Interview With Sahil Gupta, Director, V&S Publishers
on Apr 04, 2022
Frontlist: According to you, what is the condition of Indian Publishing: Today vs Tomorrow?
Sahil: So I think I would like to break this question into two parts. The publishing industry today is at the cusp of an ed-tech revolution. When we look back 30 years from now, at the end of the 80s, it was touted as the revolution for the manufacturing industries, with a lot of industries coming up. At the turn of the century, it was a revolution for the IT sector, whereas, post the financial crisis of 2007, 2008, and 2009, it was a revolution for finance and fintech as an environment. And what this pandemic has done is just expedited everything in terms of publishing and how important technology is, and the advent of new companies, like Byju’s and Vedantu, Aakash coming to the fore. As far as today’s scenario is concerned, no doubt, like any other industry, we also face a lot of challenges. The primary challenges are concerning distribution. I think distribution remains very, very fragmented. The availability of trained personnel, and the fact that you don't see a lot of new people, students from the new generations, looking at publishing as an opportunity and as a thriving career, I think that's a concerning factor for the industry. Concerns like lack of awareness about agendas like copyright issues, legalities of the content. Obviously, no doubt publishing has been facing stiff competition with other industries, be it media or OTT platforms, so definitely it has a lot of challenges.
What the pandemic has shown us for the last two years is that people do read books. And even in a country like India, despite facing so many challenges and all the shops being shut down, I think a lot of the sales were made, especially when I talk about trade books or other sales shipping online. I believe E-commerce has opened a new paradigm and has opened new opportunities for publishers. So I think while there are a lot of challenges, publishing has evolved considerably in the last few years. When I talk about the publishing of tomorrow, I think the amalgamation of tech with publishing will happen more and more. I think publishers who understand how their content can be presented in different forms would go a long way. And the quality content would definitely be the winner. And I think over the last few decades, while we have seen that publishing was governed by more and more marketing, I personally feel that it will again be driven by the editorials over the next decade, or so, with the content being at the heart of the things. I think technology companies, education companies, and publishers all have to collaborate to bring a solution to the end customer which is more holistic in nature. So I think, publisher and book publishing will not just be concise to book publishing in the physical format, but things like ebooks, audiobooks, and amalgamated forms of content delivering would evolve, and that is where we as the Indian book publishing industry and perhaps the entire world, is heading towards a more amalgamated and holistic publishing scenario and delivery of content for the end customer.
Frontlist: As the Director of V&S Publishers, what are some of the actions taken by your publishing house to improve the lack of awareness against copyrighting?
Sahil: So one thing you have to understand is that while we are a young publishing house, we have a standing of more than 70 years. So we understand what is the relevance of copyright and how important that is, and how important the agreements are. And how important it is for authors to be aware of copyright. So, this is something that has been ingested to us in the way we have been brought up. So, one thing that we very particularly do is we put everything in writing, we have a contract, which is very, very exhaustive in nature, it spans over 17 pages, we make sure that, at the time of just starting the conversation with the author and I'm not talking about him signing the agreement, at the time of starting the conversation with the author, we are very clear about what rights the author will hold, what rights the author will not hold, what will be the terms and conditions, what will be the revenue splits like tomorrow if we have the rights of a particular product, when we sell his translation rights for XYZ company, what will be the profit share and how will that be calculated. So, it is not just that the author is made aware, but I think everything is being very clearly put down in the agreement, and we make sure that the author is aware of it. I think that is very important.
The other thing which I, on a personal front, have been doing is during World Copyright Day, I have spoken previously even on Doordarshan on the relevance of copyright and how important it is. So, whenever we, as a company, try to get the word out there, we do that. We make sure that we explicitly mention that the contents of each of our books are copyrighted, and they cannot be just copied and pasted. And there has been a case once where some content of ours was used in a magazine, and while the due credit was given, correct permissions were not seen, and that is when we objected to the magazine we asked them to pull it down. So I think these are the important things. And, as a company, we are making sure that the author is very aware, and even aware with regard to the media, you know, communicating through various forums. Like what I'm doing right now is something that I, and the company, V&S Publishers, take very seriously.
Frontlist: In today's scenario, what steps should be taken by the publishers regarding free access to the content?
Sahil: In a country like ours, we are in a knowledge economy time. So, knowledge is money. There has to be a balance between how much content is being accessed freely, and how it has been monetized. So, I'll explain it very clearly. There are two things - while we understand that there is a school of thought that the content needs to be made available freely to anybody and everybody who wishes to consume it. And you see a lot of content these days being available on the internet on Google and other platforms freely. So, you have to understand the problem of free content. See anybody these days is democratised to create whatever content they wish to write. They can then upload it through blogs, put it on YouTube, put it on various forums, and the content is out there for people to consume. I think the biggest challenge is who verifies that content? I feel there is a need for a publisher because whoever creates the content, there has to be some person who verifies it. If everybody starts just writing the content and putting it out there on the internet, who's to say what is verified and what is not? And you don't know who is consuming the content, whether that person has the kind of understanding to verify that content when he consumes it. As they say, half knowledge is not good, right? So I think the availability of content for the growth of the industry, for the growth of the nation, the growth of the economy is very, very important. And obviously, that means that we make as much content as available freely. Content creation is not easy, and it is not cheap.
There is a lot of effort that goes into creating content that is very authentic, verified, and research-oriented. I think if we make that content available freely and from a moral high ground, it feels like the right option. There has to be a certain sense of commercial viability. So as publishers, we are constantly exploring ways to do that. Sometimes generating revenue by sponsorships, ads, and views is an option. But I think there has to be a certain balance. See, even if you talk about something like an OTT platform industry, right? You do have a lot of free content, but there is a lot of premium content, that you have to pay for. Right? So I am personally not against having free content. But I think over the next few years, a model will evolve, where we'll have a balance of free content, right, along with content, which needs to be paid for. What publishers need to do more and more, as the content is digitally available, is that we need ebooks in the form of YouTube, because I think that increases the availability and reach of the content. Then you have various companies which often push your content, a portion of the content is being shown for display as free, whether it is through Kindle look inside other features with other prominent platforms offer. But I think there has to be a model which is commercially viable for content creators- be it publisher, authors, which is user-friendly and doesn't hurt the pockets of consumers. I think that model is evolving. We have different subscription models. We have different ad revenue models. So that's a work in progress, and it is happening more and more.
Frontlist: How would you explain the Publisher’s related rights?
Sahil: Yes, I did mention this briefly in one of my other answers that, as technology is evolving, more and more rights would come into the picture, 20 years back, or probably 30 or 40 years back, when an author used to write a script, it was a handwritten work that he used to bring to the publisher and publishers used to tell him that okay, this is the copy, this is the small agreement, and we retain the copyrights. So you know, when technology entered, and those agreements never talked about future rights or publisher rights, those agreements probably then did not talk about having something like an e-book in place. So because it was not heard of, now who has those rights? We are talking about publishers' rights. So, you got to understand that the manuscript which a publisher acquires, or when he signs a particular author, has a lot many applications in today's world, in comparison to what it was 10 years ago. So when you talk about publishers' rights, you talk about publishers' rights to sell, obviously, to commercialise, monetise, edit, proofread, typeset layout and design the manuscript. That is your basic right as a publisher when you sign a manuscript. I think the second right is, and I think there's more applicable in the literary world is something like an abridged version. So, if somebody has written a manuscript, which is 500 pages, and tomorrow the publisher wants to have a kind of an abridged version of it or a concise version of it, and this will become more and more popular in the coming times with people consuming smaller packets of content, they want to read less, and consume more information. So I think you will start having those capsule books in abridged editions more and more. It is already very popular with English classics. So, that's another publishers' right. It is only a function of who retains those rights, whether it is with the author or the publisher - publisher obviously has the right to manipulate the prices. And with paper prices going up and various other costs, newer costs are coming into the foray.
So there is a right to price the book, the right to have the book in different formats, and not just paperback or hardcover. But what about digital rights? And, digital rights are a whole other ballgame. The rights to take your book in an ebook format, whether, it's an interactive ebook format, or to take the book into an audiobook format, so you're talking about audio rights. And then something very interesting is publishers' rights, if a book is natively published in Hindi, so nobody has the rights for English. So publishers’ rights regarding different languages is an interesting part. Generally, as a publishing house, if we send any contracts, we make sure we tell the publisher that we would like to have the publishing rights for the different language translation as well between India and abroad because that gives us and the author more opportunities. And once we know that, we will have those rights, and we can sell those rights. It opens a whole new revenue stream for the publisher or the author.
Frontlist: According to you, what are some of the common infringements of copyrights?
Sahil: One of the most common infringements of copyright is that people feel that they can buy the book and copy-paste the content wherever they want, without giving any due credit to the book publisher or the author. And then, for that matter, even monetize that. I think that is a very clear, strict, and very bad infringement of copyright. And the worst part is, nobody is aware of it. If I am a customer, if I buy a book from the market, as long as I'm using it for my personal use, it is fine. There is a clause, a modified clause in the copyright arrangement, which mentioned that for the purpose of education, a certain portion of the book or the entire book could be used. But that does not mean that you can just pick in, pick a few chapters, like half a book, given this, copy-paste half a book, use it, add or reduce some content to it, and then just copy-paste it on your blog or your forearm, and then start monetizing your blog. So I think that is something which is strictly not allowed. And it is a form of copyright infringement, which a lot of people do with a lot of authors. A lot of youngsters do this, for example, those who are into writing blogs. The fact is that if there is a book out there and it is a copyrighted product, it is not an open domain. You are not allowed to use its content beyond a certain percentage - unless and until you give due credit, or you seek permissions in writing, from the copyright holder, be it the author or the publisher, so you are not allowed to do something like reading the entire book or putting the entire book out there on the internet, and then you decide to monetize your channel or commercialise it.
In India, if somebody is the creator, the law automatically gives him the copyright to his content. You need not go to the copyright office and get copyrighted particularly. So as a creator, if you have written the book, you are the copyright holder of that product. The most common form of copyright infringement is that people just use, copy-paste and monetise and commercialise whatever content they see, without seeking any permissions, without doing any due diligence, and without even identifying whether that content is available. A lot of that is attributed to content being readily available in different formats, be it an e-book. I think there is a certain responsibility that lies even with forums and online companies who use a lot of such content on their forums for providing information that is often picked up as it is from the books because it is very difficult for any publisher to track this. I, as a publisher, have published more than 1000 books. It's not possible for me to constantly keep a track of who is making what content of mine from where and where he is displayed more. So there has to be a moral responsibility that all the citizens of our country need to have. And I think simply copy-pasting the content and using it online or offline for your commercial benefits is one of the most common mediums of copyright infringements, and it needs to be talked about more and more.
Frontlist: What steps should be taken by the publishing industry concerning book piracy?
Sahil: We, as publishers, are already doing a lot of things to ensure that piracy does not happen. And 'piracy' could be a lot of 'France', piracy is a big term. Piracy happens when your book becomes photocopied and is being made available. It happens when your book is leaked on various platforms, like Torrents, Telegram and WhatsApp. There is another form of piracy, which people don't talk about very often, that is when you have published a book and some other guy, or some other author or publisher, rips off your book, copy-pastes it, types it, and publishes the book in his name, and then sells it with a different name. And it is almost impossible to track that. So I think it's very difficult to stop piracy. But as a publisher, we are doing a lot of things. I think holograms is one thing that sometimes does help. It adds another factor to it, another layer of authentication. So we do it for some of our top-selling titles, where we put a hologram and make sure that people only buy the books with holograms. So that becomes a little difficult to pirate. The second thing is a lot of publishers, and mostly academic publishers, have a separate cell.
As S. Chand Publishers have an anti-piracy cell where they even conduct raids, and they're very strict about somebody pirating their books or printing duplicate books and selling them.
I think there have been recent amendments. And the Federation of Indian Publishers has been very proactive in taking those steps along with IRRO. See, the government also acknowledges that piracy doesn't work. Talking about piracy, sometimes people are unaware that they are infringing copyright. They don't understand that this is something they do and it's piracy. You know you can just copy-paste content from a source and give them no credit, and then commercialise it and monetise it, and that has worked with them. As publishers, we make sure that we spread a lot of awareness, whether it is through our authors, or our editors, to our customers. I think publishers have been very vocal about having their books moving freely on platforms like Telegram, and I know publishers who have approached these people and even approached group admins, Telegram Management people and other such platform management's, asking them to take those things down. So all these things are being constantly done. And obviously, there is more that needs to be done. It needs to be done more proactively and practically on a lower front. Like I think the Indian publishers, the smaller publishers need to be a little more watchful and more particular about these things. And once it penetrates down to smaller cities and smaller publishers more and more, I think there'll be a better understanding, and it would help stop piracy in the long run.
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