For many in the industry, becoming a publisher of Penguin Random House would be a lifelong goal. But Chiki Sarkar, who became publisher of Penguin Random House India in 2013, walked away from a major publishing career for the uncertainty of her new publishing start-up, Juggernaut Books. PW caught with Sarkar at the London Book Fair, just days ahead of Juggernaut's launch, to discuss her decision.
You had a successful career with Penguin Random House in India, why walk away for a start-up?
I wish I could tell you there was some great drama, but there wasn't. I think I was just impatient, and I really wanted to try something new. Penguin Random House is a fantastic house. They have great books, and I loved it there. But it's very hard to really change the game unless you're outside it.
Why does the publishing game need to change in India?
Nothing works in India. Our distributors don't pay us, or take a long time to pay us, and our retail is in shambles. We have very, very few good bookshops in the country. An average book in India, a successful book, sells 3,000 copies. I don't have prizes that help book sales. I don't have book clubs, or shows on TV. I don’t have Oprah telling everyone to read a book. So, I just thought there has to be another way.
Juggernaut will sell printed books, but mobile phones are a big part of your plan. What made you go in that direction?
Smartphones are one of the biggest growth areas in the country. Everyone has a phone. India never had a desktop revolution, or good broadband at home. And what happens in developing countries is that they skip a bunch of technologies, then catch up with a new technology, and leapfrog forward. Indians leapt straight onto the phone. In fact, a number of e-commerce sites in India have closed their websites and just kept their mobile apps. I want young Indians to read. And if they're going to be on the phone, then I have to find a life for reading on the phone. Right now, I have more questions than answers. But I thought, as a publisher, I have to ask these questions. I have to try.
You’re launching soon, and you just announced a big signing at the London Book Fair. Tell us more about Juggernaut’s launch?
We launch on April 21, with 100 books, 50 of which will be ours, and 50 that we are distributing. And yes we announced yesterday that we have signed Rajat Gupta, who is a former managing director of McKinsey, and one of the most famous and important men of the last 20 years in India. He went to jail for insider trading in America. His story is incredible, and it’s going to be the book of the year in India.