Chiki Sarkar and Karthika: Star Publishers Do What They Gotta Do

The goal of all publishers is common: get more people to read.

3 min read
Karthika VK and Chiki Sarkar. (Photo: The Quint) 

When a book really impresses you, you hold the writer in high regard. But do you ever think of the publisher who made the final product possible?

Editors and publishers are the backbone of any publishing house. Karthika VK, Publisher and Chief Editor of HarperCollins India, announced her departure after almost 10 years at the helm – coming a year after Ananth Padmanabhan took charge as its CEO.

It provokes one question: will HarperCollins India’s direction change after her departure? Does any publication become affected by its publisher’s exit?

From Aravind Adiga and Keki N Daruwala, to Nayantara Sehgal, Meghnad Desai, Gulzar and Nilanjana Roy, Karthika brought some of the biggest names in Indian literature (now) to the publishing house’s kitty .

HarperCollins is a pedigree tag to have, but such a powerful arsenal of writers could have only been forged because of the personal equation that Karthika shared with each one of them.

Like the Gondwana, literature was one, until it split into “critically acclaimed” and “best sellers”. Now, literature is what floats in the middle of the two islands, unsure of which side to swim to. And it’s the publisher who is expected to strike that balance.

Literature VS Profit

Last year, Chiki Sarkar, the then editor-in-chief of Penguin Random House India, stepped down from her position to start Juggernaut Books, a digital publishing platform.

Publishers are trying to strike a balance between choosing “critically acclaimed” and “best sellers”. (Photo: iStock)
Publishers are trying to strike a balance between choosing “critically acclaimed” and “best sellers”. (Photo: iStock)

These top-crop publishers leaving could be due to a divergence in ideology or the need to start churning out books in a format that will be more accessible to audiences – on mobile. While the editorial and the marketing teams have a tense relationship with one another, that’s what makes publishing great, Sarkar told The Quint.

Every publisher will tell you there are days when the need to deliver sales feels overwhelming. And yet, I can tell you that I have done my best work and had my smartest ideas because I was pushed by those forces.
Chiki Sarkar

Another publishing consultant and expert, Anurima Roy, who works independently with Indian writers and publishers and was previously heading publicity for Bloomsbury, said that Karthika would not have left because of a divergence in ideology where she was.

It could be because “she might have felt she’s done enough in the last 10 years,” Roy told The Quint over the phone.

Digital Publishing The Way Forward?

Digital publishing stands apart from the conventional style of publishing.

When Sarkar left Penguin Random House, the company was aggressively trying to strike a balance between pushing out quality books and those driving their revenues. With the average target to sell 5,000-8,000 copies of any book – each for Rs 300-500 – publishing is labour-intensive with very little of that making its way back to the author, Sarkar was quoted as saying in an interview with Livemint in 2015.

Digital publishing would be very hard for others to replicate. (Photo: iStockphotos)
Digital publishing would be very hard for others to replicate. (Photo: iStockphotos)

So, her goal with Juggernaut was simple – to get more Indians to read and write.

With Juggernaut, we have simply created a platform that’s more suited to phone reading – instant books, various formats, better visuals.
Chiki Sarkar

But there’s a caveat, Roy noted. Digital publishing is one of the best things to happen, yet it will be very hard for others to replicate, she told The Quint.

Women as Top Publishers

Is it a coincidence that both star publishers – Sarkar and Karthika – are women?

“Women tend to do more arts subjects... you can balance home life better in this profession,” Sarkar told The Quint.

And their goal is common: Get more people to read.

Remember, every writer – from Svetlana Alexievich to Chetan Bhagat – wants to find their readers. 
Chiki Sarkar
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