Writing its growth chapter

Writing its growth chapter

For Rupa Publications’ Kapish Mehra, finding the right books, identifying the readers and making those books easily available to them is the success mantra of his publishing house. And with this, he plans to reach out to the tier-II and tier-III audiences and also expand his company’s footprint globally


When Kapish Mehra took over Rupa Publications (Rupa), his prime mandate was to make the company a full-service publisher with monetisation across all verticals of publishing – print, electronic and mobile platforms. “We wanted to be more professionally driven with higher quality standards and deliver quality products which we can market and sell abroad,” states Mehra, MD, Rupa. And, hence, he improved the publishing bandwidth of Rupa and acquired better and bigger authors. In the distribution space, Mehra’s mandate was to have faster turnaround time in terms of delivery of stocks to retail. He also wanted to enter the smaller towns – C level and D level towns as well as expand Rupa’s global footprint to the Far East and Middle East countries.

Mehra took over the reins of his company at the age of 19, in 2004, while he was pursuing his graduation in Economics from Delhi University. It was an inevitable decision due to his father’s health issues.  After completing his graduation he had to make a critical decision – to pursue his Masters or not. Mehra states, “I am glad I took the decision to step in to my father’s shoes then. Life does come a full circle. Today, I have the opportunity to go to colleges to give lectures.”

Mehra has been able to accomplish a fair degree of success, thus far. Currently, Rupa is the leading player in the Indian publishing industry with a year-on-year growth rate of about 20 per cent to 25 per cent over the last five years with prominent writers in its publishing stable. It also received the best Publication Award in 2009 from the Federation of Indian Publishers.

Power of the pen

As is often stated, the release of Chetan Bhagat’s first book, Five Point Someone, in 2004 is said to have rewritten the rules of publishing industry in the country as it sold over a million copies.  Mehra recalls, “I remember reading the manuscript in about seven hours on a Saturday night, skipping dinner.” For someone who reads fairly regularly, he couldn’t shake off the story from his system for about seven days. This was how the others who read the manuscript felt too. “As it was in my professional space, it gives you an idea of the strength of the content. We felt that there was something special in it and we went all out for the book,” says he. Rupa started with an initial print run of 5,000 copies of the book and later went in for multiple reprints.  The book was priced at Rs. 95 to ensure that it appealed to the college students. But, Mehra is quick to defend, “I don’t think it’s just the price point. It’s a combination of good content, distribution, the right marketing strategy and pricing that has contributed to the success of the book.”

Explaining Rupa’s strategy for choosing a book, Mehra says that there are three points of consideration; originality of ideas, continuity of thought and the target audience for the book. “We look at the content, we consider the potential reader, their interests and then understand if this will sell to that particular audience,” says Mehra.  Rupa’s response time to an author is anywhere between four weeks to eight weeks.

Talking about the trend in the industry, Mehra states that, “Today, publishers are willing to experiment. A reader is willing to experiment with content and therefore it encourages different kinds of writing styles.” Rupa gets about 10 manuscripts daily. And a book goes through three to four rounds of filters and, if selected, it is never a single person’s choice. The company releases about 200 new books a year.  “It’s an exciting number for any publishing house,” says Mehra.

The company has published books of several popular authors including Chetan Bhagat, Ravi Subramanian, Jaswant Singh, L K Advani, Varun Agarwal and Shailendra Singh. Citing a few examples, Mehra says, “Chetan Bhagat’s books have been very successful. His last work of fiction, Revolution 2020 sold one million copies in 100 days in India. Ravi Subramanian’s latest book, Bankster, has sold close to 1,00,000 copies.”  In the hard cover space, a book that sells about 10,000 or 15,000 copies is considered a best seller while in paperback, a book that sells 30,000 to 40,000 copies will make the cut.

The modus operandi

Rupa has been in the distribution space for a long period of time. “When my grandfather started the business in 1936, we were actually distributors. Today, Rupa is the only company which is both a publisher and a distributor,” says Mehra. Rupa has about seven offices across the country. The representatives from these offices visit retail stores on a daily basis.  “Faster stock turnaround time to retail leads to greater efficiency in the system and in the supply chain, which will also have a greater chance of higher sell through,” says Mehra. This apart, the company has identified locations over a period of time, worked closely with them and has shared knowledge regarding the salability of content.  Around 15 per cent to 20 per cent of Rupa’s revenue comes from the online platform.

The biggest challenge, according to Mehra, is to get Rupa’s books adopted by a casual book reader. “For every person who goes to a book store, there are atleast 100 who don’t. But they read a book and probably buy one or two books a year. So the challenge is to convert your book into the book they buy,” he says.

While Rupa has not ventured much into vernacular books, Mehra thinks the biggest challenge for this section is organised retail.

The growth chapter begins

Rupa has been doing a lot of product differentiation over the last two years. Apart from the mother brand, Rupa, the company has a hard cover imprint called Rainlight (some authors include Sashi Deshpande, Shekar Gupta, Prasoon Joshi and Palash Krishna Mehrotra).  In 2011, Rupa set up Aleph Book Company, along with David Davidar.  “There are two stages of publishing – mass market or general commercial publishing and literary publishing. When I had taken over, we wanted to be India’s number one mass market publisher and that’s what we are today,” states Mehra. Identifying the vacuum in literary publishing, Rupa wanted to enter this highly profile-driven space. “While we could occupy a market share in the literary space, we would be compromising on the strength of the mass market brand. So both had to be done independently which is why we started Aleph and that was the time David Davidar was available as well and he is one of the best in the trade,” says Mehra.   Three series’ launched in 2012 with Rupa Classics, Rupa Antiquities and the Kipling Library, brings classics of English literature to readers. It launched children’s imprint called Red Turtle in 2013 and plans to launch a business imprint called Maven in January 2014.

The company is also expanding its reach nationally and internationally. Rupa is consolidating its position in the East Asian market, which is its biggest export market. It is further expanding to Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Dubai. “We are also looking at tie-ups in other parts of the globe,” says Mehra.  Locally, the company is all set to tap the serious book readers in the smaller towns of the country.

“We have been looking at different possibilities like literary publishing, hardcover, children’s publishing and the opportunity in business books,” says Mehra. With all these various strategies in place, Mehra is on track to accomplish his prime mandate of making Rupa a full-service publisher spanning all verticals of publishing.


Rupa Publications

Founder :  D Mehra

Year :  1936

City :  New Delhi

Turnover growth rate:   20 per cent to 25 per cent y-on-y

What Next?

  • Launch business imprint called Maven in January 2014
  • Consolidating its position in East Asia. It is further expanding to Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Dubai
  • Focused on acquiring big books and making them bigger
  • Looking at tie-ups in other parts of the globe
  • Expanding into C and D level towns

Success mantra for a publishing company

  • Finding right books
  • Identifying the readers for those books
  • Making those books available for those readers

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