13 Feb 2018 20:25 IST

Print publishing is alive and well: Hachette Livre Chairman

But ignore digital at your peril, warns Nourry. It offers potential to publish different kinds of content

For book lovers who thought the onslaught of the digital revolution would ring the printed book's death knell, here’s an endorsement from the Chairman and CEO of the third largest global publisher, Hachette Livre. Arnaud Nourry says that for all the talk that digital will be 50 per cent of the book publishing business soon, it has not happened anywhere.

“Even in the US, with all its digital gadgets, printed books are still 80 per cent of the market,” says Nourry in an interview to BusinessLine.

“There is a lot of value in a print book. It is cheap, you can travel with it, you don’t have to plug it in, and you know it will still be around two centuries later because a book is a book — it works! Digital is cheaper, but you don’t know where it is after you have read it. You cannot lend it to friends, and in one century, it will probably be lost. An e-book is not going to revolutionise the market,” says Nourry, who was in Delhi for the 10th anniversary of Hachette India.

The €2.2-billion Hachette Livre, which ranks behind Pearson and Penguin Random House in the global sweepstakes, publishes 17,000 titles every year in 10 languages. Founded in 1826 by Louis Hachette, (though the Group’s oldest component publisher is 300 years old) the company is part of the giant Lagardere group, which is involved in radio, TV production and newspapers.

While striking a blow for print publishing, Nourry, however, says one can ignore digital only at one’s peril. Digital, he says, offers a lot of potential to publish different kinds of content than a mere e-book. “An e-book is but print in digital form and not very clever as a product. There is no value add. We need to work around that and find ways to attract the attention, time and money of consumers through different formats for which we have the intellectual property and will work with it to deliver to readers,” he explains.

Going digital

That Nourry is taking digital very seriously is indicated by the fact that he has appointed a Chief Innovation Officer at the board level to drive the digital piece. “We are working on how to deliver content to homes through these devices; we have some ideas and we are working very aggressively. This is the innovation we need to provide in the next 10 years,” he adds.

He sees other trends shaping the book publishing business. Graphic novels, for one, is a growing segment in most territories. It is a different form of bringing stories to a younger generation. Audio books too is a growing category in the US, where people want to read and multi-task, like drive and listen, at the same time. “People like shorter experiences, so we may work on shorter novels. We also bought a few video game studios; they are very different in skills and in the creation processes and we want to learn from these guys how they can create stories and experiences from the characters in our books,” explains Nourry.

These innovations are essential, says the Frenchman, as people will read less and less in the next 20 years. “We need to capture the time spent elsewhere to maintain our size and we are well-positioned to do that because we have been around for two centuries. The nature of books has changed, so why would we not be able to change again?”

Indian presence

Hachette has been present in India for decades through its imprints and titles such as the Enid Blyton and Asterix series. It entered India in 2008 to publish Indian authors in English and in a few other Indian languages, instead of relying on imports, points out Thomas Abraham, Managing Director, Hachette India.

While Hachette would like to publish more in Indian languages, Nourry says it’s a diverse and tough market. “This is a tough market. There is existing competition selling at very low price points, pirating content they don’t have the rights for. We find it easier to license to local players. But we want to publish more of Indian authors in English because of the growth in English-speaking markets,” says Hachette’s Chairman.

Talking about copyright, piracy and IPR issues, Nourry says if that is weakened, a publisher is killed. “People want to weaken copyright laws, but we have to fight it by all means. India is behind in terms of controlling it because of the size of the country but governments can manage it. In digital, it is easier as publishers can do it on their own by either encrypting content or e-mailing offenders and threatening legal action.”

Retail dimension

However, the retail dimension is as key as copyright issues, because publishing a book is not every expensive. But book publishers need stores and outlets and people who read, and that’s why protection of retail is key for the future of the business, points out Nourry.

“And innovation is the big challenge because the world we live in is different from the world we will be in 20 years from now. Today, access to the internet is from a keyboard; in five years’ time, it will be voice-activated. What impact it will have on our business, I don’t know, but it will have one so we have to be more innovative than we have been in the last 50 years,” he says.