Algorithms of the Indian Market

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Anish Chandy, Bikash Niyogi, Manas Saikia, and Naomi Barton moderated by Preeti Gill

 

Apekshita Varshney, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger

 

Do books have their own destiny, or must they go through a compromising makeover to be popular; forced open, torn apart, before they are sent into the world to acquire fame? In a vibrant session at Jaipur BookMark 2017, luminaries from the publishing world discussed some of the algorithms they applied to unscramble the Indian market.

If you ask publishers about marketing formulae that underpin the industry, few will own up to the nimble tactics that go into making a bestseller. Anish Chandy, Head of Digital Marketing at Juggernaut, revealed how he once packaged a paperback book as a hardcover to override the ‘paperbacks are masala books’ logic, and it worked like a dream. Naomi Barton, Digital Merchandiser at Penguin, spent considerable hours counting syllables in bestseller blurbs, to determine the perfect format to fly a book from the shelf to the cash desk.

A common view of writing is that it is authors who have it tough, but the reality is, it isn’t easy for publishers either. Manas Saikia, Director of Speaking Tiger Publishing, said commented, ‘Most publishers depend on very few distributors to reach the masses. They have to sell themselves, promote themselves, mock-up books, and take orders themselves.’ Limited accessibility to the market often means that the platform, not the content, is king.

Bikash Niyogi, publisher of Niyogi Books, pointed out that illustrated books cost at least four times more to produce than other books. As such, he knows first-hand the challenge of maintaining quality in tough market conditions. ‘For small publishers, the costs are not just for creating a book, but for getting it placed at the customer’s eye level in the bookstores: it can lead to sleepless nights.’ In the end, it comes down to a combination of product, placement, pricing and promotion. Saikia revealed that airports charge Rs 70,000 to display three books, and bookstores charge anywhere between Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000: ‘International publishers can buy an island at the airport, but it is particularly difficult for small publishers.’

This air of general gloom isn’t reflected in the recent study conducted on the Indian publishing industry. According to the Nielsen Media Research, India’s print book market has grown at a rate of 20.4 percent over recent years. This is perhaps partly due to opening out content accessibility through digital media. For example, Juggernaut has introduced a mobile-first platform that encourages Indians to read on their phones. Chandy observed, ‘we’ve taken all kinds of risks with digital. It is a fail-fast approach: fail, and move on.’ Chandy cited one of their books, Indian SuperFoods, which wasn’t being carried by India’s largest book chain, so ‘We pushed harder on marketing and sold 40,000 books online in six months.’

Ultimately though, the panel agreed that despite all the tricks and algorithms applied by the industry, predictions of ‘what sells’ remains fluid and unpredictable for publishers: ‘A good book is a book that sells and a bad book is one that doesn’t,’ Saikia commented, but there is no formula to turn a book in to an overnight success. As Naomi Barton concluded, ‘if it was easy, it wouldn’t be a book.’

 

Photo Credit:Rajendra Kapoor

 

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