Sterling Publishers
Vol. 3 No. 4 March 2009

STRAND'S SHANBHAG - (Reader + Visionary + Bookseller) is no more
A move to remove custom duty on Paper
The World of Wooden Books!
Kamasutra – The Heavy Edition
GLOBALOCAL: The Publisher's Round Table
The Miniature Hanuman Chalisa
Of Libel and Cold Feet
Crossword at Crossroads
Innovations and investment at ACK Media
Exhibition of Printing and Book Production in Bengal
Publishers and Authors Create an e-forum for Aspiring Authors
Creative measures to meet the bear hug
Modern books in Sanskrit!
The Bone of Contention
Rajkamal institutes awards for Writers in Hindi
Indian characters Going Global!
The Frankfurt Fellowship Programme: Opportunity for Young Publishers
Sara Miller McCune

  • A six-day intensive programme for emerging and intermediate editors to be taught by some of India's top luminaries in the publishing industry.
  • Get hands-on experience from some of the top editors of India.
  • Sharpen your editorial skills in one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratio course.

Dear Publishing Professionals,

February-March has been very active in the publishing scene. The German Book Office (GBO) organised a publishing round table conference on 27th February at the Park Hotel. They invited participants from Argentina, China, UK, Germany, Morocco apart from India. I was also invited and shared my views about the Global financial crisis and its impact.

TERI Press organised "Pathways to Green Publishing 2009", on 14th march at India Habitat Centre. The annual event was well attended and speakers shared their views on various aspects of the economics of ecological practices in the industry.

T N Shanbhag of Strand Book Stall, Mumbai, passed away peacefully on 27th February. He revolutionized book selling in India and has been probably the only man to be awarded Padma Shri not for writing books but for selling them.

I visited Strand about two decades ago during my visit to Mumbai for the marketing of Sterling Books and I still remember how well he treated me and placed an order with me. So this month I have not interviewed anyone, but compiled a short biography as my humble tribute to that great leading revolutionary bookseller.

(Reader + Visionary + Bookseller) is no more

Tekkatte Narayan Shanbhag, the legendary bookseller, passed away peacefully on the morning of Friday 27th February, 2009 at his Pedder Road residence. He was 85.

Students, authors, academicians, celebrities, opinion makers, publishers and the high and mighty in India, all alike knew him as the BOOKSELLER. The nation rewarded him with the Padma Shri in 2003, not for being an author but for being a one man revolution in bookselling in India.

He was born the son of a rich landlord in a village in south Karnataka in 1925. But his father passed away when he was only two-and-a-half years old. His mother was from a poor family and could barely read Kannada. An uncle who was staying with them as a dependent managed to grab all their property, including his mother’s jewellery, and even refused to have him educated.

Undeterred, the young Shanbhag sat for the poor boy’s fund examination, stood first and studied with the help of the scholarship. A voracious reader since his childhood, he completed his matriculation, joined St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai and took up a part-time job to support himself through college. Such was his passion for books that in those days, he would walk all the way to Tardeo from college to save the Rs 5 monthly tram fare, and buy books instead.

At times he used to visit a big bookstall in Bombay. One day the salesman denied him entry and rudely asked him what he wanted. When he expressed the desire to browse through Penguin’s cheap editions, he was given a disdainful look, and unceremoniously denied.

This offensive incident left a deep impression on Shanbhag and he decided to open a bookshop where people would be allowed to browse unhindered. Then began the arduous two years when he skipped meals, walked instead of taking trams and made many other sacrifices to amass his capital. At the end of it, he began looking for a kiosk with a capital of Rs 450. This was in the late 1940s, when Mumbai had just 12.5 lakh inhabitants, and stretched from Colaba to Boribunder.

He settled for a ‘hole in the wall’ in Strand Cinema, one of the six theatres that screened English films at that time. In the owner K K Modi, a self-made man, Shanbhag found a willing ear. Modi understood his earnestness and set up a kiosk for him.

On November 20, 1948, he inaugurated the kiosk at Strand. He began with two basic principles, talking to customers and building relationships with them and offering small discounts. Soon, prominent people like Sir Ambalal Sarabhai, the then Bank of India chairman, and the retired Diwan of Mysore, Mirza Ismail became his customers. The first three years were a struggle with a mere Rs 1,200 monthly sale. In the third year, sales rose 10-fold and the business became viable. He got married around this time.

In 1953, VH Gumaste, chief government pleader in the High Court, offered him a place in Fort. Shanbhag’s client, Chief Justice M C Chagla, became his guarantor and the Strand Book Stall found its new premises in Fort in November. Around 1960, Shanbhag made his first million. By then his customers included T T Krishnamachari, Y B Chavan and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Shanbhag continued to offer discounts; and made it a point to sell good books at very competitive prices, keeping his margins really low. It was his belief that knowledge like air should be free. In offering discounts, he became the first one to break the anti-reader Net Book Agreement (NBA). He was the only bookseller in the world who offered a 20 per cent discount on published prices to his clients out of 25 per cent available to distributors. The Agreement prevented a bookseller from giving discounts and until then booksellers had not dared defy publishers for fear of stoppage of book supplies.

Shanbhag derived unmitigated pleasure from the experience of watching people come to life in the healing and redeeming presence of books. His children inherited his love for books. His daughter and later on his partner Virkar opened the Strand Book Stall in Bangalore 13 years ago. His son Arun, is the CEO, Rising Book Company in the US.

Shanbhag’s literary influence rubbed off on many. His illustrious list of clients included Dr APJ Kalam, a young scientist then, industrialist JRD Tata, writers Khushwant Singh and VS Naipaul. Once Khushwant Singh declared on a BBC show, that Strand was the only ‘personal bookshop’ in India.

He was known to be in constant touch with Indian and foreign authors enhancing his knowledge on the kind of books he should read, collect and sell. With his huge and varied collection he began the Annual Strand Book Stall Sale, at the spacious Sunderbai Hall in South Mumbai. The venue plays host to thousands of readers for the 20 days of the sale. The sale sees more than 30,000 titles.

Once he told the press in no uncertain terms that “those who say that people do not read anymore are liars, they do not know what they are talking about”. His success, he explained, is because he is more of a book reader than a book trader. “I am on the same side of the counter as the reader; I give discounts till it hurts.” He views other booksellers as traders who could just as well be selling shoes. He was a voracious reader and had a personal collection of 6,500 titles, of which he read every single one.

Shanbhag, was honoured with a Padma Shri in 2003. Too little too late, some may say. The intellectual world in India owes a deep debt to him for making available the best books in all disciplines of knowledge at affordable prices. The honour elated him but more so the affection of his innumerable friends from all walks of life all over the world. Shanbhag said, “I am elated, of course. I think my friends Soli Sorabjee, N Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji and others recommended my name for the honour. As you know I have never sought nor wangled for honours in my life,” He was, of course, more comfortable with books alone, his lifelong source of divine joy.

Despite the emerging competition, Shanbhag never succumbed to the pressures of the marketplace and refused to stock even a greeting card, let alone a soft toy. He expressed his views to a newspaper, saying, “I firmly believe, as a bookseller, that the moment you divert money into anything other than books, you are insulting Saraswati.” He found other ways to expand his business and saw the setting up of the website With the help of the website he hoped to spawn several Strand outlets nationwide. However he did not believe that the internet would ever dispense with the need to 'see and feel' a book prior to purchase.

Shanbhag did not give in to the frills of coffee and music at his bookstore. A booklover himself, he sought to make books affordable and accessible to many who are laymen as he once was. In his ardent pursuit for a warm space that would provide unmetered book browsing privileges, and be commercially viable, he has left an enviable footprint that many will aspire to.

A move to remove custom duty on Paper
Mr S.C. Sethi, the President of the Federation of Publishers & Booksellers Association in India sent representations to the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Human Resource Development Minister to remove the custom duty on the import of paper in order to help Indian publishers offer competitive prices in the world market. CAPEXIL has also sent a detailed representation to the Ministry of Commerce, regarding this. Both representations were made keeping in mind that paper constitutes 60-65% of the book production cost. I hope other publishing associations will take up this issue seriously.

The World of Wooden Books!
A unique set of books attracted attention in a book fair held at Jaipur recently. The books dubbed “cupboard”, are made of wood rather than paper and are fully hand illustrated without any accompanying text. The books can be of sizes ranging from 3 inches to 6 feet and prices from Rs 300 to Rs 3,000. The books were traditionally made by the Jangir Sathar community and the craft is being carried forward commercially by the residents of Bassi village in Chittorgarh. The State Government is also taking steps to revive this age old indigenous craft and make it commercially viable for its practitioners.

The subjects of the book span from local folklore of Maharana Pratap and Rani Laxmibai, to depiction of Krishna and Rama, to contemporary issues like sex education, and basic literacy.

Kamasutra – The Heavy Edition
The latest stud from the Roli stables is the Collector’s Edition Kamasutra priced at Rs 12,500, and weighing approximately 8 kilograms! It comes packaged in a handcrafted box of pure silk and features rare miniatures in gouache and tantric paintings, with images sourced from prestigious institutions like UK’s Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge University. This version has been edited by Sandhya Mulchandani, and has a foreword by renowned psychologist Sudhir Kakar.

GLOBALOCAL: The Publisher’s Round Table
The conference was held on 27 th February at The Park Hotel, New Delhi. The conference dealt with issues concerning the ‘flattening of the world’ due to the global nature of today’s businesses. The more businesses globalize, the more they have to customise themselves to the local culture and ethos. The converse is also true in local businesses adapting to global trends and technologies in order to survive in an increasingly competitive world. The conference saw participants from Argentina, China, UK, Germany and Morocco along with those from India.

The Miniature Hanuman Chalisa
The eight-day Industrial Handicraft Fair in Varanasi saw the world’s smallest Hanuman Chalisa put up on sale by Mr Raj Kumar Verma of Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. The chalisa is a one-square-cm block, with 45 pages and 22 illustrations of Hanumanji in his various forms. The miniature book took 6 months to finish and requires a magnifying glass to read. Verma has been into micro-painting for 33 years, and has also been honoured by a UP State Handicraft Award in 1992.

Of Libel and Cold Feet
Gone are the days when author and publisher shared goodwill, now all that remains is the commercial aspect. Recently Random House India pulled out of a publishing commitment with young journalist-writer Aatish Taseer for his book Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands. He is the son of Pakistan’s Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who it was anticipated, might have sued the publishers for bringing out the book. The other not so faint of heart 4 publishers got into the bidding war and the MSS finally went to a triumphant Picador.

The other biggie Penguin pulled out of publishing Himani Dalmia’s chicklitish tale Life is Perfect because a trouble making politician had decided to file a libel suit. In this case Rupa came to the rescue and decided to publish the book.

Crossword at Crossroads
Two Crossword outlets, one at Ghaziabad’s Pacific Mall and another at MGF Metropolitan Mall at Saket were shutdown in what is being seen as a consequence of the economic meltdown. Booklovers in the capital opine that the steep rentals are forcing these decisions and some concessions should be offered to bookstore owners in these tough times. However, the deputy manger, Marketing, Sivaraman Balakrishnan said that the move was in the pipeline for a while because the outlets were not garnering enough profits and also that the Saket outlets were in two adjacent malls and therefore it made business sense to shut down one.

The company has 51 outlets throughout the country, with a presence in twelve cities and it envisages the opening of more outlets in Delhi in the next three months. A courageous move in difficult times making it an opportunity. The capital’s booklovers would definitely say cheers to that.

Innovations and investment at ACK Media
ACK Media took over the publishing of the famous ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ series from India Book House in 2007. Since its inception the series have featured folk tales, legends and myths of India. For the first time in their history of 40 years they plan to profile living persons who have brought glory to the country and would prove to be an inspiration to the younger generation. Their first such attempt will be with Infosys chief N R Narayana Murthy who has permitted them to go ahead with it. Others in consideration are former President APJ Abdul Kalam, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, and physicists Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai.

ACK Media plans to invest $15-20milion dollars in the next two-three years on expanding their presence in India. The investment would focus on spreading its operations across platforms like retailing and digital medium; making further acquisitions, and at increasing their portfolio of characters and titles. They also look forward to work with brands that would help build their portfolio in terms of both distribution and content.

Exhibition of Printing and Book Production in Bengal
The exhibition was held from 16 th to 21st February in Rabindranath Tagore Centre, of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Kolkata. The first printing press was set up in Kolkata in 1777 by James Augustus Hicky.

The exhibition charts the journey of the progress of printing technology and its application down the decades through viewer friendly charts and illustrations, and the display of some very old printing presses.

The oldest of these, dating back to 1869, is a hand press manufactured by Hopkins and Co. and used by PM Bagchi & Co that still publishes almanacs.

The research on the exhibition was presented by the School of Cultural Texts and Records, Jadavpur University and began almost a year ago. The Director of the School, Sukanta Chaudhuri said, “The exhibition is meant to make us aware of what we have got and what we are throwing away.”

Publishers and Authors Create an e-forum for Aspiring Authors
Oxford Bookstore, in collaboration with Readers Digest,,, HarperCollins and New Writing Partnership, came up with the contest, “e-authors version5.0” create an e-forum for aspiring authors. This was the fifth year of the contest and it saw 636 entries worldwide, for the two categories—novels and short stories.

The judges included Antara Deb Sen, editor, The Little Magazine, Chris Gribble, Chief Executive Officer, the New Writing Partnership, and Saugata Mukherjee, Senior Commissioning Editor, HarperCollins India, among others.

Creative measures to meet the bear hug
As the market crumbles under the bear hug of recession, booksellers are adopting to new technologies to survive. Set up a year before Independence, the Maria Brothers in Shimla, an antique bookstore on the winding Mall, attracts booklovers and antique hunters from all over the world. It also finds mention in travel guides like The Lonely Planet. Not only does the shop house about 8,000 rare volumes, it is also home to several precious Victorian era paintings, wood carvings, lithographs, idols, maps, motifs and antique pottery.

However, with the economic slowdown and a resultant slump in tourism, the shop owner Rajiv Sood is looking to use the Internet to put his business online to boost his sales and keep from shutting the 300 sq ft bookshop.

Modern books in Sanskrit!
The Sanskrit Bharti, a non-profit organisation, is getting modern books translated into Sanskrit. Books like Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and APJ Abdul Kalam’s Wings of Fire are currently being translated by the organisation. Groups in 18 cities in India are currently engaged in the translation of 300 books of contemporary fiction from various languages. The organisation is also trying to obtain the copyright of books by RK Narayan, VS Naipaul, Jhumpa Lahiri, Shiv Khera and Arundhati Roy. Sanskrit Bharti is a non- profit organisation working to bring Sanskrit back into daily life. It is a wing of the RSS. The NGO is active in 16 countries and their books can be bought online at

The Bone of Contention
The book business in India is feeling the ripples of the Walmart Effect. Bookstore chains are offering discounts of between 25-40% in order to lure customers. Chainstores like Odyssey engage in volume buying, and are therefore able to offer these incredible discounts that small retail outlets are unable to do. Adding to the challenge is the emerging trend of online books that are portable and mostly free to download.

Publishers feel that these chainstores are passing on most of the profit margin they make on the books and this move will be unsustainable unless they manage to sell books in large numbers. Most small bookstore owners however, are banking on their long relations with their customers, the warmth and choice they have to offer as opposed to chainstores that are largely commercial. Booklovers are being spoilt for choice by both sides.

Rajkamal institutes awards for Writers in Hindi
At the occasion of their 60 th anniversary (established on 28 February 1947) Mr. Ashok Maheshwari, the Head of the organisation, made an announcement that they would bestow awards of one lakh rupees each to 60 best manuscripts each year. The chosen manuscripts will be published by them and authors will receive royalties for the same. They also announced scholarships of Rs 500 a month for students pursuing MA in Hindi in Northeast India.

They also launched the “Pass it On” program which would entail seven of their bestsellers being sent each year to various institutions so that students may recommend them to each other in order to spread the beauty of the written word.

Indian characters Going Global!
Diamond Comics, the Publishers of the Chacha Chaudhary series have tied up with License India to create merchandise for the characters of the comic series. Merchandise will be made of the venerable old detective Chacha Chaudhary, his gigantic friend Saboo; Billoo, Pinki and Shrimatiji. The merchandise will be available after eight months in 15 nations across the world including US, UK and Canada among others. This will not only enliven fond memories of a generation of Indians living abroad, but would also introduce their children to Indian toon characters. An animation film based on the characters is also on the cards for next year.

Pepper the sprightly, lovable puppy, an offering from Sterling Publishers, has also wooed young kids all over the world and is travelling in various countries and has already made home in Greece.

This is a happy trend indeed for children’s publishing in India.

The Frankfurt Fellowship Programme: Opportunity for Young Publishers
This prestigious programme focuses on information exchange, professional dialogue and the creation of networks between young international publishers. Nearly 200 participants from more than 50 countries have so far gained from the experience of being a Frankfurt Fellow, including Indian publishing professionals like Ms. Deepthi Talwar, Senior Commissioning Editor with Westland, Mr Saugata Mukherjee, Senior Commissioning Editor with HarperCollins India; Mr Vikas Ghai, Sterling Publisher; Mr Sidharth Malhotra, Orient Paperbacks and Mr Thomas V.C., Publisher of VC Books.

Interested candidates are invited to download the form and find more information at,

Applications are to be sent between 1st March to 30th April to Mrs Martina Stemann, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , +49(0) 69 2102 244

Sara Miller McCune

Co-founder and Chair of Sage Publications, Sara Miller McCune visited India recently. Her endeavour to spread the printed word began in the 1960s, when she set up the book and journal publishing house, SAGE, in collaboration with her husband George D. McCune.

As the world struggles with a market in recession McCune has expansion plans for India, commencing with “partnering with local publishers to come up with books in Tamil and Malayalam”, as well as exploring the regional market with translations of their English titles.

She is a renowned philanthropist who generously funds projects that deal with primary education in countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia. She supports deserving students who opt for higher studies by The Miller-McCune fellowship among other initiatives. In her own words: ‘Our preference is for programmes in which those involved remain in the community and impact public policy’. SAGE India instituted two fellowships in memory of Tejeshwar Singh and hope to increase the number of fellowships.

Organisation: PHI Learning
Vacancy: Promotions Executive based at Delhi

.Job Profile: The candidate will handle all aspects of promotion such as preparation of advertisements and promotional material, organizing events and exhibitions, mailing database and online mailing, etc. The candidate should have good written and oral skills.

About PHI: The organisation has been a forerunner in the publishing of higher academic and professional books and has tie ups with the likes of Microsoft, NIIT and others.

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