Prashant Pathak: ‘Publishing has changed drastically in the past 15 years’

Based in New Delhi, Prashant Pathak is a seasoned professional in the publishing business. He is the Rights Director at Fingerprint Publishing and Publisher at Wonder House Books, with the latter specialising in children’s books. We caught up with Prashant for a quick chat on the latest trends in children’s book publishing, online vs offline book retail, and why he thinks bookshops are here to stay.

You have been in the publishing business for around 15 years. What is it about the publishing business that you find most exciting? In your view, how has book publishing in India changed and evolved in the last 15 years?

Books have been a vital part of my life since childhood. Since my father was in a transferable job, books remained my constant friend wherever we moved. It was between the paragraphs and chapters in those books, where I found my refuge. I got a lucky break in publishing in 2007 when I joined a publishing services company. However, it was the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2008, when I decided that I want to stay and work in publishing. I saw new possibilities and a more promising world working around children’s content. Even now, the idea of talking about a concept and developing new ideas brings me joy, and that is what we want to share through our books.

Publishing has changed drastically in the past 15 years. It has been a roller-coaster ride.There was a time when we felt that eBooks will take over the world and nothing in print will remain. At some point, we felt it was practically impossible to grow our publishing business as the avenues to sell were limited, but then e-tailing sites took over and solved that issue. Now, we are seeing the incursion of AI into publishing. However, we are confident that whatever changes we might see, content publishing in the form of print or digital books will remain relevant.

Tell us more about Prakash Books, and its imprints, Wonder House and Fingerprint. Which have been some of the most popular, most successful books that you have published? 

Prakash Books is India’s fastest-growing and largest publisher by volume and market share in India, with offices in India, UAE, and Canada. The company has three major imprints. Fingerprint Publishing publishes a wide range of books, ranging from fiction, non-fiction, self-help, to classics, spirituality and religion. Prakash specialises in coffee table books. It features books on specialised themes related to India and the world in all their splendour. Wonder House is the children’s imprint of the group that publishes original pedagogically driven content for the local and export markets. Prakash Group is also India’s largest trade book distributor, with five branch offices across the country. It represents over 250 publishers and has a reach of more than 2,200 stores across India.

All our titles have done immensely well in the children’s early learning books space. To name a few, My First Library has sold more than a million copies. Art books like Namaha and Purnam, written by Abhishek Singh, have garnered huge appreciation and success. Moreover, our series of activity books and illustrated picture books have always been a favourite among young readers. Under Fingerprint, we have seen tremendous sale success with our deluxe classic editions; the remarkable covers of these books have their own set of admirers. Our original titles – like the Kalki series by Kevin Missal – have been bestsellers. Our self-help books and books in the horror genre have also done well.

What are the newest developments in the field of children’s books? What are some of the most significant trends that you see in publishing these days, in the context of children’s books?

The newest development which we have seen in children’s books so far is that the books have become more learning-oriented. The major thrust has been on shifting away from teaching, towards learning. I have always been a firm believer that children should be provided with enriched content, which would empower them. Wonder House Books has dedicated itself to cater to that need. Our wide range of titles are not only child-friendly but are also more inclusive. We have an array of books for early learners, such as Touch and Feel books for tactile learning, high contrast books like I See That; Loudly Softly and Whisper; dyslexic fonts; and books based on emotions and feelings.

In children’s book publishing, early learning books have come a long way. Earlier they were only seen as a sub-category but in the recent years they have emerged as a full-grown category. Activity books, colouring books, sticker books, pencil control are all emerging as great favourites among kids. Parents have also come to understand how these books contribute immensely towards the overall development of a child. Another trend is the rise in demand of boxsets, which are a new favourite among parents and children. These are a compilation of a range of titles of a particular series clubbed together, which makes them more interesting. Moreover, in terms of the Indian market, picture books have also been doing incredibly well.

Children these days have access to multiple electronic devices. In that context, do you think books have taken a back seat for many children? Also, do you think that newer digital formats like eBooks and audiobooks will overtake the traditional print format in terms of popularity among children?

Books cannot take a back seat, though I agree there is a plethora of content available out there. But it will not change the significance of books. Books are an integral part of the learning process for children. Although the  mediums might change, but books are here to stay! Regarding the medium, the empowerment that books provide can come from any medium, whether eBooks, audiobooks, or physical books. I firmly believe that each child’s preference depends upon the choices they are provided with, but traditional books are not going to fade away any time soon. Publishing is ever-evolving and expanding. We are abreast with all the latest technologies and trends. We develop books in-house and work with a lot of award-winning illustrators and authors who have greatly contributed towards our success.  And we are always on the lookout for interesting titles and exciting ideas that can add to our gamut of products.

What is your take on some of the major book fairs that are held in India every year? Do schools need to do more in terms of participation in book fairs for children?

There are several book fairs that are held in India in almost every city throughout the year; New Delhi World Book fair, International Kolkata Book Fair, Chennai Book Fair and many more. These book fairs are the perfect medium that bring together all the stakeholders – from creators, publishers, distributors, retailers and readers – to come together on the same platform. It is the perfect opportunity for young children to explore the exciting world of books by interacting with storytellers and content creators. The Bookaroo book festival is one that is specially organised to cater to the interests of young readers.

As far as schools’ participation in book fairs is concerned, they are already doing a lot in that direction. I think the onus lies upon the parents; they are the bearers of change. They need to be enthusiastic and open about all such events and allow their children to attend these book fairs while contributing towards creating the culture of books.

For children’s books, is book retail all about online sales or are offline sales equally important? Will actual bookshops still be around in a couple of years?

Children’s books are not all about online sales; both online and offline sales go hand-in-hand with each other. I don’t think that bookshops will become irrelevant – they are here to stay. Bookstores are thriving and are doing well. Surely, they have learn to evolve with changing times and equip themselves to cater to the needs of their customers. There are many new bookstores coming up in different parts of the country, which is substantial proof that there is more in store for these businesses to flourish.  

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