Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bowling change at the right time.

Cricinfo Founders Seamlessly Shift From A Web Portal To Publishing

SOME might call it entrepreneurship in reverse gear. But what did Badri Seshadri and K Satyanarayan, founders of, do after they sold their immensely popular cricket website to Wisden? They did not start another online venture hoping to hit pay dirt the second time. They did not become technology gurus and hit the lecture circuit. They did not even stay on at Cricinfo as employees. They went back to the old economy and started publishing books.

Over the past four years, the Chennai duo have shown that innovation need not be confined to the online world, but can happen even in a seemingly routine business such as book publishing. They have sought to change the rules of the game in publishing, bringing in new ideas in the way Indian language books are conceived, presented and distributed.

“We had reached the stage, where, from shareholders, we had become employees. We could have been comfortable working at Cricinfo. But we wanted to run, build and manage things of our own,” says New Horizons Media co-founder and managing director Badri Seshadri.

After discussions and research, they decided to focus on the vernacular language publishing business. While climbing down from the internet high horse was one radical decision, to get into the challenging domain of regional language publishing was another. “The journey was like this; we wanted to work in the area of knowledge, in Indian languages. The online scope wasn’t great and, therefore, offline. If offline, then publishing rather than a newspaper or a magazine,” adds Mr Seshadri.

Analysis showed that one could be a publisher by spending very little money. “If I have to print 1,000 copies of one title, it will not cost me more than Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000. Small books, with our relationship and all, will cost not more than Rs 5,000,” says Mr Seshadri. The end result was New Horizons Media, which brings out titles in Tamil, English and Malayalam.

Badri Seshadri (L) & K Satyanarayan Founders, New Horizons Media

At first glance, it seems impossible to visualise the transition from an exciting sports venture to a traditional regional publishing business. But, Mr Seshadri’s office cabin, at least, manages to bridge the gulf between the online and the offline worlds. When we caught up with him, the 36-year-old IIT alumnus was busy tracking the India-Australia match on his laptop, while his desk was littered all over with titles from New Horizons’ stable.

Casually dressed in T-shirt and tracks, Mr Seshadri’s wry sense of humour and candour is an antithesis to the stoic and serious image that one has of a publisher. Over the next hour, however, he donned the hat of a story teller as he took us through the plot, the protagonists, the story and the screenplay of a venture titled, ‘New Horizons Media’.

“When we examined the kind of non-fiction works in Tamil in 2003, they were invariably works on horoscopes, cooking, herbal remedies and numerology. Cooking was fine, at least, you can make something out of it, but the rest were complete frauds. The author’s background was unclear, but this category ruled the roost in 2003,” says Mr Seshadri.

Though a few books went beyond the astrology and cookery themes, the sales remained low. “They were not selling because they were written in hard-core, needlessly complex language. It had massive footnotes and mega introductions running to 70 pages. All this is great for academics, but had no use for common readers,” Mr Seshadri adds.

In a way, this inherent problem helped the company decide its content and theme. The founders decided to be completely contrarian and churn out more content in the non-fiction and knowledge-oriented category. This included biographies, political histories, finance and business. Interestingly, their best seller to date, is a title Alla Alla Panam, (Amass more money), an introduction to stock markets and has so far sold 60,000 copies.

The next challenge came in finding people to pen books based on the chosen themes. For this, the company tapped teachers, bank and IT employees already writing for magazines. And the writers had a simple brief — swallow the idea, use all available information and present everything as easy-to-digest stories.

Since starting in 2004, the company has brought out more than 600 titles in Tamil, Malayalam and English. Its imprints include Kizhakku and Prodigy. “Kizhakku is right now our leading publication, but we expect Prodigy to beat it,” Mr Seshadri said.

Traditionally, publishers meet sales requirements by stocking their books in Government libraries and selling the rest to local bookshops. According to rough estimates, there are about 600-800 bookshops in Tamil Nadu. On an average, if bookshop sales generate Rs 10 lakh per month, annually, the publisher would end up making only a crore. “We simply re-invented ourselves and started stocking books in existing outlets such as grocery stores, restaurants and medical shops,” Mr Seshadri said. This model of distribution currently accounts for 30% of revenue, but is expected to go up to 50% over the next year. The company is venture funded by Rajesh Jain of Emergic Ventures.

Article Resource:
Author: Chandra Ranganathan is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Start-ups called "Starship Enterprise".

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