Interview – Mihir Lochan Saran of Pustak Bhandar Publishing House

Third-generation Patna publisher looks at Kindle and audiobooks

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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.”

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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