An experienced publisher with a demonstrated history of working in the writing and editing industry, P K Madhavan is the founder-publisher of Vijay Nicole Imprints Pvt Ltd.
P K Madhavan is skilled in Sales, Business Development, Proofreading, Editing, and Academic Publishing. He is also a strong media and communication professional with an MCom focused in Commerce from Loyola College (University of Madras) 1984-86.
Here, in this exclusive chat with Wonderpublish Magazine, Mr P K Madhavan gives invaluable insights into the art and business of publishing. From his own as well as the industry experience through the pandemic to the newer possibilities in digital publishing, Mr P K Madhavan shines a light on a variety of topics.
Read the interview excerpt here:
Q. 1: How was your experience during the pandemic?
Ans. To put it in a very simple analogy, an already tired businessman was resting under a coconut tree and a coconut fell on his head. The pandemic was a big blow that took the lid away from the publishing industry all around, especially so in the education space.
And because COVID happened at the fag end of the financial year that we didn’t get any chance to recover our past dues. Later on, when the relaxation happened, there were no sales. The pandemic was a very liquid and tough time. But then again, the publishing industry has been facing a tough time even prior to that. Generally, there was sluggishness in the market. The engineering sector was not doing that well. And the management sector was also not doing that well. General publishing was not exactly flourishing but it was doing well.
Q. 2: What do you mean by General Publishing?
Ans. General publishing is a very very large field. It comprises fiction and non-fiction books. It’s also called trade publishing. Other than the education segment, the entire publishing is called general or trade publishing. And that includes publishing in Indian languages which has a large number of publishers and people from across the countries.
Q. 3: What has been the performance of eBooks so far?
Ans. Before the pandemic, all our books were available in PDF versions. And we’ve had tie-ups with some publishing platforms even three to four years back. I would say if it was less than 1% back then, it is not more than 1-2% now. The numbers are lower because primarily the students are going through Online Fatigue.
Probably the sales of ebooks would pick up after the pandemic when students start going to schools. I believe it is when students have offline classes that they would have more time to read on their devices.
Q. 4: How do you look at digital publishing? And as the normalcy returns, how do you see the landscape changing?
Ans. Going ahead, there will be certain categories that will only see digital publishing. They will not take the print route at all. Because it makes more sense to a publisher not to invest in stocks and not to invest in books that go on an order-to-order basis.
Speaking about such categories. All the bestsellers would continue to be print first. But those books that see around 200-300 copies would go into the ‘print-on-demand’ or on a ‘digital-only’ basis. For instance, in our own catalogue, we have identified the titles which should be only digital.
And after normalcy returns, I would expect better sales of eBooks.
Q. 5: Since you have been exploring digital platforms for the past 4 years now, what kind of new things you see coming up both in terms of technology and content?
Ans. There are a lot of experiments and initiatives being done. Although they were there before, digital platforms have found a lot of takers now.
Speaking of the content, the multimedia book is definitely going to be the in-thing. You have a combination of text, audio, video, and hyperlinks, that sort of publishing is going to take place. Separate audio or video books, which are separated into smaller units, all are going to be the models of tomorrow. There’ll be some aspects of the book which will be more suitable for AR/VR.
I feel a lot of things might be done around the periphery of the book. Say, for instance, you’ll have a question bank, teacher’s resource, objective type questions, more of like other pedagogical features around the periphery of the book. The main textbook will be a smaller book and the periphery of the book will all be digital products.
Q. 6: How important are these platforms for the publishers who are still stuck in traditional moulds?
Ans. I would say they are absolutely important for small and mid-level companies because they can not afford to spend the sort of money that MNCs can spend to develop a platform on their own. And going ahead, it’s going to be a perfect marriage between those who have content knowledge and technology knowledge.
One of the most crucial things about publishing platforms is their ability to provide DRM solutions. That is very essential because as a publisher I need somebody to understand my relations with my authors and their concerns regarding IP and Copyright. And I think a lot more can be done because a vast majority of small and medium publishers are not aware of the digital publishing platforms.
And because publishing platforms offer that flexibility in terms of non-exclusivity of the contract, the fear of getting tied up to one company is not there. In my view, this is a pioneering effort on the part of digital publishing platforms. And I’m sure going forward there’ll be a lot more traction. You need to rope-in all the smaller players. The mistake these platforms are committing is that they are going after big names to start with. The big names are always thinking how do I not give you 40% and capture the market myself. Whereas smaller firms will be thinking, I can’t invest that sort of money. If I do have that sort of money I will rather invest in the content and let Wonderslate or any other companies be my technology partner.
Q. 7: As the new education policy rolled in, would you say the govt could have done more for the publishers?
Ans. See, the largest publishers in India is actually the government of India. For instance, if you look at Tamil Nadu State Government, their textbooks have QR codes that link the material to various other resources. They also provide a lot of free material to students who are appearing for NEET and other competitive exams.
But one of the biggest drawbacks of the Indian Publishing Body is that they are yet to be recognised as an industry by the govt. Except for a few meetings here and there, on a systematic basis, they have not been able to get favours from the government on any aspect of publishing. I would say the publishing industry itself is at fault. Because even the simplest of stats are not available: How many publishers in India are there? How many titles are published each year? Which are the best sellers? And how many titles you bring out in Indian languages? How many you bring out in English? What are the actual sales figures for a title? These statistical insights are not there.
Q. 8: How many titles came out of Vijay Nicole during the pandemic? What’re the new things that you did during these trying times?
Ans. We took some important policy decisions. Like, we would stop investing in new titles; We would print very carefully. But what we did vigorously was to get into digital publishing in a very major way. We tied up with 5-6 digital publishing platforms. As I told you, we already had the PDF versions of our books, so this pandemic we converted them into epubs.
Also, we have identified a number of titles that we can convert into AR/VR. We also identified titles which we could make into courses, especially in employability areas. For examples, we converted one of our books, Quantitative Aptitude into a course. So a lot of product ideas and initiatives have been done.
One of the big things we created is the digital product kit where we provided books in bundles to students. For instance, we gave 4 titles for Rupees 250/-, 5 titles for the Rupees 350/- and 6 titles for Rupees 450/- for the 3rd semester in Madras University. I’m sure this can be replicable throughout India as we go along.
To tell you the truth, the traction has been less but I’m not worried about it because whatever effort we put in now will fructify as we go forward.
Q. 9 What are the new things you learned about yourself during this time period?
Ans. The most interesting thing I learned about myself is that leading a retired life is not such a bad thing. And in the office, I allowed the sixth day of the workweek as a holiday as there was not much work during that time.
We have learnt to understand deeply what is the core part of our business and how to strategise and prioritise other not so important things. Such times also make you realise who are your most important employees. Those who can multitask, and are indispensable. It gives you a perspective as to who are your talented employees.
Q. 10: What’s the next step for Vijay Nicole and for P K Madhavan?
Ans. We have to tie-up with more publishing platforms. We have to tie-up for both the physical as well as the digital products. We have to develop more digital products. Going ahead more and more investment will happen on digital products.
In a way, everything is new to us. So there is a lot of unlearning and learning to do. Or learning alongside the unlearning. So our work is cut out for us.
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