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Publishers betting big on business books

By Sayantani Kar in New Delhi
February 21, 2008 14:25 IST
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The trailblazing India Inc. has found an admirer in book publishing companies. Some of them think that stories on Ratan Tata and Nandan Nilekani, for example, will offer greater value to Indian readers than, say, a book on Jack Welch.

According to plans that are still nebulous, publishers such as Penguin and Wiley India are collaborating with well-known Indian companies for a series of books covering people profiles and company strategies.

Penguin Portfolio, Penguin's sub-brand or imprint formed in 2006 to publish business books, has zeroed in on the Tata group and Godrej, to begin with.  Udayan Mitra, senior managing editor, Portfolio, Penguin Books, makes it clear that they are yet to sign on the dotted line, but adds, "We would look at biographies of past leaders in these organisations. Information, documents and photographs for the books would come from their archives; we would only provide them with a business writer".

Wiley India, part of John Wiley & Sons, that boasts of imprints such as 'Dummies' and 'Bibles', is forging out on similar lines. It has already signed up two of the top five IT companies in the country to bring their in-house knowledge on both business and technology to the readers. Next on the anvil are deals with CxOs for their stories.

Paras Bansal, senior manager, acquisitions (at Wiley), explains, "The senior management will talk of the obstacles they have overcome, their strategies for the future, basically their winning formula". Such exemplary practitioners should find more takers as Bansal points out, "They actually practice what others only think of. It will make for a compelling read for a wide range of readers, while books by management thinkers usually appeal to professionals only."

But it is the growing popularity of the 'Made in India' badge that has got the publishers excited. Mitra of Penguin explains, "Much of the stuff dwelt on by management gurus abroad is specific to the US and the UK markets. Authors who have worked in India will talk of strategies that have succeeded here".

Mitra reveals the need to diversify with books that have a popular tint: "We have to compete with different reading sources such as the Internet. Trend-setters and varied content from different partners will help us win our readers' attention".

The interest in publishing popular business titles, rather than hard core trade books, has been spurred by the exponential growth in demand for such books in India. The popular business segment comprises books on management strategies and leadership mantras.

But they also include biographies, case studies and popular business subjects that make for an effortless but engrossing read. The segment straddles a spectrum where books on functional expertise are on one end and quick-reads such as 'how-to's on the other.

Declares Mitra: "It (business books) is one of the fastest growing divisions at Penguin". Penguin Portfolio has already released around 20 titles in just two years and managed to produce books such as 'The Case of the Bonsai Manager' (by Tata Sons R Gopalakrishnan), that has sold over 10,000 copies within five months of its release. Among its other titles are Rama Bijapurkar's "We are Like That Only" and V Raghunathan's "Games Indians Play".

Mitra sees business books sales doubling in the next three years and surpassing those clocked by fiction. "Business non-fiction today can sell 10,000 copies and more, while three years back a fiction bestseller could boast of selling only 5,000 copies", Mitra observes.

For better sales, publishers are holding back on the austere, jargon-ridden business writing. Wiley's Indian publishing programme not only encourages Indian authors but the editors to "work like auditors instead, asking for crisp, anecdote-filled matter", says Bansal.

Organised retail is also fuelling growth in sales of business books, feels Mitra. "With the hypermarket format, the perception of books as specialty items is set to change", he says. Reliance's TimeOut and Deccan Chronicle's Odyssey have now joined the ranks with Crosswords, Oxford and Landmark.

Oxford Bookstore sees its 'Top 10' section across the 20 stores it has populated by business titles. At Reliance's TimeOut stores, business and marketing books clock the highest sales in the non-fiction category.

Penguin Portfolio and Wiley India have approached companies for publishing deals. 
The business books will cover people profiles and business strategies of companies.

Some popular business titles have rivalled fiction bestsellers, selling as many as 10,000 copies

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Sayantani Kar in New Delhi
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