the company at around Rs. 138 crores. Landmark used the money effectively to grow across the country with large book+other retails shops. Landmark also acquired majority stake in East West, and launched full-fledged publishing operation (East West, Westland and Tranquebar).

Yesterday, Hemu Ramaiah announced that she has sold her residual equity stake in Landmark to Trent.

Hemu says she has started a company that will provide retail consultancy and solution.


There is considerable space in the book retail still unexploited in India. Pantaloon has its Depot shops in around 30 places. Oxford bookstore is slowly expanding. Odyssey chain is sadly not growing as fast as I expected. As mentioned earlier in this post, Crossword and Corner aren't growing as much. Reliance Timeout is expected to open shops all over.

All of the above cater to English books in key metros and large cities. The real space is in regional languages and in smaller towns. Low cost retailing is possible, over a 200-500 sq. ft. chain shops, with excellent information systems, point-of-sale systems, logistics support, aggressive marketing, brand building etc. However, this calls for reasonable Indian investments.

Where are the entrepreneurs?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Why there should be more IITs

After the recent Supreme Court verdict approving OBC reservations to (Central Govt. controlled) higher educational institutions, Prof. PV Indiresan in particular has focused on what it will mean to the quality of IITs.

Once upon a time (till the early 1990s), IITs guranteed a trip to USA, to pursue higher studies, find a job, get a green card and eventually get a US citizenship. During the late 1990s software professionals without an IIT education could easily accomplish all this (except pursuing higher education). Also during the same period, increasing numbers of non-IITians managed to get into US universities. Today, it is not necessary for one to go to an IIT to find a place in a good US university for higher studies. Top students from any of the NITs and reputed Engineering colleges can get full assistantships in several US colleges.

A substantial number of IITians walked into IIMs and then eventually into FMCG and marketing companies. This prompted a few of my professors to contemptuously mention 'soap selling' in connection with the career choices of my co-students. One doesn't have to get into an IIT to crack CAT and get into an IIM.

Most people looked at getting into IITs as it guaranteed them (a) a trip to US or (b) a chance to get into an IIM; failing both (c) at least a guaranteed job in an Engineering company. This meant a lot in the 1970s and 1980s when well paying jobs were difficult to get.

That is not the situation today. Any smart young man or woman each can find hundred possible jobs. Even if one is not smart enough, one can land up a job with a basic education and some soft skills.

Should we then really worry about whether to increase the number of IITs or not? I think we should. IITs, when they were started, were expected to fulfill one key role. To help build engineers who will help build the country. Several IIT engineers have helped in this process. However, more than 60% or probably 70% ended up abroad, or sold soaps and fresh atta. I myself never did anything useful in engineering. I sold cricket and am now selling books.

IITs are however wonderful institutions. They get good funding. They have decent teachers - far better than several other institutions. They have great laboratories and computer facilities. They have integrated and compulsory hostels. It is in the hostels that students pick up substantial soft skills. The ambience is wonderful. IITians are successful primarily because of the environment in which they grow. It is not the quality of education in the classrooms, as most people think. I know of several of my classmates who never ever attended the classes but are doing quite well in their lives.

Such an environment is possible only because of the liberal funding, autonomy and a student selection process. The selection process can be made more inclusive than what it currently is. Reservation for OBCs will help in a long way. Reservation for women will help too.

In our country, private players cannot build good educational institutions today. Mostly, only scoundrels get into building engineering colleges. In and around Chennai, that is what I see. There may be an odd good one, but mostly the institutions are controlled by uneducated rascals, who are part of this or that political party, who have amassed wealth through illegal means and use the colleges to further this ill-gotten money. They have hoodwinked the entire system to get Deemed University status and are now going by the name of X University or Y University. They have spanking new buildings but nothing else worth underneath. The quality of the faculty is shocking. The students are left to rot by themselves. I can't see a single one of them becoming a world class teaching and research institution in the field of engineering in the years to come.

So, the onus of building great higher education institutions is in the hands of the central and the state governments. The central government has an excellent idea in the form of IITs. There are several trained administrators, Directors, Registrars and Deans of IITs. If we open up another 20 IITs, they can be headed by these Deans. Finding good quality teachers is a problem, but in my opinion, it is a problem which can be solved. Several students who receive PhDs in IITs and IISc can be employed in these new IITs. Several faculty members in US universities can be persuaded to come to India. We should look at setting up one IIT in every state capital.

In addition, the state governments should look at setting up 3-4 engineering institutes modelled on IITs. They should get staff from IITs on deputation to build these institutions. They should fill these institutions exclusively from those students who write JEE. So in effect, we should have around 100 IITs and IIT like state colleges. All of them should have an average funding of Rs. 80-100 crores an year. 25% of these institutions will be funded by the central government and administered by them. Remaining 75% will be funded by various states and administered by them.

This will increase the intake to around 25,000 students every year from the IITs. Just imagine what kind of progress this will take us to.

Instead, if we restrict the IITs to only 7 or 10, or go up in small increments, we will have around 2,500 to 3,000 undergraduates coming out per year from the IITs.

The IIT brand is primarily created by the students and not by the faculty. I believe the top 25,000 to 50,000 ranks from JEE are good enough to maintain this brand, provided the funding and infrastructure are available to the institutions.


Several people worry about more money going to higher education while the primary education is in shambles. But this is a poor argument for couple of reasons.

You should not promote one or the other, but should try to apportion money to both, within reason. If we invested heavily only in primary education, what will all those kids do after they cross the 5th standard? You need to simultaneously invest in secondary education, higher education and professional education.

Primary education is relatively an easy area. Private funding can be tapped wherever possible. Licenses can be given to people to run primary schools, because all you require is minimal infrastructure. Educational voucher schemes can be introduced in several places. Microfinance institutions like SKS Microfinance are looking at high quality village schools funded by micro-loans.

However, institutes of higher learning are not easy to build. Our current regulations do not allow foreign universities to build and operate educational institutions in India. For profit companies are not allowed to provide education in India. While we need to battle with such laws, at the moment, only the Government is capable of building higher education institutions of world class. Therefore, they must be encouraged to do so.

Most problems cannot be solved by just pushing more money in one specific area alone. Primary education will remain a problem for a long time to come, because it requires more people and more infrastructure. To put every child into a primary school, we need millions of new schools and new teachers in far flung areas. Even if we have all the money in hand, we won't be able to accomplish this overnight. We cannot wait for this task to be completed before we can take up the problem of higher education.

Our tax income is growing considerably year on year. If money can be found for NREGA, it can be obtained for education - both primary education and higher education. I see all the state governments projecting low revenue estimates for the subsequent years. If I look at the Tamil Nadu budget, the revenue estimates are considerably lower than the actual revenue realised by them. Because they start with lower revenue projections, they allocate lower resources for education. Then, when they actually make more money, it gets spent on politically expedient areas.

With better revenue projections, the allocation for education can be substantially enhanced by every state. The central government can also increase the outlay for education substantially. Cutting defence spending will help a long way too!

P.V. Indiresan's bad arguments against creating new IITs
IIT and the obsession with exclusivity

Sunday, April 20, 2008 - Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I had a long association with Cricinfo - from around 1993 end to 2005. I have heard a lot about during tihs period. So when I found out that a company called Live Current Media has done a deal with BCCI to develop BCCI's cricket web site and IPL web site and also the domain name, I was intrigued.

I went through my old emails to look at the history of

In the days when domain names were seen as the 'be all and end all', all sorts of domain names were acquired by Internet pirates and hawkers in the hope that some sad git will buy them for millions of dollars later on., they thought will outsmart rivals such as At that time, already had huge user base, while had to still build the content.

In 1999, announced that it will develop a world-beating cricket site. They were to partner another site called Nothing came of it.

A company called owned this domain name They also owned etc. They were working towards building each domain name into a portal with appropriate partner and then make big bucks. However things were not so simple. The company built around went bust later on. tried finding partners (not buyers) for They wanted someone to pay money, become a JV partner and then develop the site. They wanted offers from in the year 2000. Cricinfo did not respond positively. Then, in early 2001, a rather shady entity called (which was mostly ripping off content from Cricinfo through automatic bots), acquired/partnered to develop Under the terms of the deal, Cricmania would pay USD 1 million, and Communicate and Cricmania will hold stakes in

When Cricmania found that making money from was impossible, they thought of turning it into a betting/gambling site. Even that didn't work out. Probably US/Canada laws prevented this from happening.

By the end of 2001, however, the deal between Cricmania and broke down. The domain was back with in early 2002 and they had no cricket content there either. The site has been dormant with no cricket content whatsoever since then.

Live Current Media is the successor to They are planning to rename the company in 2008. They are hoping to convert their domain names into wonderful businesses. In April 2008, they announced their deal with BCCI.

I do not expect anything useful to come from some domain name hoarders with no experience whatsoever in content management, much less cricket content at that.

BCCI have never understood the web. They are proving that they will never understand it.

Aviation Entrepreneur Gopinath

I have great admiration for Gopinath who started Air Deccan, India's first low-cost airlines. He is now out of the merged Kingfisher-Deccan, and is moving on to a new Air Cargo venture.

When I was in Cricinfo, I once received an email from him. At that time, he was running a charter aircraft company. He had asked if any of the TV production companies such as TWI, Worldtel etc. will require chartering of flights to lug their equipment and personnel across India. BCCI is notorious for the most ridiculous cricket scheduling. I can't now remember what I replied, but I did give him some contact at TWI.

In the first wave of privatisation of Airlines in the 1990s, only two out of 7-8 players survived. One was jet Airways, the other Sahara. The rest completely crashed. Sahara just hung on. Jet, on the other hand, thrived and went on to become number 1 player in India, and went on to buy out Sahara. In the second wave of liberalisation, unquestionably, it was Gopinath who was the real hero. He had the vision for the low cost carrier. Others simply followed him. His biggest handicap must have been the money. Other players in the second wave were all rich and well backed with money from other ventures they were running. But it was Gopinath who showed what could be done to the Airlines business.

Air Deccan had its detractors. The service was average, the delays horrendous. But, it did serve people who could never think of flying. Gopinath democratised air travel in India. He connected places that no one thought would come on the air traffic map. He offered tickets at prices no one thought was possible in India. He was bolder than anyone else.

His success, as he says in this article, also resulted in an unsustainable growth. The losses were huge and PE players wouldn't support him fully. He had to sell out to someone like Vijay Mallya, brimming with money. It was clear to me that Gopinath wouldn't last long in the merged entity. Their styles are so different.

In a way, it is good that Gopinath is leaving. We do not have serial entrepreneurs in India, who after successful building, move on to create more challenging new ventures. Promoters should not hang on to their ventures for too long. They should just move along.

I wish Gopinath success in his new Air Cargo venture.

Friday, April 04, 2008

TheOnion type desi website

I came across The Career Pigeon, (via gilli) which is almost exactly like The Onion, but on desi topics.

From what I have read already, it is not bad at all! It would be great if these guys don't copy the features from The Onion, but rather, improvise and innovate.

Tamil Nadu: 101 Entrepreneurs

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) launched a coffee table book on the history of entrepreneurship in Tamil Nadu last week. The book had featured narratives on 101 Tamil Nadu entrepreneurs, and the list of entrepreneurs was selected by a CII taskforce.

My company was involved in interviewing and writing the stories on these 101 interesting men and women and then making the book.

No such list can be exhaustive. The people chosen were all first generation entrepreneurs.

As one can guess, most of them built their businesses in the 1990s, thanks to liberalisation and the opportunities created by this process.

However, a majority of them are not geared to take the next step by raising substantial funding through private equity or IPO, to become a pan-indian company, and then from there to become a global company. Excluding the listed companies mentioned, only one entrepreneur mentioned wanting to go IPO and he is in the healthcare sector. Another person indicated that he wouldn't even raise any form of equity/debt funding for growth and would depend entirely on internal accruals! His company creates software for managing securities and he has developed software for NSE!

The book, titled 'Star Trek' may not be available in the book shops. However, one can contact the CII Chennai office to find out if copies can be bought from them.

Shoaib Akhtar ban

It is good that Shoaib Akhtar has been banned for five years from playing cricket for Pakistan, though for not so serious an offense. He has done less on the ground and has talked more off the ground. I can see that he is an extremely divisive force in the dressing room.

Can this ban be contested in a court of law? My view is that such a ban is unenforceable in any country where the laws are decent. It is quite possible that Pakistan courts will 'unban' Shoaib.

What PCB will have to do is, to quietly inform the selectors never to select Shoaib for Test matches and probably also the one-day matches. He can play in the IPL, shoot his mouth off, collect his fat paycheque and enjoy life as a playboy. Test cricket is far too serious to have a Shoaib hanging out in your dressing room.

Monday, January 28, 2008

IPL franchise deals

The kind of money coming into IPL is shocking.

First, the telecast rights. Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and World Sports Group (WSG) have come together to acquire the rights from IPL. Sony, at one time wanted to acquire a lot of cricket rights and held ICC world cup telecast rights for India. Later, Sony decided to quit cricket by not bidding for world cup rights in the subsequent years. World Sports Group was the entity (at that time, backed by Murdoch's News Corp), which had picked up the ICC rights and onsold the Indian rights to Sony then, through their vehicle Global Cricket Corporation (GCC). Subsequently Murdoch bought out GCC fully when there were financial troubles for WSG.

Now, WSG and Aony have come together again to acquire the IPL telecast rights at roughly $1 billion for 10 years. (Why are we still talking in dollar terms? US Dollar is going to keep falling, and surely it is in the interests of BCCI to peg the bid in INR?) Around $108 million will be spent on marketing and promotion (probably not including home ads shown in Sony network) and $908 million will be paid to IPL (BCCI).

This television money ($908 million) is not going to entirely go to BCCI. Instead, a substantial portion is going to be given to the team franchises.

That brings us to the franchise bids. Several wealthy businessmen and bollywood characters have bid large sums for owning city teams. Mukesh Ambani has picked up Mumbai. India Cements has picked up Chennai. (India Cements boss Srinivasan is also the treasurer of BCCI and this has made some people talk about conflict of interests. Given that his company has won the bid in a transparent manner, I think it is fair.) In all, eight city teams have been sold out for US$ 723.59 million. There are four more city franchises available, and no one has bought them so far - no one was willing to put up the reserve price of US$ 50 million.

Suppose the franchises get 80% of the television revenue for the first 3 years. The next 7 years, they will get around 60% of the television revenues. (I am not sure about the exact formula, but this is the best guess I can make out.) This would mean, on an average, each franchise will get back USD 6 million per year for the first 3 years and $4.5 million per year for the next 7 years. Thus, they will claw back US$ 50 million over the ten year period. I am assuming that each of the franchises will get equal television money. Instead, it could be through a more complicated formula.

The franchises will have to spend money hiring the players as well. There could be transfer rules like it exists in the US, UK professional leagues.


ICL - the rival league set up by Subash Chandra, in the meantime has had a few games but has not had major success in capturing the fan interest. The games should have been on a free to air television to really get more people interested. Instead it was on their pay channel in the metros. I didn't watch them.

ICL needs a very different idea to compete with IPL, which has support from the boards around the world as well as the ICC.

And to add to this, IPL has far more money and solid support from franchise owners, which ICL will have to struggle to get over the coming years.

PanIIT Mentoring Programme

I participated in the PanIIT Mentoring Programme held yesterday (Republic day) at IIT-Madras. This was an event conducted across 16 centres, with the intention of mentoring at least 1,000 prospective entrepreneurs.

I had the opportunity to interact with five people. Some had just started new ventures. Rest were in the process of quitting their regular jobs to start new ventures. I was glad I could offer them some directions based on my experience.

I think more such informal meetings should be organized.

At the end of the programme, ex-President Abdul Kalam addressed the gathering through a webcast link, from Hyderabad. He talked glowingly about Periyar PURA, one of the instances of his pet project. The Q&A at the end was a bit boring, though.