Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Project Outlines - 2012-2013 Batch

These companies are going to be auctioned on Monday, 4 February 2013. This is part of your project work. Read and enjoy.

Projects

The class will sort themselves into companies. The first time we did this the class made the teams among themselves (this did involve a little groupism, but one wants each group to be able to work together well, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Besides, companies are pretty groupist). We then gave each team five lakhs of virtual money and auctioned the companies to them. Another possible way of doing this is to appoint the five most active students ‘CEO’s of the companies they like best and have them ‘hire’ their team. Either way what you want is a good match between the team members and their company.

Each company gets this basic outline of who they are and what they do. They can augment this profile or to a limited extent modify it. Augmentations may include company logos, mission statements, vision, codes of conduct and corporate social responsibility, even balance sheets and stock quotations if they’re feeling inventive. However they mustn’t lose sight of their firm’s core competencies, or damage the company’s existing brand equity.

The team decides an overall policy for their company’s new list in keeping with their line of business or their policy decisions so far, and each team member individually develops a book or a series within that plan. The companies will present together, with an introduction of the firm by the CEO and then individual presentations by the team members.

The book suggestions given at the end of each company profile are suggestions only. Then can be modified, replaced or added to as the team chooses.

Each team member must generate the following

1. A concept note for the book or series, including title (and subtitle if any). If a series, then a general outline of the series with descriptions of the first three titles in it. The concept note will include the type or genre, an outline of the content, a few notes on the target readership, a summary of the probable need and a brief description of your marketing strategy.

2. A private note to your boss (or yourself) detailing the profile and/or CV of the prospective (fictitious) author or editor. You can base this on a real person, but not too closely: give them a made-up name and background. Essentially what we’re looking for here is your idea of the kind of person who would be best to write or edit your book/series. The profile should include the prospect’s published work both with the company (if any) and outside, professional expertise, suitability and strengths, celebrity status and fan following if any, and known issues (such as slow delivery or sloppy grammar). Bear in mind that this is a confidential memo. Note also that genius writers can also be a little—how shall I put it?—psychologically fragile, and you will have to deal with that. It helps if you forewarn your boss a little.

3. A proposal letter addressed to the prospective author, embodying the essential points of your concept note. Remember that your concept note is likely to be modified, sometimes quite radically, by your author or editor, and you want this to happen because they are the subject expert and may have strong opinions on how the books should be done. However you also want to make sure the book turns out useful and marketable. So in this approach letter do not lay down the law, but make it clear to your author that you are open to negotiation on some points of your proposal. Be careful to get the tone of your letter right, and keep in mind who you are addressing. The process of actually building the book will happen through discussion and negotiation with the author. Expect long working lunches to happen.

4. A look-and-feel sample of the finished book. This includes the cover with blurb (keep in mind that your cover design should showcase the content of the book, be appropriate to it and help to sell it) and one or two double spread inside pages (use any text such as the lorem ipsum template to demonstrate the page design and layout). If your book has illustrations do one opening with an illustration and one without. Also keep in mind that fiction is more immersive than non-fiction and therefore needs a less busy page design.

5. A marketing strategy. This has already been roughly outlined in your concept note; here you flesh it out and give it life. Your strategy will depend very much on what kind of book it is and who are the readership. You will have to be creative here. For instance, you could promote a cookbook through a website, cooking blogs and/or a TV cooking competition. Be bold but keep in mind the cost burdens that your book will have to carry. In general, specialist books for a small readership at a cheap price have dirt cheap marketing, and if any of these variables is large the marketing budget goes up. If you have cost constraints, explore how social networks and viral marketing might help you. Also keep in mind what is ‘cool’ to your intended readership. A marketing strategy that doesn’t take the tastes of readers into account will fail.

When you present, each person must take us through the process of developing the book, touching on all five points. If all the members of a team are working on a series, the general editor may introduce the series and the team members may deal with their individual books. Grading will involve a base grade for the company as a whole, with a top up for each individual depending on the quality of their presentation. Hence you must work together as a team and share expertise with each other as well as develop your individual projects. Work out your book concept notes before the second module starts and utilise the sessions upstairs in the computer room to develop the deliverables such as cover and layout.

Presentations will happen at the end of the course and recruiters may sit in on them. If you want to be thorough, develop a print version as well as power point presentation so that you can use the print version as your portfolio for recruiters. 

COMPANIES FOR AUCTION

1. Rosebud Children’s Books

A fifteen-year-old private limited publisher of illustrated children’s books, Rosebud does about twenty books a year, is quite respected in the field, and did well in the 1970s and 1980s. Its best known books were the Leela series, a set of illustrated storybooks for young girls of the 8 to 14 age group intended to teach life skills, dealing with issues like a new baby in the family, homework, sports, shopping etc. They also produced the popular Kalu Kaka series of illustrated storybooks for boys of the same age group, which taught math and science through the figure of Kalu Kaka, a retired scientist who would design homemade experiments for the young boys who came to visit him. There were also a number of general knowledge and popular science reference books. Sales of these series were very good and Rosebud was a good investment in those days.

In the 1990s, Rosebud lost market share because of failure to modernize the list. The older writers have died or become frail and the company did not then make enough of an effort to cultivate enough younger writers till now. The majority stake in the company was bought in 2009 by the Rainbow Printing Works and a new team of young college graduates drafted in. They discovered that by and large, the copyrights of the older books were now worthless, but the company has been supporting some of these authors all their lives and letting some of these titles go suddenly out of print might involve adverse publicity. However, if the company wants to continue to bear the cost of printing and offering these books for sale, it will have to start making a decent profit.

The team began by clearing old stock and retrenching the company’s assets. Rosebud is now stable enough to contemplate floating new series. The team is now creating a plan to salvage Rosebud’s flagging fortunes while keeping its core image of being a socially responsible children’s publisher. Rainbow plans to print Rosebud’s new illustrated titled at its own four-colour printing house so as to be able to price cheaply. Some ideas for new books that have been discussed are as follows:

(a) A guide on traffic safety and/or civic sense for 8-18-year-olds, using a funky new character as mascot, in comic book format.
(b) A guide to using the internet responsibly for 8-14-year-olds,
(c) Primers on sex and gender issues for 12-16-year-olds,
(d) Environment-related activity books for 8-14-year-olds.

2. Gimlet Press

This is a publisher of poetry books based in Scotland, founded in 1989 by a Punjabi and a Senegalese poet. They are primarily known for their prestigious poetry festival held in Glasgow every August which also serves as a marketplace for them to get new authors for their list. In the UK they run a number of competitions such as poetry slams, online poet-a-thons and write-ins, for which the prize is usually a book contract with them. Another popular line is books of poetry with themes, such as golf, sandwiches or cats. They are particularly known for promoting the poetry of non-white minorities in the UK such as rap and dub. Recently they have begun ‘Gimlet Hour’ a programme airing on Radio 4 showcasing young performance poets.

In 2008 the founders visited Mumbai and attended the Kala Ghora Arts and Literature Festival. They made a lot of contacts and became interested in entering the Indian market. To that end they have hired a bunch of bright youngsters and given them the task of launching Gimlet in India. The team have to come up with a strategy and pilot projects to establish Gimlet as the premier poetry publisher in India, beginning with English but with plans to expand into vernacular markets in future.

Some ideas that have been discussed include:

(a) a book of poems by a new, happening and trendy young urban author. You will have to profile this person and design the look and feel of the book, which must reflect the author’s edginess.
(b) a really good translation of a well known out-of-copyright book of poems in an Indian language. You will have to identify the book and profile the translator.
(c) a book of selected ‘slam poetry’ generated by a series of poetry slams that Gimlet will organize in cities around the country. If successful this could be an annual thing.
(d) a book of 55-word love poems by various hands.

3. Express Research and Publishing
Express Research and Publishing is a German company that publishes doctoral theses. They came to India in 1999 but found that the number of good doctoral theses worth publishing was abysmally low. They published a few disastrous titles, the low point coming in 2004 when a thesis they published turned out to have been plagiarized wholesale from a series of internet articles by Andre Beteille. The bad publicity from this almost caused ERP to pull out of the Indian market; the only thing that stopped them was the convoluted bureaucracy involved in shutting down a company in India. While talks were on to close the Indian branch down, a new CEO in Berlin decided to give India another chance. In 2010 the head office in Berlin fired 70 percent of the old Indian team and hired fresh young graduates. This team has been given the task of rebranding ERP and reinventing its list. They have been allocated a million Euros and five years to do this: if they fail to show a two percent return on investment by 2015 the company will close for good. The name of the company cannot be changed for forex reasons.

The team has been given a fairly wide mandate. Their task is to find a new vein of reference, academic and technical publishing that ERP can exploit. Some ideas that have been tossed around include:

(a) a series of guides to the best colleges and universities in India for those seeking admission to various streams; this series of print volumes will be backed up by a website where realtime updates will be posted by ERP’s research team. The team is deciding whether to divide this by stream, city or ranking.
(b) a series of books on new courses in Indian academia such as film theory, culture studies and gender studies, intended for first year students
(c) a series of creative writing textbooks
(d) a series of guides for young publishers, including what to expect when joining a publishing firm, basic skills needed, editing guidelines, design and production, marketing, specialty editing for STM, rights handling, commissioning and other topics.

4. Screaming Silver Fantasy and Fiction
Screaming Silver was set up by a group of ex-Caltech NRIs who have returned to India, and are based in Pune. They are a publisher of games, books and web content catering to the 15-25 age group. Popular games include GothCarnival, Bullionaire, and All the World, all real-time strategy massively multiplayer online games as well as stand alone PC installs, popular with teenagers and also with parents as they are perceived as edutainment. The games are based on game theory concepts and are designed to teach players negotiation skills, forward planning and efficient resource use. The scoring pattern and bonus system privileges skills that are useful in the real world.

All these games have two supporting manuals, one for the player which explains how to play the game, and one for parents and educators which explain the game concept and skills taught by the games. These Teacher Notes also reassure parents and teachers that the games are not a waste of time. Screaming Silver would like to achieve more penetration into Indian schools with these games, but is encountering stiff resistance, partly because of technical issues with hardware and internet access, but also because of lingering suspicions from teachers and administrators.

Last year Screaming Silver ran a popular gaming competition and acquired a certain amount of visibility among the youth. They have just started up their publishing wing and have had some success publishing their game manuals. However these sales piggyback on the popular games and the head office wants some stand alone titles in the market to boost perception of SS as a serious publisher. Some ideas the team have come up with include:

(a) a book of research profiling new teaching methods, out of the classroom teaching and their effects on learning, skill-building and retention. Probably this will have to be done in partnership with a progressive school which would provide a testing environment.
(b) a book of short stories on the theme of the quest.
(c) a short guide to gaming for the Indian audience, including basic dos and donts.
(d) a book popularizing game theory concepts for a general audience

5. Watermelon Books

Watermelon was founded in 1977 by a group of women journalists in Mumbai as a partnership. It began as a publisher of women’s magazines, the flagship titles being House and Home, for urban housewives, and Saheli, for the suburban audience. However from the beginning there was disagreement among the partners as to how to manage these magazaines, with a minority wanting to make them more ‘gossipy’, filmi’ and entertaining. In the 1990s, facing eroding market share as many older publishers did, the minority won the chance to try an experiment and launched a series of romance novels called Passions, which failed as the books were too expensive, not well written and not marketed widely enough, though they still remain popular among women travelers on the Mumbai suburban trains and sell from railway bookstalls on several platforms. Now most of the original partners want to retire and are looking for young professionals who can take their place, failing which they will shut the company down.

They have agreed to take on a team of fresh young publishers on a trial basis to be their replacements, and have asked them to come up with a vision to take the company forward. Some suggestions for new books the team is considering include:

(a) a series of novellas on inter-community romance, mild to medium hot (the rationale being that the forbidden is much more exciting than the permitted)
(b) a non-fiction popular reference book about Indian love habits
(c) a satire of saas bahu serials.
(d) a series of ‘his’ and ‘hers’ tongue-in-cheek guides to dating in the Indian context for the young urban professional.

6. Big Productions

Originally a TV serial producer, Big Productions went into publishing in the 1990s when they found that the scripts of their TV serials could be repackaged as books for the show’s fans. They specialized in domestic and corporate drama, and under their publishing banner they hired a team of ghostwriters to hammer the scripts into novels. The popularity of these persuaded them to publish novels on these themes independently of the shows, but these did not do so well, primarily because the ghostwriters couldn’t keep the action tight enough if they did not have a ready script to work from. Big Publishing decided they needed to attract better writers who could come up with fresh stories, but the company’s reputation was not attractive to serious writers. The company did experiment with hiring an established prize-winning writer to be overall editor of the fiction lines, but this did not work as the readers felt the resulting books were too highbrow and refused to buy them.

Big Productions needs to find a middle road that will attract talent and new readers but will not alienate the core readership who are used to the sensational drama titles. A team of young publishers has been hired to accomplish this. They need to identify the kind of titles that will fit in with their existing reputation while offering enough newness to attract readers. They also need to identify the kind of authors who offer the best skill set for their titles. Some possibilities include:

(a) a non-fiction book on real-life saas-bahu stories
(b) a series of true-crime books
(c) a novel or series on family drama
(d) a novel or series on corporate corruption.

7. Karnan Books

A large wholesaler established in the 1950s by Vijay Karnan, the son of a freedom fighter, Karnan made its reputation as a publisher with educational books for regional markets, as well as Vikas Kiran, a successful swadeshi weekly newspaper promoting village education and uplift. In its heyday Vikas Kiran had a readership of over seven lakhs in five languages over the country, and was published from eight offices. However, a large part of VK’s revenue came from Panchayat libraries which got grants to buy it. The contract with the Central Government on which this market was based lapsed in 1996 and was not renewed, largely because of complaints about VK’s falling quality. The heir, Vikas Karnan, avers that its failure was due to his refusal to pay bribes. The educational list was not updated after this, although many of the primary textbooks had become iconic in rural areas. Asha Kiran, the civics textbook, became the generic name for all textbooks on the same subject in the Hindi-speaking belt, such that teachers would ask students ‘Have you brought your Asha Kiran?’ even if they were actually using some other textbook.

However, the company languished, and the Karnan family’s investment in the publishing side dwindled over the next ten years, though they continued to run the wholesale business. A family feud in 1999 led to the publishing firm being hived off and given to a younger son, who was incapable of running it; the wholesale arm was renamed Karnan Distribution. In 2005 Karnan Books went into receivership. It was taken over by Deutsche Bank which auctioned it to Futuria, a private equity firm, in 2009. Futuria aims to turn Karnan Books around and make a profit from it in five years. Accordingly they have put together a team of young professionals to develop a new list for the firm.

The core strength of Karnan Books is its visibility in the rural market, and Futuria wants to capitalize on this with a new batch of books to address the needs of the 2010s. Preliminary market research by the new team has indicated that village readerships are hungry for information on the globalised economy and want titles like the following:

(a) a ‘dummies’ guide’ to the share market,
(b) a slightly more advanced guide to export-import, finance and recession
(c) a book on low cost technology for use in rural areas, giving practical advice and copious simple diagrams.
(d) a simple guide on how to file an FIR, open a bank account, get a passport, use speed post, money transfer, electronic voting machines, make the most of mobile phones etc.

8. Sportacus Books

A publisher of sports books set up in 2000 by a pair of retired cricketers, Sportacus wants to appeal to the young. Based in Pune, they have already published the biographies of two eminent cricketers of the last century along with a rather odd assortment of books relating to sport. The most notorious failures among these were 100 Things You Didn’t Know About Cricket compiled from the internet by a venerable old pace bowler, and The Autobiography of a Pitch, apparently by an eminent cricketer but actually ghostwritten by his eleven year old niece. Naturally both of these titles lost a lot of the founders’ personal savings, and the company was only saved by a bailout from an angel investor who was a fan of their game.

Till recently the two partners were averse to hiring professional help and wanted to do everything themselves, but they are now quite frail and realize they cannot carry out the more onerous tasks and haven’t the energy to develop the list. They have also lost confidence over the near bankruptcy and are very reluctant to risk any more money. The only capital available is five and a half lakhs left over from the angel’s bailout. The founders want to remain connected to the company, but have put a team of young people on the job who will look after the business and plan for the future.

The company’s strengths are the reputations of its founders, which continue to open doors and give access to current sports stars for the new editorial team. The company’s weakness is a lack of vision on the ground, such that the projects undertaken so far have been costly, dull and badly put together. The team’s first task was to politely scrap a few editorial disasters that were brewing in the hands of the founders’ friends and family. They then sat down to brainstorm new titles, and came up with the following. They have to work under fairly stringent monetary constraints, so big sales are a must.

(a) a history of Indian cricket by an eminent historian and well known fan, formatted like a coffee table book but selling for half the price. Costs to be kept down by sticking to greyscale for the illustrations.
(b) a set of pamphlet guides to things like the doosra, sledging, and other cricket trivia, written by figures associated with them or experts on them, with illustrations by a famous comic book artist.
(c) a cricketing primer with tips from eminent players.
(d) a book for girls encouraging them to take up sports

9. Inner Light Press

A publisher of spiritual books in the 1960s, Inner Light has seen its market erode recently. It’s not that people are not buying spiritual titles, but rather that Inner Light’s bestsellers seem quite dated in the present market, and little has been done to update them. Inner Light has now tied up with Soup with Crotons, a Canadian publisher of self help books, to repackage and adapt SWC’s titles to the Indian market. Most of SWC’s titles have a North American Christian flavour, which is why they cannot be launched as is, but SWC is willing to allow adaptation of the basic material by Indian writers. A team of young Indians has been given the task of going over SWC’s list and picking out the books that will work best for IL. They will also have to find and approach Indian authors to do the work of adaptation. They are launching these books initially in English but plan to diversify into at least three major Indian languages by 2016.

The team has to keep in mind that the work of adapting will require a sensitive understanding of cultural difference and the ability to reinterpret social situations across cultures. At the same time, the books must be popular and written in an accessible style. They must look and feel reassuring and calming, ‘like a good friend you can rely on’, as the VP in charge of rights for SWC had explained to the team. The team has shortlisted the following books for the first phase of adaptation:

a. A book on how to cope with divorce
b. A book on how to adjust to and handle adopting a child.
c. A book on how to cope with or lessen work-related stress.
d. A series of books for parents on different neuropsychological problems in children such as dyslexia, stuttering, epilepsy, autism etc, and how to manage them.

10 FrameWork 10

FW10, as its fans call it, is a startup comics publisher founded in 2007 by an NRI who got out of Wall Street in time to avoid the crash of 2008. For the past few years it has been surviving by republishing comics from the US and Canada in India, mainly from small, independent, often creator-owned houses. But because FW10 cannot pay very high copyright fees, the quality of this material has tended to be uneven, and sales have been slow, although the company has acquired a small but loyal cult fan following. Some of these titles are realistic adventure, some are fantasy, some are manga-type bubblegum romance, some are horror and some ‘adult’, a catchall genre that includes a series about a tavern caught in a time-warp in Spanish Harlem, a manga yaoi tribute about a six-foot-tall transvestite named Harvey, and a series about a planet of half-plant people with four sexes. However, because many of the source houses abruptly fail or simply miss their deadlines, FW10 has never been able to finish a series and has a bit of a reputation among its readers for this; on one fan site they were quoting odds on the chances of the latest acquisition ever seeing its final volume.

While this cult status has worked for FW10 till now, it is rather precarious, as cults can die without warning, and the founder now feels it is time to begin publishing original Indian content and building a local list that will be high quality and high profile. To that end, he has hired a team of young professionals to sniff out new writers and artists and relaunch the brand. He recognizes that since there is as yet no established comics culture in India, the new creators will need a lot of handholding in the technically difficult business of making comics, and he has counseled his team to expect to have to give a lot of input for the first few titles. He has suggested that the team start by holding a series of workshops in the four major cities where writers and artists will come together and create a sixteen page story each. He has set aside a budget of twenty seven lakhs for this, and hopes that each workshop will generate three or four possible titles. He wants it made clear to the participants that these are intended to be books for adults, not children.

The team has decided to concentrate on four major themes: participants can choose which one they want to work on, and the best stories on the four themes will be collected into four books. They will have to make sure that the workshop are advertised correctly and they get enough good content for their volumes to get off the ground, so they will have to screen participants and ask for writing/artwork submission beforehand. The themes are:

a. The New Millennium: Future worlds, alternate worlds
b. The Secret Life: What lies beneath the world we know
c. Stranger in a Strange Land: Being lost, being in the wrong place, being misunderstood.
d. And So I Came to Paradise: The lineaments of gratified desire

13 comments:

Amrita Dutta said...

Screaming Silver Fantasy and Fiction. Arnab Chakraborty, Rudrani Gangopadhyay, Nibedita Sen, Deeptesh Sen, Amrita Dutta.

Anwesha Rana said...

Firm: Big Productions

Team: Abhijit Dutta, Angana Moitra, Anwesha Rana, Devika Singh, Shinjini Chattopadhyay, Sulagna Chattopadhyay

Aishani said...

Rosebud Children’s Books
Aishani Roy
Anuja Khatua
Barsha Saha
Sreyashi Mukherjee
Vedatrayee Banerjee

Shahana Yasmin said...

FrameWork 10:
Anindita Banerji
Biaas Sanyal
Joyinee Ganguly
Shahana Yasmin

Pelagea said...

Karnan Books : Abira Nath, Hiya Chatterjee, Rudrani Mukherjee, Sayani Biswas, Upasana Saraswati

Ananya Adhikary said...

Gimlet press:
Ananya Adhikary
Subhankar Das
Sumit Singha
Saptarshi Deb

Debani Deb said...

Watermelon Books
Team Members:
Pritam Bhaumik
Indrani Banerjee
Debani Deb
Shinjana Mukherjee
Mithu Karmakar.

Skitzofrenic said...

Inner Light Press.

Amrita Kar
Diya Sinha
Chandrani Dutta
Jhelum Roy
Denjanee Chakrabarti

Marilyn Jayne Kwan Kharkongor said...

Firm: Express Research and Publications

Team: Avinash Antony, Ritwika Sanyal, Sanhita Sinha, Moinak Choudhury and Marilyn Kwan Kharkongor

Trismegistus said...

Four students are yet to join a group. They are:

Lopamudrra Chatterjee
Parthojit Chowdhury
Sudipa Palit
Tina Kaviraj

Please join a group. If they are unaware that they have to be part of the project, the other students are requested to inform them of this fact.

Ananya Adhikary said...

Gimlet Press is happy to announce that it has welcomed a new member to its ranks...Tina Kaviraj...now the team is complete.

Trismegistus said...

Parthojit Chowdhury and Sudipa Palit are yet to join a group. Please do so at the earliest.

RabidNuisance said...

Framework 10 now has four members:
Biaas Sanyal
Lopamudrra Chatterjee
Shahana Yasmin
Joyinee Ganguly