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Power Of One Team

Vasu: Hello and welcome to Power of One. Pick up any best-seller list in India and you'll find Chetan Bhagat books, in any top 3 or 4. It's the kind of statistic that gets Chetan regularly on the list of some of the most influential people in this country, but also annoys his critics. Either way he is back with another book which possibly means another round of best-selling titles in book stores and of course tough reviews from critics. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Thank you for having me on the show.


 


Vasu: So the new book, Revolution 2020, is it already soaring up the charts?


 


Chetan Bhagat: It's been less than a month and it's doing well right now. This time it opened very well on the first day, this time we had this culture of pre-orders. We had various online sites and the book stores started taking pre-bookings, so we had sold half a million on the 1st day.


 


Vasu: Half a million, 5 lakhs?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Without anybody knowing what's in the book, I think from the numbers point of view we are very comfortable. It come out and those 5 lakhs have gone now.


 


Vasu: Okay, to put it in perspective for our readers, in India, a book that sells 5000 copies is considered a best-seller, this has already sold 5 lakh copies and looking at it in the context of your previous books, I was told that your first 3 books, Five Point Someone, One Night At The Call Center and Three Mistakes Of My Life, sold about 7 lakh copies.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Yes, that was a statistic from a while back. I think they have all sold around a million copies.


 


Vasu: They have all sold about 10 lakh copies, a million?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Which is a big number, it is a huge number. Because it is an English book, in fact someone once told me that your is the first English mass product of this country. I mean it is an English product. But for those kind of numbers to come especially not only you have to know English, but you have to know enough English that you read it plus books are shared a lot, so it is like the readers are much more, it gets passed around. And then its pirated and all that. So to actually achieve the sale of 1 million is a very very big number.


 


Vasu: Now tell me about the pricing , right, your books have always been priced at about Rs.100 or less, did that start off with the first book itself?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Yes, it was Rs. 95 in 2004, when Five Point Someone came out and I remember sitting with my publisher and him asking me, and they kind of end the prices with 95, so he asked what do you think if it was 295. So I told him that its too much for a student. It is a book about students, I want them to buy it at their discretion, not tell their parents that please buy me that book.


 


Vasu: The idea of keeping at Rs.100 was your suggestion?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Yes, and they also have contributed a lot and they thought about this, I remember Mr. Mehra, the senior guy who owns my publishing, he said, give me 48 hours to think, and I would call him and call him and he would say I am thinking. And after that, because its big risk Sreenivasan, the moment you make it a Rs. 95 book, your minimum volume it must sell to recover is much much higher so what happens in India, if you have a Rs.295 book certain sales are guaranteed, all libraries will buy at least one copy and if you have 2000 libraries, you have sold 2000 copies, you at least make some money. But when you have Rs.95, you at least have to sell 20,000 or 30,000. I remember for 2 states when it was 95, we had to sell 2 lakh copies to break even because the costs had risen so much by then.


 


Vasu: But you were still keeping it priced below Rs.100.


 


Chetan Bhagat: We still kept it 95 till 2009, this time we have increased it, its Rs.140. Because we got feedback that the quality of the book can be better, the production quality and we wanted to give an international quality book, so now this time the book has been printed with the same specifications of that of a Rs.300 book. Yes, the paper is different, there's a UV, like a 3D effect done on the figurines.


 


Vasu: To me it looks pretty much the same as the others, but may be to the discerning eye its a little higher quality.


 


Chetan Bhagat: If you go to a book store, what we did was we went to a book store and picked up a lot of Rs.300 books, and then I said, I want the same quality and my publisher said, we will get you the same quality for less than half the price, like 140, so it is still a value.


 


Vasu: So you are pricing it somewhere around as a movie ticket, that is the idea?


 


Chetan Bhagat: That is how I see it, that is how it is in the U.S., it is not like you have $10 books and $10 movie tickets, it is that same concept.


 


Vasu: So you either go to a movie or buy a book, unlike here where books have tended to be a little more expensive right, like 300, 400 or 500.


 


Chetan Bhagat: I mean we still make money on that, it is not like we are doing charity, the production and everything. Of course we have the volumes and the economies of the states.


 


Vasu: So I was just doing a rough math, you are saying a million, that is 10 lakhs, so you are talking about 5 books, so that's 50 lakhs, at about Rs. 100 each, so that is about 50 crores.


 


Chetan Bhagat: 50 crores, now its 140, actually now we have made all the titles 140.


 


Vasu: So yes, Rupa's made about 50 crores.


 


Chetan Bhagat: No, no, you have to make the books also. You know what is amazing is that people don't realize the retail margin in the country like a book store chain.


 


Vasu: What I mean is not the profit, but at least the revenue is 50 crores.


 


Chetan Bhagat: But the book stores keep 50% and there's production costs, the transportation.


 


Vasu: So the actual profit may be less.


 


Chetan Bhagat: May be less, I don't know the numbers, my publisher knows what the profit was.


 


Vasu: Okay, but how much of that do you make?


 


Chetan Bhagat: I make enough.


 


Vasu: What is enough? Give me a ballpark, I know it is difficult to talk about what you earn.


 


Chetan Bhagat: I just find it enough, at the end of the day I am a writer, I know people are very curious about the royalties but they are good. 


 


 


Vasu: A ballpark royalty, I am told is anywhere between 10% to 25%, I mean that is the bandwidth. Are you in that broad bandwidth.


 


Chetan Bhagat: So now I tell you, and then you will start making the ranges and do the NDTV Profit analysis. I know the game, I have worked at a bank. Okay so I used to work in an investment bank, and when I left the bank I thought I will never be able to make this kind of money again because investment banks pay a lot. But now I make more than I ever made at the investment bank, so you can imagine.


 


Vasu: So that gives you a rough idea of how its working.


 


Chetan Bhagat: You can get a rough idea, yes it is very good numbers. It is like what I have been told is that, it matches some of the top international writers and my business is entirely in India.


 


Vasu: How does it work in terms of piracy? Because I was thinking that yours must be one of the few titles where the pirated copy is perhaps the same price as the original?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Yes, I know but still the pirated copy sells.


 


Vasu: They must be selling it at, lets say Rs.50.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Rs. 50 or sometimes you know they are just convenient, because they will come to you at a traffic signal and people in the country, I thank the people who don't buy the pirated copy because they think, they believe it's wrong but we know that there are a lot of Indians who don't think they're doing wrong.


 


Vasu: You don't have too much of a problem with the fact that people are buying pirated copies.


 


Chetan Bhagat: No, of course I have a problem, I am very disturbed by it. This book is a story of corruption and if you are reading it in a pirated book, I mean you are defeating the purpose, its wrong. But I respect people. I want to slowly explain to them that, it is wrong to do piracy because it is not hurting me, I sell initially, what it hurts is the new writers. Publishers don't make enough money, because in lot of pirated books there is no royalty, there is no publisher margin and therefore they don't invest in new writers, they only want to invest in Chetan, who will sell 5 lakh copies.


 


Vasu: Okay, but is there a counter-view that by pricing your books at that price then you're forcing a whole lot of others to price their books low and that in a way could hurt the market?


 


Chetan Bhagat: I'm not forcing anybody.


 


Vasu: You are not forcing, but you are influencing the market right? Just like in any product, you go by the market leader and everybody kind of has to follow that.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Yes, but we still make money, I mean we are still very profitable and of course mine is because of the exceptional volumes. But I think, that I do feel that there is no reason for the books to cost Rs.400 rupees in a country like India. I think if, like I said, let's have the movie ticket analogy, if in the U.S., the movie ticket to book ratio, lets have something similar. So I don't think we're selling at a loss or applying any aggressive cost.


 


Vasu: Yes, you feel you are not necessarily undervaluing the book market in this country by pricing your books at that range.


 


Chetan Bhagat: If you have the price and your volume goes up 10 times, you are actually contributing to the market, right now you have to make people in the country read. It is not a battle between publisher 1, publisher 2 or author 1, author 2, the battle is to make India read, when they can not read and watch films or TV.


 


Vasu: Chetan, let me ask you, does it also undervalue writing or your writing a bit, when you price it at that level?


 


Chetan Bhagat: No, I don't think so at all. People are watching your TV channel for free, they are watching a bouquet of 200 channels for Rs.200


 


Vasu: They are not watching us entirely for free, they are paying a fee.


 


Chetan Bhagat: They are paying the cable guy, but it comes down to I think around Rs.2 a month for your channel, so it comes down to 5 paisa for this show if you think about it. I don't think you feel undervalued because of it Sreenivasan.


 


Vasu: That is a good point, let me go back and think whether I feel undervalued or not but anyway.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Now that I put it this way, these are not products, this is not like a soap that people have to buy it. Their biggest effort in reading a book is the time and energy they invest in reading it, same for TV programs.


 


Vasu: I agree with you, books and TV shows are not like selling soap or toothpaste, but if you price it around that ballpark then it becomes like, you don't feel that?


 


Chetan Bhagat: No, I think even if some newspapers are priced at Rs.2, but if they are writing good stories the value is not undervalued. It is not always about the money, I mean money is important to keep the publishing cycle going, and I understand your channel's focus is finance, but these books do a lot more for my readers than give them their Rs.140. A lot of books, people will feel a big emotional connect with the characters or they may feel inspired to do something in their life what the characters have done. So that kind of value addition, if that's happening whatever the initial costs they pay that doesn't, its the value to the reader not to the money they pay.


 


Vasu: Okay, the interesting thing about you is that your books sell this well despite all the bad reviews you keep getting, despite being slammed by the critics all the time.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Well, its only the elite critics that slam them. If you find like the millions of people who are reading, I put the reader reviews on my website. If you go on my website, there is a section where all the fan mails, good or bad coming in, literally we ask them can we publish it and because for privacy or whatever and then its just there. Even I am not able to monitor it. You can see it, the reviews are extraordinarily positive from readers. If they were not positive they wouldn't be buying the book.


 


Vasu: When you say elitist, I mean these are pretty much the people who review the books for most of your mainstream magazines, newspapers etc. But is it right to dismiss all of them as elitist?


 


Chetan Bhagat: I am not dismissing all of them, I think some of them may actually have not liked the book but like I said, it's that market which you are saying sells 5000 as a best-seller in a country of so many people. I think there is a culture in India. I am fundamentally against the idea that people have to be of a certain caliber to write or read a book. If anybody can enjoy music, if anybody can enjoy TV, then anybody can enjoy a book.


 


Vasu: But isn't there anything like good writing and bad writing?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Depends on who is reading, and what effect it has. But there is no absolute standard. There is nothing like that, if somebody reads my book and is totally moved by it, was trans formative, remembers the character for months then to him it is the best book in the world, but for someone else, it is highly subjective.


 


Vasu: So you are not, it is like saying there is Amitav Ghosh, and there is someone like yourself, so how would you see yourself vis-a-vis someone like Amitav Ghosh?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Amitav Ghosh has praised me. He has said, I loved Five Point Someone, it is a segment of people who don't really understand what I am writing for or what my books stand for. And what effect they are having on readers, who often find it easy to slam them and that is why frankly those reviews have had no effect. It is as simple as that.


 


 Vasu: Let me read out one really tough review.


 


Chetan Bhagat:Oh my god, what does it say, I deserve to be shot dead.


 


Vasu: This is about your new book, "This is like a Michael Bay blockbuster, a Chetan Bhagat novel is defiant of structural norms, be it plot or grammar wise. Implausibly stupid, watch the latest Transformers to know what we mean, and guaranteed to make pot loads of money despite what what the crabby naysayers think about it. Wade in then, at your caution, because if you are a fan of Rushdie, Roy, Mistry or Ghosh,  then you’ll emerge 296 pages later, doubtlessly depressed at the ways of the world that allow for Bhagat to be the country’s best-selling literary star."


 


Chetan Bhagat: But tell me Sreenivasan, is that a review or is that a personal attack on me. That is not a review, where is the review?


 


Vasu: There is a review that follows but it opens liked that.


 


Chetan Bhagat: If it opens like that, you can clearly see there is a bias, there is a difference between a review and a biased piece saying he is opened with my success he is concerned.


 


Vasu:She, in this case. 


 


Chetan Bhagat: He or she, firstly I think it as a huge compliment compared to as a blockbuster like Transformers, look at the impacts of those things have had on people.


 


Vasu: You in fact said, something or somebody compared your writing to 'ketchup' that it works for everybody.      


 


Chetan Bhagat: They said, that they have researched that the taste of ketchup is such that human beings all over the world enjoy. Nobody will say, I don't like it. From a kid to an old man, from an Indian to an American, anyway however it will never win a gourmet price and that's what I want to be.


 


Vasu: So you are a 'ketchup' and let's say someone like Salman Rushdie, may be gourmet. If, that's a fair way of putting it.


 


Chetan Bhagat: May be they are gourmet or may be they are not, see, this is how I will tell you honestly how I feel about it, imaging you are running a restaurant, everybody is sitting and it is crowded heaving and everybody is eating and licking their fingers and then some guy comes in and says you don't know how to cook. I mean, what am I suppose to say may be people are enjoying my book and I have always said, I am not Rushdie, right it is an eight year old comparison. On the first day you could have said, that Chetan is not Rushdie, I don't have such hot women around me, may that's why.


 


Vasu: Even he doesn't too for the moment, but well that's what we hear. But are you kind of now teflon coating yourself against these reviews. For so many years or you still get affected by that?


 


Chetan Bhagat: If I get affected by that, then they say, look he is getting. If I don't they say otherwise.


 


Vasu: But whats the truth?


 


Chetan Bhagat: The truth is it doesn't affect me. But I do read them to see a nugget of wisdom. I told you, production quality was an issue we took that in account, some people said, editing can be better so we did editing. We took seven editors on the book, the same kind of critics I told my publisher to get the elitist reviewer you can get to read the book. Tell me we do not correct certain types of dialogue said in Indian English. If it is a story of boy in Varanasi, he will speak English in a certain way, he cannot speak in a Shakespearean way.


 


Vasu: I think that's fair enough. I think if you are trying to maintain that authenticity, they were actually talking about plot and things like that as well.      


 


Chetan Bhagat: What is wrong with the plot? The plot is fine, if the plot is not, there how come millions of people will be able to finish a book. If it didn't have a plot, it is just like pages it doesn't even have like pretty item numbers or songs you know. You have some redemption it is just words, I am not defensive.


 


Vasu: Give me an example of words, because we have the book here, the proof of the pudding they always say is in the eating. Read out a bit from the book which gives you an idea of what it is about or about your style actually it will more interesting to get a sense of your own literary style from any aspect or the lack of it


 


Chetan Bhagat: Okay, I will just read one of these.


 


Vasu: This is a book which is set in Varanasi, which is loosely modeled on an IIT type of engineering institute.


 


Chetan Bhagat: It's about someone who doesn't get into IIT, opens his own college.


 


Vasu: And then runs into corruption.


 


Chetan Bhagat: So what he says here, "you know stupid people go to colleges smart people open them." But you know, that is what is happening in India, may be I will read one of the interactions between a boy and girl. When this guy has not made it his father is sending him to Kota, which is like a students hub.


 


Vasu: Yes, in Rajasthan, that is the big coaching factory town.


 


Chetan Bhagat: It is just a dialogue about he is just telling this girl to go out with him but she doesn't want to so they are sitting on the ghats of Varanasi, so it is basically like this, "can we go to the ghats, I said. Ghats!, she said surprised. "I want to soak in as much Varanasi as possible before I leave. We walked to the steps of Tulsi ghat, little than the busy rush on our side we sat next to each other, and saw the Ganga change colours in the evening sun. On our left flames flickered from the never ending funeral pyres in the Manikarnika ghat, the ghat named after Shiva's earring which he dropped here during a dance is considered the holiest place for cremation. She held my elbow lightly, I looked around apart from some tourists and sadhus, I spotted a few locals, I shook my elbow free. What, she said, don't, it's not good specially for you. Why, because you are a girl. She smacked my elbow, so what people talk they don't say good things about girls who sit on ghats holding elbows". So, I don't know, you can read on more but you know it is simple English.


 


Vasu: It's pretty much like a conversation.


 


Chetan Bhagat: It is catering to an audience which wants to read simple stuff, because you know for whatever reason I love some of the literary stuff our Indian writers have done.


 


Vasu: But what do you like reading?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Everything see for me.


 


Vasu: Give me an example of anything like, what do you read, what you are reading now or what you were reading last month?


 


Chetan Bhagat: Right now, I am reading Steig Larrson's, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which is so popular. And I like to see that thriller genre, which I don't do.


 


Vasu: No, I love that as well. They are fantastic books, all three of them.


 


Chetan Bhagat: It's not very literary at all, and I think if you want to pawn them you can pawn them. But there is something compelling about them, the characterization. My ideal writers are some one like Orwell or Hemingway, who I may never get to those heights, but you can always get inspired by them. And I think, what they have done is through very simple language again, literary critics may not approve of I have had huge impact. Now Orwell, through his satires or things like that or allegory's, Animal farm, they are wonderful. And it's my dream to write books like that or a Catch 22.


 


Vasu:Any Indian writers, that you like because you have not named any yet.


 


Chetan Bhagat: No, from R.K.Narayan, I remember, I have read most of Rohinton Mistry's books, Arundhati Roy's books, I think all Vikram Seth's one book, I have read.


 


Vasu: Do you read any of the other stuff, that are on the bestsellers chart like there is this entire, The Immortals of Meluha.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Amish is a friend of mine, his wife was actually my friend and she was working in Big Bazaar, which launched, Three Mistakes of My Life, and she traveled with me during the launch of Three Mistakes of My Life.


 


Vasu: He is, like people are calling him the next Chetan Bhagat, only in terms of sales. His genre is very different, he is writing kind of mythology.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Mythology, modern mythology.


 


Vasu: But he is also selling reasonably well. 


 


Chetan Bhagat: Many are selling quite well, you know I have heard that diet books by Rujuta, are selling well. Rashmi Bansal's books are doing very well. There are many writers that are running well and it is great. First we just need to get people to read books, then may be we can do that connoisseur kind of refinement.


 


Vasu: I want to ask you about the refinement. Are you somebody who can actually write much better, but you kind of pitch it to this level this readership because people do that as well. 


 


Chetan Bhagat: Without knowing you judged. Are you somebody who can write better and you raised it as if the commoners.


 


Vasu: That's not what I meant, are you.


 


Chetan Bhagat: But that is elitist, better and your hands went up like this.


 


Vasu: Let me reposition my hand.


 


Chetan Bhagat: But the people watching this show are commoners, you work on a TV channel.


 


Vasu: Let me re-phrase, that there are people who can write literary fiction, lets say, but they try to keep it more popular. Are you somebody like that?


 


Chetan Bhagat: I don't know, I can write literary fiction. I have not really tried or put effort on it. My aim of writing Sreenivasan, is very different. I want to highlight certain social problems, and bring them to a mass level. So this is about education sector corruption. If I just write articles on it, yes, just some people will read and if I mix a very intense love story net, a lot.


 


Vasu: Then it becomes like a blockbuster.


 


Chetan Bhagat: That is the reason I write. That is the reason I live. I am not interested in getting 100 stars, out of five or whatever. I don't care. My own image is irrelevant, my own ego is irrelevant. If I am remembered as a great writer, but society doesn't change. What difference does it make, I will die. But if I am thrashed, if I am condemned, but if people become less corrupt, isn't that more valuable?


 


Vasu: Of course it is. Last question, is there some thing like we were talking about book promotion, is there something like too much exposure you feel sometimes you are too much exposed?


 


Chetan Bhagat: I particularly feel that, I am all over the place. Sometimes because you know, I have realized that I have lot of great qualities in me, but sometimes there is this streak of stupidity. It just happens, I can't explain it and that comes out in the books or on Twitter.


 


Vasu: When you say stupidity, you mean what you just feel that you are out there too much?


 


Chetan Bhagat: No, every now and then I will say something and I should have thought a little more carefully. I think, I don't take life very seriously, so I may have made a comment, lets say on Mr.Narayan Murthy, who I respect and everything. But I did find him condemning the students, I don't like elitist statements whether its literary or someone.


 


Vasu: So, do you think you want to pull back a little bit more?


 


Chetan Bhagat: That is what I want to do.


 


Vasu: More reclusive, like writers are suppose to be less in the public gaze.


 


Chetan Bhagat: Yes, but reclusive is not the right word.


 


Vasu: May be reclusive is not the right word, or just say little bit less exposed.


 


Chetan Bhagat: I think, the time has come for me to shut up a little bit, in this show.


 


Vasu: That is a good note to end on. Thanks very much indeed, Chetan Bhagat for talking to us, it was a pleasure.           


                          


 

7 years ago

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