By Hersh Bhardwaj
Jairam Ramesh, one of India’s ex-cabinet ministers, famously coined the term “Chindia.” India and China have been named in a BRIC report as the two top countries with highest growth potential in the next 50 years. China, as the world’s second largest economy, has been growing at a 7% rate. India’s new prime minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, has discussed inward investments of over $100 billion from around the world. It’s clear that many are now focused on “Chindia.” But are these two nations focusing on each other at all?
Three state-level visits in last twelve months have created an atmosphere of positive enterprise. Investments and ideas in many industries have started to cross the Himalayas. Xiomi, Huawei, Alibaba, Micromax — to name just a few large, globalized companies – are setting up shop in each other’s territories.
But is the Indian publishing industry paying heed? If the participation in national book fairs an indication, no: the sole Chinese presence at the 2015 New Delhi book fair was one Bob Song, president of Royal Collins, China. Meanwhile, the Beijing International Book Fair saw an average of only 3-5 Indian publishers in each of the last five years. Where is the trade happening, if at all?
Being a Beijing Book Fair visitor and consultant to international publishers in helping understand “Chindia” publishing opportunities, I have been maintaining a constant narrative of “Go for It, Why Not!” In my constant endeavor to encourage Indian and Chinese publishers to know each other better, I talk about the following scenarios to make a case:
1. Beijing Book Fair: An Easy Gateway to Chinese Publishing Industry
“In 2014, 15,500 rights deals happened at BIBF, none of that between India and China.”
BIBF is already Asia’s largest book fair. The organizers understand the value of catalyzing business deals and creating an atmosphere of positive expectation. The fair almost pompously presents itself as the gateway and introduction to Chinese’s publishing industry. The fact that it’s thronged by hundreds of American and European publishers every year reflects its value for some of the world’s largest publishers. For Indian publishers, BIBF is a great way to shake hands with the high and mighty of the Chinese industry. That is a golden opportunity for the medium to small publishers of India. They can see the bazaar in its full glory. They can make a correct assessment of the opportunities available. China, with a reputation of being a conservative market in many other domains, is proactively letting their publishing industry welcome and reach out to the global publishing fraternity. Indians must grab this opportunity with both the hands. In 2014, 15,500 rights deals happened at BIBF, none of that between India and China. India must claim their share of the pie.
2. Growing International Presence in China
Apart from the Big Five, not many international publishers have taken the Indian market seriously so far. There are many reasons for it, which are beyond the scope of this post. But China’s case is different. Nearly the entirety of major international publishing, about 200 companies, have set up shops in China already, or are in the process of doing so. This clearly proves that non-Chinese publishers have clearly understood the real business value of investing in China. Both original English and translated content has a ready volume market. India has content in English, as well, and better than ever accessibility to cost-effective translators. Indian publishers are leaving money on the table by not taking the Chinese market seriously. So far, only very few Indian publishers have managed to make any inroads.
Secondly, the existence of international publishing companies in China also enhances China’s ability to attract and absorb content from around the world and feed it back to the international market. Working with China could provide Indian publishers with an indirect channel to reach out to the international market.
3. Enormous Demand for Education and Academic Content
The Indian publishing industry has a thriving business in higher education and the academic market. General trade can’t garner as much volume. This is because of the large number of schools and educational institutions with millions of students who require billions of books every year. The Chinese market is hungrier than ever for such content — not only for their domestic consumption, but to repackage and ship it forward to international territories.
Compared to US/UK books in China, Indian books can be made available for a cheaper rate. A typical cost is $4-8, which leaves enough of a margin for an Indian publisher to earn big profits. With a population of 1.4 billion people looking for great international content, China has to be a focus area for Indian publishers.
Deals with Chinese libraries and academic institutions are happening worldwide and paving the way for content repackaging and recycling. A debate has been brewing for last few years within India regarding ebook piracy. Traditional publishers with printed content have been apprehensive to go digital. Discussing this with their Chinese counterparts can help Indian publishers see the bigger picture.
4. Expansion of English-Language Readership
A common misconception that many Indian publishers have is about the size of the English-language market in China. They have been led to believe that only American or British content sells in China. Also, the actual number of rapidly expanding English readers hasn’t created enough impact for Indian publishers to give it serious thought. But the fact is that China has a rapidly growing appetite for English-language content and there is no reason why quality Indian content can’t sell as well as any other. As discussed in the previous point, India has tons of education and academic content that China will gladly soak up.
General trade fiction and non-fiction should also pay heed to this growing opportunity to connect with English readers in China looking for different kind of literature from across the world. This is an age where a biography of Steve Jobs can sell well in English in China. Why can’t books from India with Indian themes and examples sell in China? English is a common bridge that binds both the nations. A great example of this is the latest acquisition of Jack Ma’s authorized biography by GBD Books of India in collaboration with Royal Collins China. This is the kind of partnership that will build business on both sides of the Himalayas. Kaushal Goyal, MD of GBD Books said this after the rights deal, “I’m excited to acquire a book about one of China’s great entrepreneurs, but more importantly, it’s a first step to a long-lasting business with the Chinese publishing industry.”
5. Opportunities for Two-Way Business
“We want a two-way business with China. That’s why for the first time we are taking both our exports and imports directors to BIBF 2015,” says Mohan Kalsi, exports-director for NCBA, one of the largest Indian exporters of books.
Jack Ma’s book has shown that Indian publishers are willing to bring Chinese content to India. There are tremendous ideas to import back from China. Areas of collaboration are immense, but more players need to participate. Some exporters have used Chinese printers to fulfill their international orders. Even international publishers, such as, Harper Collins India expressed their desire to send their catalogue of Indian books to BIBF this year. More are joining in. If Chinese publishers are able to reciprocate and do a two-way business, the flood gates of revenue will open for both sides. Bob Song, who visited New Delhi World Book Fair 2015 in February for the first time, was surprised to find lack of proactive interest from Indian side. He identified big opportunities for English editions of Chinese books in India.
China is the guest country at New Delhi World Book Fair in 2016. That’s a crucial point in Indo-China publishing journey. The orchestra will assemble and start on the first day of BIBF 2015 and, hopefully, the partnership will reach its crescendo at New Delhi in 2016.