New Delhi: The Aleph Book Company has announced its first list of titles. The twenty five fiction and non-fiction titles on the company's launch list will be published across five seasons, and will comprise original works by established authors as well as new voices. Ex-Penguin Canada President and novelist David Davidar, Ravi Singh and Kapish Mehra whose company Rupa Publications has partnered Davidar to launch Aleph, talked about their strategy and future plans with IBNLive. Excerpts from the conversation.
David Davidar on the rationale behind The Aleph Book Company
All of us have had many decades of experience in publishing and if you look at the publishing industry, you perceive that there are two kinds of publishers: large and small. We wanted to marry the strengths of large publishers to that of the small publishers. The large publishers have obvious positives, scale, penetration, resource etc. However, there is also a downside - when you are publishing 150-200 books in a year, you do not have enough resources to concentrate on everything that is involved in promoting a book the right way. By resources, I mean marketing. With so many books, you don't have the manpower or the resources to give each of the books the marketing or the attention it deserves.
Small publishers give each book the attention that they deserve, but they just don't have the resources to distribute the book broadly enough and market it enough, as it deserves to be. So, when I started looking around for partner to start this work with, Rupa was a natural choice. They are of course the topmost and best publishers in the country. And they were in turn looking for a high-end publishing company.
As of now is that we will not publish more than 25-30 books in a year, and each of the books will be personally edited or at least planned only by Ravi (Singh) or me, so that each book gets a personalised touch. We want to make a statement with our books. We want to say our production quality is a lot different from and above that of others. We have actually done the same with our website, you won't see any other publisher's website which is done the same way.
We have tried to adopt, innovate and invest in the best possible facets in each one of these areas. And that was possible with Rupa's unrivalled publishing capacity.
David Davidar on what Aleph is aiming for
We want to build a premium publishing brand. We have premium brands for films, TV, magazines etc, we want Aleph to be the premium brand of publishing.
David Davidar on whether it is easy to publish in India
I'll modify that by saying the bar is very low to get published in India. Everybody can get himself or herself published, provided you have a manuscript, an editor, someone who can design a cover and a publisher. And effective publishing is now easier in India than anywhere else in the world because India is the only place where the English readership is still growing. We want to acquire a very particular segment of that market, which is premium literary publishing, and is completely worth a buy. We want to place all our copies in front of the right reader. After that the reader can decide, there's only so much that a publisher can do. You can select the right book, you can edit, package, market and distribute the book well. You can't force someone to read the book.
Kapish Mehra on Aleph's sales and retail strategy
What we've done for Aleph is that Rupa will be the mass-market publisher. And Rupa is in a very unique position in this aspect as they are the publishers as well as the distributors. We happen to be the second-largest publisher in the country and that should work in our favour. Because we are the only ones in the country that publish in the A, B, C and D towns of India. From a Delhi to a Bilaspur to a Gorakhpur to a Bikaner to a Mumbai, we cover the entire map of India equally well. Our target is not only the obvious markets but also markets which have demand. For example, a lot of people may ignore Bhopal but in the past few years it has become one of our most important markets. Basically because they do not have a multiplex, big malls or any such big city charms, reading is alive and is one of the important activities in these towns.
Every Aleph book will be given the deserved marketing and focus, I'm happy to mention that we have got a great response so far, and in the next 2-3 weeks, we will exhaust the print runs of our very first book. And we are starting with 5,000 to 7,000 copies of each. And getting copies of that number in the market within a span of two weeks will actually be quite fantastic. We think.
David Davidar on choosing authors for Aleph
We will go about it in any way that is required to get us the right book. Of the 25 books that we have planned, each was picked up differently. One of our authors is someone whom Ravi K Mehra has published forever, and the latest, Jerry Pinto took more than a decade to write his book. The authors who are writing for us are the ones who have long time connections with us personally. Two of them - Musharraf (Farooqi) and Timeri N Murari - came to us because they wanted to be published by us. So, it covers the entire spectrum. It's a good mix of our choosing the authors and vice-versa. It is a very key part of our strategy that we try to fit the author and the subject really well. While some authors are with us because of the connections, some are bought at the various auctions. We are trying to connect the subject and the authors with a lot more diligence than any other publishers in the market do.
Ravi Singh on Aleph authors
The thing that we don't want to do is lazy publishing. We do not want agents to approach us for auctions and offer us money. We also don't want repeat authors to write for us, that will happen too, but it's a very small part of our work. We want to go to specific writers and do some unique work. One example of that is that we will publish a series of linked novellas on India's major iconic cities like, Patna, Bombay, and Madras etc. We want to make sure that when we say important cities we don't want to stick just to the metros. This may be fascinating for the writers as well as the readers. We are aiming at active-imaginative publishing.
Kapish Mehra on digital books
We are still in talks. We are in talks with many online stores, we have zeroed in on two companies as of now. We will probably have something concrete six months from now. Something unique that we are now looking at is enhanced books, or stand-alone ebooks. This is something nobody has done, or probably even thought about so far. It may sound a little pompous, but it is true. Digital books in fact have a very big space now, especially with the prices of tablets falling. It will open up a completely new segment of the market, which is in fact going to be very interesting to see.
David Davidar on e-publishing
Today soft copies of books and digital (editions) may not be of much significance, but two or three years down the line it will be of great significance to all publishers. The market will in fact expand much more in coming years.