Karthikeyan Pugalendi
Proprietor, Vanavil Puthakalayam

"Independent publishers have always done better. Basically, the profit margin of a publisher is way lower than that of a media entity."

Badri Seshadri is Managing director of the regional publishing house New Horizon Media. This Chennai-based publisher is also the co-founder of Cricinfo.com. In a twopart interview to Book Link,Seshadri tells our readers, ‘I am excited by a few things. They are closely related. Publishing is one. Education is the second. Human resource/ hiring is the third. Software services is the fourth’.

You have always laid emphasis on the importance of not being wedded to one single idea.

Yes, education, software, publishing, all ideas tempt me.I am either directly involved in some of these or have invested small monies in ventures by others in these areas and am mentoring them. I am quite passionate about teaching and learning and feel that, that is where we need to spend a lot of time, money and effort. Our school and college education is a mess. I own a part of a temp staffing and recruitment company and get involved in its operations a bit. It is a small company and I hope we can make a difference in this space one day.

We are incubating a software service company providing solutions using Zoho platform and plan to grow this substantially. I constantly think about all these ventures and ventures that I mentor or have invested in to see how they can come up with products and services that can make a huge difference to the livelihoods of people. I keep learning new things though I am past the age where I can do innovative things myself. Your best time is when you are in your twenties and thirties. After that, you become really dull and lazy. But you can continue to dream though. In any kind of business, there is a scope for moving up the value chain. Why can’t we move up the value chain as a publisher?

What is the value chain for a book publisher? Other media outlets? Magazines? TV? Internet content sites? Audio publishing? Video documentaries?

I think publishing historically has been a small operation, but a very powerful one. Publishing companies as part of large media houses in the world have not done really well.

Publishers have to find ways of scaling up from where they are. We are talking about tiny publishers in India struggling to make ends meet, almost like the subsistence farmers in our country. We have to work hard in getting more of our people to buy and read books. Once we are making reasonable profits (even on a low profit margin), we can scale our operations much better. I am not too worried about copyright violation andpiracy. My real worry is the low reader base.

With the turn of a decade, we see a new wave of business models. Now it’s all about the tech savvy-ness. Do you forecast any change in the business model that could make the publishing industry nimble and more enterprising?

I will again bring agriculture as a comparison. Like Indian agriculture, Indian publishing is too fragmented and tiny. We need a lot of consolidation. We need reasonable scale. I expect that to happen with the technology. Uberisation will happen in a different way here. Amazon will be the consolidator. They won’t own the books but they will be the middleman selling the electronic books. They will be the go-tosite for publishing electronic books. A lot of popular authors will become publishers in their own light. This will hurt the regular publishers to start with. However, some publishers will emerge out of this stronger. They are the ones who will consolidate more and build bigger business.

You have been one of the front-runners in the linguistic software solution providers. Almost anyone who types in regional languages would have used your tools. There are at least a dozen of groups working on things like OCR, Unicode font typefaces, spell checkers and translation. Why can’t someone like you channelize the efforts for the common good so that we can recommend the features to be incorporated in the software builds for an Adobe, Acrobat or other major designing software?

We offered NHM Writer for free intentionally. Font technology is fairly simple and anybody can come up with decent fonts. But to create a great font is not an easy thing. It takes a lot of science to come up with top class fonts. The other technologies – OCR, Spellchecker etc. are easy enough to make if decent money is invested. We have not seen much money being invested in this space. I expect Amazon, Google and Microsoft pushing innovation in this area.

Translation is a holy grail. There are two approaches, one is what Google has chosen. Large sample and statistical approach. Other is rule based, based on syntactic and semantic parsers, parts of speech taggers and analysers and then building a solid translation engine. This also costs a lot of money to build. We do not have this kind of money. Our academia is also way behind in this kind of research. If our market expands and we start demanding such services, the big companies will make the necessary investments. Many smaller companies may also be encouraged to get into specific products.

I wanted to get seriously into some of these activities by licensing some of these services developed by some academicians. But they have not been too cooperative. So I have decided to wait a bit longer.

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