Interview – Mihir Lochan Saran of Pustak Bhandar Publishing House

Third-generation Patna publisher looks at Kindle and audiobooks

Mihir Lochan Saran, Associate Publisher of Pustak Bhandar Publishing House, at his office in Patna. Photo: IPP
Mihir Lochan Saran, Associate Publisher of Pustak Bhandar Publishing House, at his office in Patna. Photo: IPP

Patna-based Pustak Bhandar Publishing House is a century-old organization that has experienced an entire evolutionary period of Indian publishing. Said to be one of the best textbook publishers in Patna, it was founded in Laheriasarai in Bihar in 1915 by Acharya Ramlochan Saran, a Hindi littérateur, grammarian, and publisher. Saran also founded the oldest Hindi magazine for children, Balak, in addition to the Himalaya and Honhar periodicals that were a lifeline for several well-known writers throughout his life.

A printing unit was started in 1927, but its entire building collapsed in the 1934 earthquake. In 1929, Pustak Bhandar Publishing House moved to Patna, and in 1936 it purchased a new plot of land on Govind Mitra Road. In those days, the company operated a steam-driven printing that was later converted to electricity. The publishing and printing company installed its first offset press in 1969. The first offset machine that Pustak Bhandar purchased was an Italian machine named Tech 55, a single-color sheetfed press imported from Hungary. Apparently, in those days, Italian companies sold their machines to Hungary on a barter system.

In 1969, Pustak Bhandar purchased a brand new 2-color Planeta Perfecta, imported from West Germany. In 1998, the printing unit was shut down due to personal issues in the family. However, the publishing unit continued till a second partition of the family assets took place in 2004, with the complete business distributed among the second generation of the Saran family. The textbook publishing business known as Pustak Bhandar Publishing House came to the third generation, which is currently running it.

Pustak Bhandar’s third-generation plans for electronic editions

Pustak Bhandar’s associate publisher, Mihir Lochan Saran, says, “Earlier, we used to publish literary books, but now we are strictly in textbook publishing. Piracy has become an issue for publishers, and it has hit the publishing industry very badly. The market is completely flooded with pirated books.”

Books published by Pustak Bhandar Publishing House
Books published by Pustak Bhandar Publishing House.
Photo: IPP

“The Covid-19 period was terrible for us, our publishing work was almost stopped, and only one or two employees were coming to the office. The demand for books was deficient as we hardly sold any books to the vendors or the schools. As we all know, online classes were going on full-fledged during the pandemic, so not a single workbook and exercise book was sold. The pandemic has negatively affected the publishing industry, and we haven’t recovered yet.”

Nevertheless, Lochan is optimistic about the publishing industry’s future and said, “The publishing industry will never die. Printed books are the only product that has no GST. We are hoping that the paperless world will soon come into existence. However, the old generation, or our generation, prefers to read printed books rather than reading them online through audiobooks or the Kindle version. 

“My younger brother is also planning to join the family publishing business to help in reviving it. Together, we have many plans for adding new books and electronic editions of the already published books to our business.”

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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