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.”

In 2024, we are looking at full recovery and growth-led investment in Indian printing

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

India is a large and tough terrain and while its book publishing and commercial printing industry have recovered and are increasingly embracing digital print, the Indian newspaper industry continues to recover its credibility and circulation. The signage industry is also recovering and new technologies and audiences such as digital 3D additive printing, digital textiles, and industrial printing are coming onto our pages. Diversification is a fact of life for our readers and like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

India is one of the fastest growing economies in nominal and real terms – in a region poised for the highest change in year to year expenditure in printing equipment and consumables. Our 2024 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock – to emphasize your visibility and relevance to your customers and turn potential markets into conversations.

– Naresh Khanna

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