Motilal Banarasidass' century-old journey
Motilal Banarasidass Publishers is one of the co-publishers in the panel of Indian Council of Philosophic Research (ICPR). It is a 114-year-old publishing house which focuses on a niche segment called Indology, or the study of India and its heritage. The company majorly publishes authentic scholarly books aimed at research scholars and academicians. The books cover ancient Indian history and Indic philosophy, all of which is based on Sanskrit literature. Many of the books that Motilal Banarasidass publishes are often done in a series that runs into a hundred volumes, of which about 80 volumes are already published. The publishing house has around 50 titles on Indian philosophy and ancient heritage by the famous German scholar, Max Muller.
Indian Printer and Publisher met RP Jain, director and one of the fourth-generation owners of the historic publishing house for a discussion on the business of scholarly and academic publishing in India. According to Jain, Motilal Banarasidass has around 5,000 titles to its credit, covering the Indology niche over the last 114 years. There are many scholars from both Indian and foreign universities who approach Motilal Banarasidass with their manuscripts that are examined and evaluated by the company's editorial panel before being sent to subject matter specialists; for instance, if a manuscript is on Buddhism, it goes to a Buddhist scholar for review.
Co-publishing titles with ICPR
Jain feels that the buy back arrangement of 250 books that ICPR entered into with Motilal Banarasidass and other publishers has its own set of challenges. Such institutions themselves admit that selling these books is very difficult. According to Jain, this problem stems from lack of interest in marketing these books. In his opinion, merely co-publishing with a commercial publisher is not enough; there needs to be a collaboration where the council and the publisher make joint efforts to market and sell the titles. Jain points out that even with government funding for marketing of the titles, not enough efforts go into serious marketing.
Talking about Motilal Banarasidass' own press, Jain says they earlier had a large press with four machines, most of which have been sold out. He feels that over the years, printing machinery has changed and it is no longer worthwhile for a publisher to also be a printer. The printing market is quite saturated and there is excess capacity in the market. Scores of printers are willing to print at competitive rates. According to Jain, if publishers double up as printers, they will eventually lose critical time needed for reviewing and marketing of books, which is the core function of a publisher. Marketing books is a big challenge, more so if the titles are from a highly specialized field.
In the traditional format, the books have to be taken to dealers, book stores, etc., who like to deal on a consignment basis; if the books sell, they pay, else they return them to the publisher. With an eye on the hard realities of the scholarly books market, Motilal Banarasidass has also initiated POD (print on demand), which it feels is quite beneficial to the particular niche it serves. The company has branches in most of the major cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Patna, and many others in addition to its head office in Delhi. It has channel partnerships with several eCommerce portals for selling its titles online and the results are not bad.
Jain opines that the government should provide incentives for promotion and sale of books. He cites the example of travelling that is undertaken to sell books—a substantial part of the cost of marketing of books. When asked about the future of his company, he sounds confident that the future of the business is in secure hands and that the next generation of Motilal Banarasidass is already involved in various activities of the company. He names his nephew Abhishek Jain and his son Varun Jain as the next line of leadership that will carry forward the legacy of this century-old publisher.