Saturday, August 07, 2010

Mass Paperback Publisher Goes All Digital

A friend forwarded an article from The Wall Street Journal, about a mass market paperback publisher Dorchester completely switching to e-books and print-on-demand books.

I was expecting this to happen. Though some authors will feel aggrieved, they will all come around. More publishers will move to this model of a cheap e-book and an expensive print-on-demand printed book. Those who don't like gadgets will have to pay a premium for the on-demand printed versions.

This is a bad news for the book shops. In all the developed countries, this will speed up the closure of book shops. We will still need the publishers for a while as they bring in the editorial capabilities. Online gatherers like Amazon will flourish. If this trend continues, even the Publishers will be history, as freelance editors can ply in their trade and authors can become self-publishers. However, in such a scenario I do not know how 'super-star' authors can be created. Probably through trending in twitter?

In India, print books will stay on for at least another decade (probably more). Devices take longer to spread across in India. Credit cards and other online payment mechanisms are still under-developed. Book reading habit itself has not spread widely. But if schools start adapting e-books and an ipad like device - books and notebooks rolled into one; the younger generation may jump to e-books straight away.

Today, the single biggest problem for a regional publisher like us is to manage our inventory and constantly reprint books that go out of stock. We need to be very careful about the number of copies printed. Too many and you lock in capital and you have the risk of unsold copies. Too little and you have rush for a reprint immediately. Cost of paper keeps going up. Warehouse cost and handling cost keep going up.

We don;t publish all the books we would like to, simply because we do not know whether the cost of printing them will be recouped back. We are unsure how we can distribute a book, at low print runs. E-books eliminate these risks. There is no need to stock anything and yet you have an unlimited stock. You can take up riskier books. You can crank up more titles.

Provided you have the readers who can access the books and pay for them.

We are working on our own E-book strategy, and may in the coming months release some new titles only in the E-book format. We may probably move a whole lot of our older books (which sell very little) into E-book and POD only model like Dorchester (the e-book version will be cheap, the POD version, expensive).

Monday, August 02, 2010

Commonwealth Games

I have a deep fear that Commonwealth Games will turn out to be a disaster. That it will be so for our sportspersons is reasonably known. We will win under 10 gold medals and will finish 4th - as always. We are unlikely to do any better; though chances of finishing lower always exist.

It is the organizing of the game that I am worried about the most. Newspapers talk about every conceivable problem. A stadium leaking rain water minutes after it was opened by two senior ministers in the Indian Government, a temporary roof at a table tennis court collapsing, Chairman of the organizing committee Suresh Kalmadi unable to pull his foot out of his mouth, BCCI refusing to accede to the 'donation' request of Rs 100 crores, allegations of corruption, Indian High Commissioner in UK suggesting that a letter shown by Kalmadi may be a fake, Kalmadi's own party members attacking him... the list is endless.

Amidst the usual chaos that is so natural to India, Delhi is witness to a lot of structures coming up. How many of them will be finished on time, how many of them will be safe for the athletes and the spectators and how many of them will be useful to the people afterward?

During the World Classical Tamil Conference in Coimbatore in June 2010, Coimbatore airport was to sport a new look as thousands were expected to come from all over the world, including the President of India, Pratibha Patil. But we could see unfinished concrete blocks, jutting iron rods and an unfinished pathway through which buses full of passengers were driven through. One month after the event, the situation was still the same. Likewise, much of Coimbatore saw superficial improvements probably incapable of withstanding a few spells of rain.

Will it be the same in Delhi too?

Will it offer anything of lasting value to the residents of Delhi? Will we ensure that we will not be a laughing stock in front of the world, when the games start?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wikileaks, India and Pakistan

While wikileaks has embarrassed the US, Pakistan are probably the most pissed off by the leaks. It is one thing to keep saying that they are partners in the 'war against terrorism', but totally another to defend the same in the light of solid 'evidence' that the US do not trust Pakistan.

I listened to the Pakistani Ambassador to the US in BBC World News, claiming emphatically that Pakistan have spent money and lost lives in fighting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. No one will deny that. But, at the same time, it is not easy for the Pakistani Ambassador to deny that several rogue elements in the Pakistani establishment have always colluded with the terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. NY Times opinion clearly touches on this point.

As far as most of the Americans are concerned, Pakistan is destabilizing the war efforts of the US. That is why, NY Times headlined the wikileaks story as: Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert.

Can all this help India in some way? It is important for India to curtail Pakistan from easily getting military and other aid from around the world. However, it is not in the interests of India to have a bankrupt Pakistan. It will destabilize that country to such an extent that Pakistan will become a Somalia and there will be a hundred jehadi warlords roaming the country.

So, Pakistan should get aid - civilian aid. And the aid should come with a lot of strings attached. The strings should be in the hands of a global consortium. And India should join such a consortium so that it can control the rogue elements from capturing power in Pakistan. Part of the task should be to force Pakistan to cut down on its military spending. This will help India save up substantially on its military spending (focus mainly on China). Part of the job should be to de-nuclearise Pakistan (which won't be easy).

So far, Pakistan got away by saying it was the most important ally of the US in the war against terror. Now, it has been proven that such is not the case. We in India should really be looking forward to the American response to this.

One point though. The information leaked out to public only now. But the American officials knew about this all along, and hence they should have been tougher with Pakistan already. But, now the media and public will pressure the US administration to act, and act fast.

Americans should remember that some of their soldiers were killed in Afghanistan because some Pakistani elements helped Taliban.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Profits up, but manager in jail

Sterlite has announced an increase of 50% in net profit for the first quarter ending June 2010. But one of its vice-presidents is languishing in jail, because the management screwed up.

Varadharajan, Vice-President (Indirect Taxes) for Sterlite based in Tuticorin was arrested on Friday night on the charges of Sterlite evading excise duty to the tune of over Rs 700 crores.

One would have expected that the company will work towards getting the employee out on bail on Monday, but that has not happened. The next hearing is apparently only on Thursday.

It is unclear to me how a vice-president should be held liable for such an act. If anything, the Chief Executive or the Finance Director (in the board) should have been hauled up in front of the court. Instead, we see the CEO M.S. Mehta announcing the company results, while a lower level employee is thrown in jail.

It is time the corporate top men - full time executive directors and chief executives - take full responsibility for the acts of their companies and not get their lower level employees undergo punishments on their behalf. Any decision to pay or not to pay excise duty would have only been taken by the CEO along with the approval of the board, given that the amount disputed is over Rs 700 crores.

It is also a wake-up call for the professional managers. Never accede to what the owners and directors want you to do, if you think it is against the law. You can always quit the company and find another job. It is not worth spending even one day in a jail, for some fat cat in London to make obscene profits.

Nokia, Foxconn gas leak problem

News reports indicate that leaking of a noxious substance in the Foxconn factory inside the Nokia SEZ in Sriperumpudur near Chennai has resulted in several workers affected by nausea, coughing of blood and breathing problems. A Tamil website has a more detailed story.

This is a distressing news. Nokia should also be pulled in to deal with this problem. Foxconn is a dedicated manufacturing facility for Nokia's mobile handsets. It has subsequently come to the light that Foxconn does not have certain necessary approvals for re-opening the plant. This plant was not functional for a few months because of low orders and was restarted only recently.

Nokia should come out with a report of its own about what caused this problem and what measures are being taken to avoid recurrence of such a problem.

Further, Foxconn and Nokia should jointly announce reasonable compensation and that too immediately. Nokia cannot shirk away its responsibility in this case.

Looking through's website, it is shocking to find that the employees take home a paltry Rs 3,270 for working 26 days. For factory work, this is horribly low!

What is the minimal wage law in India? Something has to be done to increase this to a reasonable level.

It is because of instances such as this that capitalism gets a very bad name.

$35 Indian notepad

When I saw the announcement from HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, I couldn't believe it. As usual, newspapers heralded the announcement. Then came the skeptics with their clear arguments. The bill of materials comes to nearly $50.

That is what I thought too. A 2 GB RAM, wi-fi connectivity, around 32 GB storage space, a touch screen, a processor and so on, cannot be given away for $35 (of which half is a subsidy from the Government, we are told).

What India needs is realistic goals. Not this kind of nonsense. Our students need cheap computers and decent Internet connectivity. We need enough manufacturing companies to produce these devices.

Even in poor households, if one can demonstrate the use of such a device, people will be ready to buy it for anywhere up to $150.

These devices need sufficient processing power to play audio, video and flash animation - minimum requirements for educational purposes. Linux OS with Indian language Unicode fonts and software keyboard for all the Indian scripts should be present.

Let us hope that we will have some such under Rs 10,000 devices out in the market in less than an year, than what this vague announcement offers.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Muralitharan 800

I have watched Murali bowl from his debut Test. He used to be an ordinary bowler. I can't remember when he transformed himself into a match winning bowler. If one goes through statsguru, one should be able to figure out that critical timepoint.

Even after he became a matchwinner, Indian batsmen handled him quite comfortably. Until Murali developed his doosra into an art. A wild spinning off break, or a power packed top spinner can be handled well, if you can estimate the spin in the delivery. But doosra makes you so confused.

My biggest disappointment was that my favourite batsman Dravid could never deal with Muralitharan properly.

Somehow, Murali's 800 wickets seem so unreal. Next time I see his picture in a newspaper or a TV, I am unlikely to remember his 800 wickets. The only picture in my mind is him strapped to some biomechanical probes, wanting to prove that he is not a chucker. I can only remember the pain in his eyes.

The Australians dealt with him in the most unfair manner. That includes Darrell Hair as well. But the Aussie fans were incorrigible. Right through that tough period Sri Lankan cricket machinery stood firmly behind Murali. And in particular Arjuna Ranatunga.

For that unflinching faith the Sri Lankans had in Murali, he has delivered back, more than his share.

Good bye Murali!