Indian publisher Sunil Mehta dies at 56

‘Fearless – pandemic or no pandemic’

Sunil Mehta of Mehta Publishing House in Pune passed away on 12 January 2022 at the age of 56. Photo Publishing Next via Internet
Sunil Mehta of Mehta Publishing House in Pune passed away on 12 January 2022 at the age of 56. Photo Publishing Next via Internet

Sunil Mehta, managing director, Mehta Publishing House, passed away on 12 January 2022. Mehta who was 56 is survived by his father, wife, sister, and two children. The dynamic publisher entered the hospital in end-December for what is considered a routine procedure.

Mehta was well known amongst Indian language publishers for his active acquisition of titles for translation particularly into Marathi. His generosity of spirit, his vision, and his belief in Indian audiences particularly for fiction and further across several non-fiction segments, will be missed by the publishing community.

The Pune-based Mehta Publishing House of which Sunil Mehta was the managing director was founded by his father Anil Mehta. Sunil Mehta built it into a modern and globally active organization that embraced the pluralism of ideas amongst both authors and potential readers. He expanded language publishing in translation and the reach of his titles with the use of technology and his professional approach to the industry.

Neeta Gupta co-founder of the Publishers’ Exchange, writes, “It’s hard to even think about Sunil Mehta in the past tense, let alone mourn him, or pay respects in the form of an obituary. I’m just jotting down my deep gratitude for his immense generosity of spirit.

“I first met Sunil Mehta of Mehta Publishers, over fifteen years ago in Frankfurt, and we stayed in touch professionally more or less all through these years. But it was only in the last two years during the pandemic when a group of us Indian language publishers came together informally to form the Publishers’ Exchange, that we started meeting and interacting weekly.

“I just had to pick up the phone and somebody at his office would be on the other side, helping us resolve issues like online and offline retail, software, or copyright-related stuff.

“I think what really set him apart was his enthusiasm and his gentle sense of humor; his commitment to translations and his fearlessness when it came to publishing, pandemic or no pandemic.”

PostScript of 16 January 2022

On the 16th of January 2022 the Publishers’ Exchange hosted a moving remembrance meeting for its beloved colleague Sunil Mehta. After observing a minute’s silence, Sunil ji’s father, Anil Mehta, broke down as he addressed the group. Akhil Mehta, his son bravely fought back his tears as he tried to remember his father’s vision when it came to publishing. 

Friends and colleagues who had come together from across India to say a few words as a tribute to his inspiring life, included, Urvashi Butalia, Pranav Johri, Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Vasudhendra, Manisha Chaudhry and Vidula Tokekar. Several of the speakers spoke about his spreadsheet for publishing workflow, an expert system which he willingly shared. Others spoke of, “His
 enthusiasm and his gentle sense of humour; his commitment to translations and his fearlessness when it came to publishing, pandemic or no pandemic.”

My own view is that Sunil Mehta was a formidable Indian publisher and not what is too often referred to being either a “language publisher,” a “regional language publisher,” or an “independent publisher.” What becomes apparent is that for Mehta all aspects publishing are components of a structured approach to a business, and each aspect and detail require care, skill and professionalism. In the main his admirers and friends are no less generous or courageous.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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