From rags to riches: Matta of publishing

In a trade industry where there are so many international players dominating the market, CBS has scripted a unique success story in the Medical Sciences and Technology (STM) textbooks & reference book market. Starting off as a young apprentice to his brothers, where he used to sell books over the counter at their retail store in Nai Sarak, Satish Kumar Jain has established himself as one of the most renowned names in the publishing industry. He happens to have a great memory and can recall names of books which he used to sell 30-40 year ago. Book Link talks to this man, who is affectionately referred to in the industry as ‘Matta’ (originating from the phrase, ‘In shoes Bata, in steel Tata, and in books Matta’), to bring to our readers his success story.

From the time CBS was established in 1972, it has grown tremendously. What has been your mantra for success?

During my early years, when I used to help my brother in selling books at our retail store in Nai Sarak, I experienced first-hand the demand of consumers. My initial years were all about learning and gathering experience, as I travelled a lot to understand the nitty-gritties of the book trade. This enhanced my understanding of the market and over the years, I became more confident in selecting the books which I felt would work well in the market. Simultaneously, I also began attending book fairs in India as well as abroad. Frankfurt Book Fair even awarded me with a certificate of honour for attending the fair continuously for 25 years. All these experiences, together with working honestly and according to the market demand and treating our customers as a door of success, helped us in our journey.

CBS is majorly into publishing Medical Sciences and Technology (STM) textbooks and reference book market. How was the market like when you first entered the publishing trade industry?

Yes, when we first entered the market there was a lot of competition from established books of foreign publishers. Since medical textbooks were introduced in India by the British, most books were of British publishers and these were the ones being taught in schools and colleges. There were only a few books published in India, but their quality of production, printing paper etc were quite poor. We published books which were made available in simple and easy English language, and promoted them extensively from college to college, slowly building up the demand. We kept our books at low prices by keeping low margins or importing books in bulk or reprinting them under licence to reduce the selling price, and this helped us develop a market for us.

Was there a particular title which gave you a breakthrough in the industry?

A:Yes, we entered with books on ophthalmology by Dr Agarwal. Later, success came through three volumes of Human Anatomy by B D Chaurasia as well as many titles reprinted from reputed publisher at affordable price under licence from foreign publishers and authors.

What was the company’s turnover in the previous year, and what are your expectations from this year? Do you think the recent demonitisation is going to have any effect on it?

Last year our turnover was Rs 172 crores (approx.) and this year also, if situation remains the same, we are hoping it to be close to last year’s turnover. But if the government releases funds towards education, then we may get reasonable growth.

Demonetisation effects will initially be negative as people are busy arranging essential needs. However, we expect a bright future as our business depends upon educational activity and government’s support through educational aids provided to university and colleges.

What kind of research goes into publishing such books? Are any of the content also outsourced from third party research organisations?

Yes, we reprint established books of foreign publishers while also encouraging young authors to write books which were missing at the time of their study. Once an author approaches us with a new book, we ask them to submit the synopsis of the book with the content (names of the chapters) and a sample chapter to form a basic understanding of the book. We then get feedbacks from students and teachers, and then accordingly go ahead with publishing it.

Technology keeps evolving.. What practices do you follow to keep your published titles updated?

We follow an annual process where our boys visit different colleges to get feedbacks from students and teachers, as well as from booksellers in the market. You have to adopt and accept the changes which come, through these feedbacks.

Depending on the topic of the title, we come out with their revised editions. So, for instance, for clinical and medicinal titles we revise the books in 3-4 years, for basic sciences the revision takes place in 4-5 years, while technology books are revised often in 3-5 or more years depending upon development in that area. So, any new trend that we come to know of from these feedbacks, we add them to the revised editions.

What are some of the challenges that you face as a publisher, both in the Indian and the international market?

International publishers have a larger reach in context of coverage area, so their books are selling in high numbers. Sustainability for them has a better scope than for us. Larger publishers have higher resources and have larger areas to cover in terms of the countries they sell. If their books are picked up in even 3 or 4 markets out of the many countries they sell in, they would be successful.

We are more focused on commonwealth countries like India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and also some African countries. Off late, we have also started selling in European markets. It’s difficult to match the kind of promotion and marketing which large publishers are capable of, but we are gradually overcoming those challenges.

Which are your most successful title(s) in terms of reprints and sales?

There are many titles, naming them here will not be appropriate nor justified as there are many elements of success. Naming them according to sales, quantity, number of reprint’s and edition are not possible. We recently even published reprints of McGraw-Hills’ titles which had been discontinued 30 years ago as it was economically unviable for them. But we took exclusive rights for them and came out with its reprints which are now successfully selling in the market. This practice we are doing with Taylor & Francis and many more publishers also.

What are your future plans for CBS?

To meet the current trends and demands of e-books, CBS has stared publishing e-books under Eduport Global and 500 books have been converted so far. Expansion is under plan towards developed countries, but we have not yet finalised things as we are waiting for a suitable opportunity.