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?