It’s been nearly five years since the merger and since you took over as the CEO of Penguin Random House (PRH). What have been the key highlights of your time at the helm?
It has been the privilege of my professional life to lead PRH and to be part of our extraordinary team. Whether it was steering through the financial crisis, managing our digital transformation, or helping to make the PRH merger a success around the world, these years have been both demanding and rewarding.
I have always believed that our collective success is a reflection of publishing the finest books and providing the highest service levels for our authors, our booksellers, and ultimately, our readers.
One of the pitfalls of a merger is a decrease in diversity. How have you tackled that?
Not at all. In essence, PRH is a community of 267 imprints around the world. These imprints are the creative homes for our authors and publishing talent. They are the heart and soul of our company, where talent is being discovered and bestsellers are being made. The editorial and entrepreneurial independence of our imprints ensure that PRH publishes diverse voices, opinions, stories, and ideas.
More than ever, reach now determines the relevance of a publisher. In your role as the head of the largest publishing house in the world, how do you strike a balance between profitability and creativity?
As long as we publish the finest books around the world and provide the highest service levels for our authors, booksellers, and readers, we will be financially successful. In other words, our creativity drives our financial success. They are highly correlated rather than competing goals.
In the last decade, the form of the book has changed drastically. Digital books apart, there is now also competition from companies such as Amazon and there are micro story-telling platforms on social media. How are you meeting the challenge?
At PRH, our mission is to create the future of books and long-form reading for generations to come. The market for long form has actually grown over the last decade since the digital transformation began, so we want to continue to do what we do well — discovering and nurturing talent and launching their stories into the world. We are also working to become the most reader-centric publisher. And by that, I mean connecting directly with readers and helping them discover their next best read.
You have often emphasised the need to respect local culture in your businesses around the world. Penguin has a long history in India. What’s the plan for the country going ahead?
PRH is a multi-local and multi-domestic company — our publishers around the world are editorially and entrepreneurially independent. That is and will remain an important success factor for our growth strategy in all the territories we publish in— and that includes India. We are very optimistic when it comes to the future development of India’s book market and our opportunities here. We expect healthy growth rates across categories and continue to invest in diverse and local voices.
The decision to feature actor Priyanka Chopra as the speaker at Penguin’s annual lecture in Delhi invited a fair share of criticism that pointed at women achievers in publishing who fit the bill just as well or better. Could you tell us what prompted the selection?
There has been positive feedback on Priyanka Chopra’s lecture with an overwhelming response from people who found her talk very inspiring — the video of the talk alone has garnered several million views.
As publishers, we stand for diverse voices and personalities, and clearly Ms Chopra is an important voice. The Penguin Annual Lecture has always been a platform for artists across different professions and industries – we see it as a forum for writers, but also with a wider scope, for achievers and cultural icons across other industries as well.
After its tremendous take-off, the popularity of digital books has flagged a bit in the last couple of years. Does that make you more hopeful of the future of printed books?
Yes indeed, though as PRH we have always been format agnostic. We’ve invested in both print and digital over the last decade. The strength of the printed book is actually stabilising the markets and the entire book ecosystem. Bookstores are critical because they are still the most important way for readers to discover new books.
At PRH, what percentage of your business does digital publishing form?
We have found a healthy coexistence between print and digital formats. Globally, for us, the split is about 80 percent print and 20 percent digital. We want to find the largest possible audience for our books, no matter the format.
Who do you read? Which do you prefer — the e-book or the printed book?
I read in both formats and across all categories but I’m most interested in history and biographies.