Of Sales, Rights and Book Fairs: Masterclasses with Manasi Subramaniam

The role of marketing in the publishing industry in this day and age has become of paramount importance. To delve into the details of this aspect of publishing, we had Manasi Subramaniam, from HarperCollins, over for two masterclasses. Her comprehensive presentation and explanation clarified all the doubts regarding the Indian book market which is the third largest market in the world for English books with a compound annual growth rate of over 30 per cent. The Indian publishing sector has over 19,000 publishers across all languages, including English, producing around 90,000 books a year. The trend does not stop there; India also exports to countries like Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Even countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Oman import books from India.

The selling of rights form a significant part of any publishing house’s agenda. Generating a foreign rights revenue stream is also a good way to garner readership from across the world, Manasi said. Selling rights can occur in India in two ways: one, between the various language (including English) publishers within India, and second, between Indian publishers and foreign publishers. This is an important but challenging process.

Manasi then spoke about book fairs—not the retail events, but the business to business events—where rights, licenses, etc. are traded and publishers make deals. From the publisher’s perspective, she mentioned four main book fairs: the Frankfurt Book Fair, the largest and perhaps oldest of the lot; the London Book Fair, the best way to get into the UK market; the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, exclusive but very important for children’s book publishers, and the Book Expo America, by far the most effective way to enter the US market. She elaborated on the two types of visitors that these fairs get: the exhibitor and the trade visitor. Based on the need and capacity of the publisher, they can either have a stand at the book fair or just visit to make deals.

For any publisher, preparing for the book fair is a major part of the process—to select the titles and research territories where those titles can do well, to research potential publishers, whose profiles match the criteria, to buy/sell rights, and thereafter go about creating a shortlist of publishers to meet at the book fair. So, making a catalogue is the first important step for potential dealmakers. A separate rights catalogue is also made, to make deals with the potential buyers of rights. As Manasi put it, ‘A good catalogue is half the job done.’

At the book fair, however, all that publishers get are really brief meetings. In no more than 15–30 minutes, the catalogue and the publisher’s sense of salesmanship come into play in making the deals. Of course, the meetings and follow-ups continue beyond the book fair, till the deal is made on paper and the contract is signed. Thus begins the journey of the book in the real world, in real terms.

Manasi managed to make the topics of sales and rights seem easier than they actually are. We thoroughly enjoyed her sharp, to-the-point presentation and the insightful knowledge that she shared with us. Our queries were met with clarity. And, like all the other masterclasses, these sessions turned out to be great learning opportunities.

Tuhin Roy

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