Paris-based Hachette Livre SA, the largest publishing group in France that brings out magazines such as Paris Match and Elle, has its eyes set on India. The company, which had £2 billion (about Rs14,880 crore) in revenue in 2007, made a low-key entry in India in May when it set up Hachette Book Publishing India Pvt. Ltd, a 100% subsidiary of Hachette UK.

Hachette Livre follows several other international media companies, notable among them being Pearson Plc., which also plans to start an Indian edition of business daily Financial Times, and US-based publishing houseRandom House, Inc., which has launched an Indian imprint. It is owned by French conglomerate Lagardere SCA, which has interests in publishing, retail, media and aerospace.

Looking ahead: Nourry (right) says the firm is growing despite tough markets and hopes to continue outperforming the marketplace. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

Hachette UK’s chief executive officer Tim Hely Hutchinson, who was in India earlier this month with Hachette Livre chief executive officer and chairman Arnaud Nourry to formally launch the company’s operations here, says the Indian market is on the edge of a transition and has excellent long-term growth prospects. “Our long-term aim is to be the publisher of choice here for local authors as well as being the best in bringing the top writing talent from across the world."

As part of its game plan to have a local publishing programme, it has signed up Madhulika Liddle for her book The Englishman’s Cameo and Amit Varma for My Friend Sancho. Both books are slated for a 2009 launch.

Nourry, who has spearheaded the publishing behemoth since 2003, hopes to replicate its UK success in India. Hachette Livre is looking at publishing 15-20 books in India by 2009 end, and at having a fully sustained programme from 2010 onwards, targeting 75-80 new books each year.

In an interview, Nourry and Hutchinson speak about their India plans and creating a strong new identity for the group. Edited excerpts:

You have come here at a time when the global slowdown is impacting the publishing market worldwide. What is your long-term strategy for India?

Hutchinson: We are already within six months of setting up a full services publishing house with our publishing programme to kick off from April next year. We are looking at publishing 15-20 books by 2009 end, and at a fully sustained programme from 2010 on wards, where we would typically publish some 75-80 new books each year. Our long-term aim is to be the publisher of choice here for local authors as well as being the best in bringing the top writing talent from across the world.

You made a low-key entry into India last year. It took a long time for your big competitors here, including Penguin Books and HarperCollins Publishers, to establish themselves. Don’t you think you might have missed the bus by entering the market late?

Hutchinson: Not really. We have been here through our component imprints for a long time, even if not as a local company. India is an exciting growth market and it is our first expansion outside the English markets we have been present in—the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand. In January next year, we are setting up operations in Canada.

Obviously, India is a very important market for us and we were giving established players an advantage in India by not setting up operations here. Although we have been a leading player in the French and Spanish language markets, we were not in a dominant position in the English language market until 2004. We were busy consolidating our position between 2004 and 2006 and creating preparedness for our expansion into other English language markets. Also, we were not consolidated as a group even in the UK until a couple of years ago.

So, it would not really have made sense for the individual companies to set up shop here. Today, as the largest group in the UK, we have the scale and it is logical that we have a full local presence here. As to a low-key entry here, last year we merely carried out the registration and application process. We had to get approvals from the government, which took a bit of time, and we only got operational this May. Our office in Gurgaon got ready just a couple of weeks ago. So, our formal launch (on 17 November) has been well timed in that sense.

What do you think about the publishing market here?

Hutchinson: It is obviously a relatively lower priced market and must be looked at with the right local sensibilities. Hence, our emphasis is on having a local team. The Indian market is on the edge of a transition and it has excellent long-term growth prospects.

In what ways are you feeling the pressures of the slowdown? Which are the markets that are feeling the impact more and why? How are you managing to keep the revenue stream up and running?

Nourry: In India, it’s not evident in the same way as for other businesses, such as (the) banking and financial services sector. There is a sluggishness that is unusual for peak season but we are happy with the position, having just topped Rs10 crore in revenues from imports in the last six and a half months in India. Elsewhere, everyone is commenting on tough markets but we are still growing and we hope to continue outperforming the general marketplace.

It seems that you are looking at expanding your footprint globally and working towards a strong identity for the Hachette brand. In October, you announced the new worldwide logo and dropped the word ‘Livre’. Tell us about your expansion plans.

Nourry: We hope people will see the logo as modern, dynamic and open. I wanted to keep the “Livre" word when Hodder Headline joined the Hachette Livre group in 2004 because I have always liked French literature and culture myself.

I thought everyone would be familiar with the word but in retrospect, this was too personal, and I think it will be easier for Hachette to be appreciated as an international company without having a French word in the names it uses outside France.

The strategy of having competing imprints and publishers with a lot of operational freedom seems surprising. How has it worked for you?

Nourry: It has worked incredibly well. Both authors and publishers prefer working with companies where there can be intense focus on individual books and each one of the publishing teams represents different interests and tastes, so that one will have a best-seller with a book that another of our publishers rejected. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we have had as many as 19 of the top 40 titles on The Sunday Times best-seller lists. So, it seems to be a success.

What role have acquisitions played in Hachette’s growth? Are you looking at buying any company in India or elsewhere?

Nourry: Hachette Livre’s acquisitions—first of Hodder Headline and then of the former Time Warner Book group—were huge moves, designed to establish a serious presence in the two largest English language markets—the UK and the US. Now that these acquisitions have settled in and are working well, we will consider further acquisitions. However, the need to buy companies is less pressing now that we have the strategic position we needed.

In India, I am not sure whether there are any publishers that would fit well with our plans but we would look carefully at educational and electronic opportunities here.

Hutchinson: Nothing specific in India just yet. We are consolidating the business and operations. But we are always open to meaningful acquisitions.

What are your digital plans?

Nourry: In education, digital is already a substantial part of our business and we will continue to develop digital teaching, assessment and interactive products. In consumer publishing, e-books and e-audiobook downloads are just beginning to take off. Next year, they will still account for less than 1% of our business but I can easily see that percentage rising to 5-10% within the next five years. We are well prepared for that and have recently (in May) bought a digital warehousing business, Numilog, in France which provides digital warehousing services in English as well as in French and other languages. To gain a lead over other publishers in the digital book space, we got into an exclusive three-month partnership with France’s biggest bookstore chain, Fnac SA, in October. Fnac was looking at offering e-book services for its customers and we thought this was a good opportunity to take our digital business to the next level.

Key Imprints of Hachette Liver

John Murray

It is the oldest English language trade publisher in the world (founded in the 1750s); the imprint that signed up Jane Austen and Lord Byron. Its literary list is a veritable who’s who of English literature and the India list is front-lined by Amitav Ghosh and Alice Albinia.

Hodder and Stoughton

Hodder and Stoughton was set up in the 1870s and is best known for the yellowbacks that were the rage from the 1930s to 1950s. It discovered Dorothy Sayers. It is commercial, with crossover literary strands. Top-selling authors include Stephen King, John le Carre, Jeffrey Deaver, Eric Segal, Steve Berry, Jodi Picoult, Jasper Fforde. Sceptre is the core literary imprint of Hodder and Stoughton, which published the work of Sujit Saraf last year.

Headline Publishing Group

It boasts of top-selling authors, including Martina Cole, James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Steve Martini, Penny Vincenzi, Jill Mansell and Victoria Hislop. The key imprints are Headline, Little Black Dress and Business Plus.

Orion Publishing Group

Best known here for Asterix, Robert Ludlum and Harlan Coben, the group has strong literary lists. It published Vikram Seth novels and also David Davidar in the UK. Key imprints include Orion, Phoenix, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, Cassell and Everyman. Orion also has a children’s books imprint which was a huge success in the UK with Horrid Henry. Gollancz, the world’s best-known science fiction imprint with the masterworks series of authors, such as Philip K. Dick, Stephen Baxter and Greg Bear, is also part of this group.

Little, Brown Book Group

Key imprints include Abacus (non-fiction with authors such as Eric Hobsbawm), Virago (women’s writing/issues), Orbit (fantasy), Atom (fantasy for children) Little-Brown and Sphere. In 2007, Piatkus was acquired by Little, Brown. Top-selling authors published under Little, Brown include Patricia Cornwell, Alexander McCall Smith, Mitch Albom and Mark Billingham. In India, Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram and Ed Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India were published by the group.

Hodder Children’s Books

It is best known in India as the publisher of Enid Blyton. But in the UK, it is better known for Rainbow Magic, Tiara Club and a range of illustrated books for children.

Octopus Publishing Group

It is an illustrated/visual publishing company with imprints such as Hamlyn, Mitchell Beazley, Philip’s (for atlases), Conran Octopus, Gaia, Bounty and Miller’s.

Chambers Harap Publishers Ltd

Along with the popular Chambers dictionaries, this imprint publishes reference books.

Hodder Education Group

It is the group company that deals with schools and colleges, with a strong focus on life sciences. The classic surgery text Bailey & Love is their best-known text, published under the Edward Arnold imprint. It is also the publisher of the Teach Yourself imprint/series.