“Physical Books Are Not In Jeopardy”

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John Makinson with Tarun Tejpal. Photo: Arun Sehrawat
John Makinson with Tarun Tejpal. Photo: Arun Sehrawat

Publishing mogul John Makinson and Tehelka’s Editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal discussed the impact of the Internet on the book business in a session titled ‘Killing Paper, Killing Thought: Is a Tsunami Of Rubbish Sweeping the World?’ on day 2 of THiNK 2013.

A contrarian of sorts, Makinson believes that the shift to the digital age is not that big an issue. According to him, the challenge lies in managing the abudance of content available. He said he believed that readership is not in absolute decline; it’s just that people are changing the way they like to read books now.

On being quizzed about the inflexion points in the publishing industry, Makinson emphasised on the impact that the arrival of Amazon has had with its ‘Oh my God’ size and bargaining power. However, Makinson said he also believed that the availability of more content with the emergence of the digital age does not imply that good content would be crowded out. Makinson, as the chairman of the company that published Fifty Shades of Grey, admits that he never imagined the book would end up selling so many copies.

As the chairman who presided over the merger of publishing biggies Random House and Penguin, Makinson reveals that the merger made a lot of sense as it provided the opportunity to take advantage of the economies of scale generated as a result. Makinson also remarked that with the rise of the internet the focus shifted from display to discovery as authors now needed to make themselves more discoverable to readers.

Talking about piracy Makinson felt it was not that big an issue. He said, “Physical books are not in jeopardy”, as the joy of owning and sharing physical books is as present today as it was before.

As someone who also owns a small bookstore, Makinson spoke about the resurgence of indie bookshops as cultural centres of today’s times. Makinson also noted that the publishing scene in India hasn’t quite taken off the way he expected it to due to lack of enough content, inaffordability of devices to access that content and very few available platforms required to buy and sell the same content.

By Shashank Shah

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