August 19, 2010

Marketing the light reads!

Our very own, Chetan ‘nearly one crore earner in royalties’ Bhagat, started the trend of IIT books with his “Five point someone’. He spends lakhs on PR every month to keep brand ‘Bhagat’ alive when not in books (who says marketing is only for products?) Today, he earns more from seminars and guest lectures in universities than his advances. The famed author could not have started a better revolution even if he wanted to. Once the success of Bhagat’s books sunk in the market, you had every Tom, Dick and Harry trying his hand at writing. Lol, many of them even got published by the many publishing houses which have defined themselves as light publishers!
Rupa publishers, the one which publishes Bhagat’s books (I guess they have the first look contract and even if they don’t, how does it matter anyway?) has been one of the Indian companies standing upto the market demand of the new light reads. No wonder, they rejected my book by quoting that they have a busy schedule in the coming year. Rupa’s books are of a superior quality (Design, Layout and Editing are moderate) and it has almost bombarded the market with breezy reads. ‘A romance with chaos’ by Nishant Kaushik, ‘Right Fit, Wrong Shoe’ by Varsha Dixit and ‘Nothing can be as crazy’ by Ajay Mohan are some of the recent best-sellers from the category. The writing is decent and the editing passable in most of the books but then who cares about that? The price (again Rupa was the pioneer) is really affordable and doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket at all.
Shrishti, another popular publishing house, has earned the tag of THE IIT/IIM PUBLISHER from me. Firstly, it keeps churning out books like flying popcorn. Secondly, I guess it has almost become a perquisite to be published by Shrishti, the author should be a student or alumni of the big institutes. Thirdly, I doubt they have an editor because there are as many mistakes in every single page of almost each book, to put the Chinese population to shame (Okay, I over-exaggerated that one: D). The most important point that is in their business model is that they are virtually cost leaders. With each book priced at one hundred rupees and a robust distribution network, a Shrishti book is available almost anywhere, from Retail book chains to the local station shop. People are willing to stock it, not only because they sell like hotcakes (Every book is a self-proclaimed best-seller!) but also because the publisher offers them a mammoth margin compared to the industry. It’s only natural for any dealer to stock and push the books then (Next time you visit the store, observe the visual merchandising for Shrishti books). Questions can be raised, how they hell do they survive in a low margin industry? One possible explanation is their mass production technique and reprinting popular editions almost every six months with a new design, helps them distribute their costs over a large quantity and generate maximum revenue. I don’t know, I still keep getting those books even when I am not reading them (kind of a subliminal message their price conveys, I guess) but anyways, they help me in the sense that I don’t have to search for editing exercises for my students. Lol!
The bigger players are not to be left behind either. Karan Bajaj’s second novel ‘Johhny Gone Down’ published by Harper Colins saw a first print run of over 50,000 copies and though the book has seen some amount of criticism, it has not stopped the publishers from going in for the second print run. Penguin India also recently launched its Metro reads for people who like reading on the go. The books are a combination of young and literary fiction, so I don’t know where to categorise them. RandomHouse India, which has the unique distinction of the first publication house to reject me, also has come out with its ‘Kaama Kahaani’ series.
The light readers market is growing in direct proportion to the growth of literacy in the country. The market demands, so the publishers are reactive (instead of being proactive), and they are coming out with more such books every month. Also, it’s a simple fact; a layman would well prefer a Chetan Bhagat over a Salman Rushdie. The audience is different (yes, there is an overlap when you have people like me who read just about everything!) but then what needs to be reminded is that authors like Bhagat are not writing for the coveted Man Booker. Their success largely depends upon the number of books sold unlike literary fiction which sees how many people were floored by its metaphors. The main target market is people who are not very well conversed with English as a language (so who cares about editing?) and are more likely to grab a book just to display their intellect (oh of course, for them a ‘One night at a call centre’ is equivalent to a ‘Mein Kampf’). Job done, friends impressed, girls floored and ego satisfied!
Mandar Kokate’s self-published book (now he owns Expression publications) ‘Oh Shit, not again!’ continues to be a Crossword best seller, even after two years of its release. I read the book as a grammar refreshing exercise and just about barely managed to finish it. Priced at one hundred and fifty rupees, it prompts the reader to at least take a look. The blurb sounds promising but when you open the first page, you know you should have never picked it up, in the first place. But thoughtfully, he’s an intelligent businessman, keeps rejecting all the proposals that are sent to him (Expression has only two popular fiction titles so far!)
I actually find it irritating when people enquire back after I have told them that I am a voracious reader.
“Oh, have you read Chetan Bhagat?” they ask in glee. Huh? Get a life, don’t be frogs in a saturated well. Expand your reading horizons. You can start with my forthcoming novel. Oh but again, it is a light read, I guess. What can I do? The market demands so!
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

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