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Books make the move from bookshelves to TV screens

By Sangeeta Tanwar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | June 18, 2008
HarperCollins India is promoting its new titles, White Tiger and Brida, through two TVCs

Books, it & #BANNER1 & # seems, are going through a visual journey. Publishing house HarperCollins India has just launched TV commercials for its new titles, White Tiger and Brida.

Rupa & Co. were the first publishers to promote a book on television: In the late 1970s, it launched a TVC to promote Sunny Days, the autobiography of cricketer Sunil Gavaskar. More recently, in 2005, Chetan Bhagat's One Night @ the Call Center was promoted using a TVC on MTV.

PM Sukumar, chief executive officer, HarperCollins India, explains the strategy of pitching a new book to readers through television. "The idea is to create interest about the book while reaching out to a wider audience. A lot of our readers are based down South and television as a medium allows us greater access to this particular bunch of serious readers," he says.

PM Sukumar

Udayan Mitra

Chetan Bhagat
This is not the first time that the publishing house has resorted to a TVC to create awareness and interest in a book. It advertised Sam Bourne's The Last Testament on TV last year and found that it resulted in twice the expected sales volumes. "This year, we are planning to get more aggressive on television and will try the medium for some more titles," says Sukumar.

The TVC for White Tiger is woven around the plot of the book. White Tiger is Aravind Adiga's debut novel. It is narrated by Balram, a self-styled entrepreneur who has murdered his employer. The book follows his progress from a child labourer to a servant facing humiliation in coming to terms with a new life in Bangalore.

The TVC has a car zipping from a village and finally making its way to a city. While the car passes through the village, the super on the TV screen reads, 'Servant, Philosopher'. Next the car is seen moving on city streets, with tall buildings and streetlights visible in the background. Now the super reads 'Entrepreneur'. In the very next frame, the super changes to 'Murderer'. The visuals are accompanied by a racy narrative asking viewers to grab a copy of White Tiger from their nearest bookstore.

While the ad for White Tiger was done to generate curiosity and awareness about a first-time author, Paulo Coelho, the author of Brida, is widely known, and this was kept in mind for the Brida ad. "We kept in mind the fact that we could capitalise on the good will and name of an established and popular writer, who needed no introduction," says Sukumar. Therefore, the ad for the book serves as a reminder to readers that Coelho's new book was out in the market. The TVC is simple, bereft of any voiceover, just soothing music playing in the background and a visual collage of Coelho's earlier books appearing on the screen.

A particularly striking phenomenon in all this is the new marketing tools or platforms being explored by publishers to promote new titles, which go beyond television. There is a concentrated effort to move away from the mandatory wine and cheese openings. The release of Priya Sarukkai Chabbria's book, Generation 14, saw a dance performance by her sister, Malavika Sarukkai. Similary, a qawwali was the big attraction at the release function of Salma Ahmad's memoirs, Cutting Edge.

Cover of the book Brida
Most publishers think they must change with the times in order to remain relevant to the existing bunch of readers and reach out to a new set of readers. Commenting on innovative marketing strategies for promoting new titles, Kapish Mehra, chief executive officer, Rupa & Co., says, "If we look at advertising opportunities in general, new innovative media have cropped up in recent years. Today, mobile is seen as a big advertising platform, but who knows, tomorrow, some other bigger medium or platform might emerge and attract advertisers. The challenge for individual publishing houses is to think ahead of the times, as Rupa did by advertising Gavaskar's book on television when the whole concept of promoting books on TV was unheard of."

Sukumar, too, believes that to be noticed, one needs to experiment constantly. HarperCollins India ran a lucky seat contest in association with PVR Cinemas to promote its last book, The Chronicles of Narnia. The lucky ones in the audience, who occupied specific seats, were each given a copy of the book during the screening of the movie.

Balram, the servant and philosopher
Udayan Mitra, senior managing editor, Penguin Books India, says, "The number of titles is on the rise in India and definitely growing by the day. At the same time, the rights for publishing these new titles are not with any one single publisher, they are evenly spread out." This gives publishers enough room to experiment while promoting a book or an author.

"Having said that, like every other sector, it's true for book publishing too that advertising and marketing budgets have multiplied. Publishers have several new avenues to invest money in today," adds Mitra.

Balram... the murderer
Mitra is of the view that the marketing blitzkrieg is guided by the single fact that availability and access of books have undergone a huge change. Books have to compete for attention with several other entertainment media such as television, movies, or even music. "Therefore, pulling and getting committed and potential readers into bookstores is not an easy task by any yardstick," he says.

Most importantly, today, the availability and accessibility of books has undergone a change. The new retail model, with players such as Big Bazaar, has changed the dynamics of the game. "Today, new avenues for book distribution and display have emerged. A decade ago, who would have thought of stopping by at a supermarket to buy a book? But now, all this has become reality," says Mitra.

Sunanda Ghosh, senior vice-president, sales and marketing, Sage Publications, sums up the various ways of reaching out to readers: book reviews, interviews with the author, book launch events, ads on publishers' websites and mailing new book lists to clients.

With technology ruling our lives, publishers have also taken to inbox advertising, mailers, putting up banners on websites and creating dedicated websites for a new title. Author Chetan Bhagat says, "One should avoid getting judgemental or emotional about any particular medium or platform for advertising a new book. It goes without saying that it is herd mentality that rules in our country. If one author has tasted success by launching a website and a TVC for his book, several other authors or publishers will follow suit, whether it suits the genre and target group or not."

How well are Indian publishers faring when it comes to launching and marketing a title vis à vis the West? Mehra of Rupa & Co. laughs off the comparison, "Agreed that India is one of the largest and fastest growing markets for all kinds of books, but the West is still way ahead of us. Imagine, books there get dissected on the Oprah Winfrey Show… that sort of thing will take years to happen here."

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