HarperCollins India –30 years of an eventful publishing journey

HarperCollins CEO Anantha Padmanabhan talks to Indian Printer & Publisher about children’s books and new authors, the digital revolution in publishing and the philosophy behind its new office

HarperCollins CEO Anantha Padmanabhan. Photo HarperCollins

In 2022, publishing major HarperCollins completed 30 years of business operations in India. Starting its journey way back in 1992, over the past three decades, HarperCollins India has carved out a niche for itself in the Indian publishing landscape – putting out between 180-200 books in the adult catalog and about 30-40 books in their children’s catalog every year.

More than half of the books published by HarperCollins are by first-time writers, benefitting debut authors who are getting a launch platform. The company, which also represents many other Indian and foreign publishers, is in the process of adding a few thousand new books over the next year.

HarperCollins India recently won the Publisher of the Year award at Tata Lit Live! –the second consecutive year and the fourth time it has won the award. The company also received the highest number of nominations in the category.

“This is our sixth Publisher of the Year Award. We were awarded twice by the Publishing Next Industry Awards, and four times by Tata Lit Live! It is a moment of great pride, and gratitude to our authors, colleagues and booksellers who have recognized what we bring to our audiences in India as a publisher. The HarperCollins India team is not only one of the most experienced in India, but arguably the most passionate and committed. I can tell you from personal experience that it is a team that really loves publishing books,” Anantha Padmanabhan, chief executive officer, HarperCollins, told Indian Printer & Publisher.

Focus on children’s publishing

The publishing major works with many printers in India and has stakes in both the trade and education businesses with complex production needs. Collins Learning is HarperCollins’ education imprint that publishes for the K-12 market in CBSE, CISCE and state board curricula in India. Collins UK publishes Cambridge-endorsed international curriculum, with books available for international schools in India.

“Our textbooks are taught in more than 11,000 schools in India with more than six million students learning from them daily. Collins Infinity is a fully integrated program that allows schools to teach our books online and offline,” Padmanabhan says.

“Books sales continue to show a very healthy trend – and we are selling a lot more than before. The sales of children’s books are at an all-time high and that is a welcome trend. Children who become readers at an early age are readers of the future, and will inspire more people to read. The education business, in which we are a major player, was affected by the prolonged closure of schools but has bounced back. We are seeing a big increase in private school enrolments,” he says.

HarperCollins India represents about 14 other publishers, including from India and abroad. It represents Juggernaut, Speaking Tiger and Navayana (Independent Indian publishers) and a whole range of international publishers – Oneworld, Harvard University Press, Gallup, Bonnier, Usborne and many more. “It is part of our strategy for India to bring the best books from around the world to readers in India,” says Padmanabhan.

“HarperCollins works within the group, our primary companies in UK and the US to take Indian authors abroad, and also work with English and foreign language publishers by selling publishing rights for other markets,” he adds.

Translations from Indian languages

Translations from Indian languages into English have been in the limelight in the last few years with Tomb of Sand, the English translation of Geetanjali Shree‘s Hindi work Ret Samadhi, winning the coveted International Booker prize. All five books in the JCB Prize for Literature shortlist in 2022 were translations. Translated works are gaining popularity as readers have started paying attention to such works following their impressive mark at national and international literary events.

Harper Perennial, presently in its 11th year, is HarperCollins’ imprint for literature in translation. One of India’s oldest and most awarded imprints, it has since published a wide variety of books from across Indian languages. At Harper US, an imprint called Harper Via features translated literature.

Padmanabhan says, “Our editors are always looking to bring in books that represent India – through its various languages and contexts. HarperCollins strives to ensure that our employees and authors represent a variety of cultures, diverse backgrounds and unique viewpoints that shape our world. We publish content that presents a diversity of voices and speaks to the global community. We promote industry and company initiatives that represent people of all ethnicities, races, genders and gender identities, sexual orientations, ages, classes, religions, national origins and abilities.”

The digital connection

There has been a metamorphosis in book publishing with a digital revolution as readers now favor Kindle and online reading platforms to read on the go. The Covid-19 pandemic spurred the demand for eBooks and audio books as physical bookstores remained closed during the lockdowns. In keeping with the trend, HarperCollins too is going the whole hog on digital.

“India is one of the most digitally connected populations in the world and it goes without saying that a big chunk of our time and resources go towards promoting our books and authors through all available digital mediums – our website, our award winning newsletter Harper Broadcast, our education newsletter Collins Broadcast, all our social media handles (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn) and other collaborative platforms. Our readers are present across many platforms simultaneously. So we publish across print, electronic and audio, and use all of them to promote a book,” says Padmanabhan.

Design with a purpose

HarperCollins is widely recognized and awarded for its splendid cover designs. “Our art director Bonita Vaz, who publishes books into Harper Design imprint, is always particular about our cover designs having a purpose – very high not just on aesthetic but also their ability to create a connection between a book and its reader. We have one of the most experienced teams in publishing and work with a lot of freelancers from India and abroad for our design aesthetics,” he says.

In 2022, HarperCollins was awarded the India’s Best Design Project 2022 by Kahani Design Works for its recent book, Mumbai – A City Through Objects by Tasneem Mehta, published under the Harper Design imprint.

The year 2022 marked another milestone for HarperCollins as it moved to its new Gurugram office, which has been designed with the pandemic-driven work culture in mind. “We knew that the post-pandemic world is going to look different, and that we are going to have to work differently. Colleagues will not only work from anywhere in the country but not everyone is going to be in office on all days,” Padmanabhan says.

Its new office, which is about half the earlier size, is a modern set-up, full of natural light, a lot of bookshelves and ‘hot’ desks. It is a space designed for better interaction between teams. “While we do have workstations, more than half the space is for collaborative meetings. We’ve removed all desk phones, encouraging people to walk across and talk to each other. There is no designated seating – so every desk is a ‘hot desk’. It is an office where we will have a lot of authors coming in. So we wanted a space where authors can work out of, if they would like to,” Padmanabhan concludes.

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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