Publishers jump on the World Cup bandwagon

Written by Sukalp Sharma | Sukalp Sharma | Garima Pant | Updated: Feb 14 2011, 05:25am hrs
Its less than a week to go for the greatest cricket carnival in the world, and the buzz around the Cricket World Cup 2011 is being led, as expected, by the extravagant advertising and marketing campaigns. And while there are umpteen number of cricketers spreading the word on TV on which cola to drink, which wafers to eat, and which detergent to use, the printed word too, is carving its niche in this cricketing windfall. One look at the number of books on cricket that have come out in the last couple of months tells the complete story.

As many as 12 titles have been launched in the last six weeks or so, which deal with cricket as their subject matter, from autobiographies to trivia to coffee table books to even fiction based on cricket. And though these books arent able to attract the star power of cricketers to endorse them, they certainly hope to make the most of upcoming long cricketing season with the ICC World Cup to be followed by the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). There just couldnt be a better time to stuff the market with literature that strikes an instant connect with the sport. And publishers couldnt agree more.

We bought a Sri Lankan novel called Chinaman about a retired sportswriters obsession with a mysterious bowler, and when the time came to publish the book, it seemed natural to do it around the World Cup so that there could be more stories around the book. The idea really is to use the backdrop to generate more publicity. I am presuming all other publishers are thinking the same, says Chiki Sarkar, editor-in-chief, Random House. Apart from coming out with the fiction novel Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, Random House also released the autobiography of South African cricketer Herschelle Gibbs, To the Point, in December 2010. And although Sarkar says the launch of the latter close to the World Cup wasnt deliberate, the book too is expected to find favour with cricket lovers.

Other leading publishers like HarperCollins, Penguin and Rupa have also recently come out with two books each, dealing with cricket as a subject matter. Some part of every publishers list would be topical and based on books around big events of the time that are creating a buzz. With regard to the cricket World Cup, the book stores really want to display books on cricket around the time to catch the buzz and that becomes the first point of visibility for us as well, says VK Karthika, publisher and chief editor, HarperCollins India. HarperCollins is about to launch a quiz-format book on Sachin Tendulkar, Sachin: 501 Things You Didnt Know About the Master Blaster, and last month it brought out Standing My Ground, Australian cricketer Matthew Haydens autobiography.

Sachin Tendulkar would be the top of the mind name for all of us for the World Cup. If he does well, and if India does well, then the book is also bound to do well and move up the list. We dont need to mention the World Cup anywhere on the cover, but just the fact that it is being launched with the World Cup fever at its peak works perfectly in its favour, adds Karthika. Anjum Chopra, former captain of the Indian womens cricket team, also joined the party with the launch of a coffee-table book, which she co-authored with sports filmmaker and author Sunil Yash Kalra. The book, Womens Cricket World: Journey from 1745 to 2013, although traces the story of women cricketers, Chopra is confident that the World Cup and IPL buzz will help the book. We absolutely wanted to launch the book alongside the World Cup. I feel it was really important to link the book and time the launch in such a way that it benefits from buzz around the World Cup. The whole country, and in fact, much of the world would be hooked on to cricket in the days to come, and it would certainly translate into more awareness as well as a push for the product, she says.

However, publishers, while making good use of the cricket-crazy atmosphere, are treading carefully. In our experience, the market for books on cricket in India is not as large as you would imagine, given that the sport is a national obsession. People are more keen to watch the game. With this in mind, we dont have too many publications coinciding with the World Cup, says Udayan Mitra, publisher of Allen Lane and Portfolio, Penguin Books India. Going Places: Indias Small-Town Cricket Heroes, and Cricket! All You Wanted to Know About the World Cup are Penguins offering for the season. Rupa, popular for its economical paperbacks, has come out with a fiction book and a trivia-based book on World Cup cricket, which are titled Show Me a Hero, and The Cricket World Cup: Cherish and Relish, respectively.

And which category of books are expected to do well within the larger group of books based on cricket According to the industry insiders, memoirs, biographies and autobiographies rule the roost. Memorabilia about the World Cup and the teams are probably the most obvious books to publish. This would also be a great time to publish a cricketers memoirs, although to the best of my knowledge, there isnt one out at the moment, says Sarkar. Mitra more or less agrees, Its mostly biographies and autobiographies. I think the biggest selling cricket book in India to date is probably Gavaskars Sunny Days. Of the books weve done, Gulu Ezekiels biography of Sachin has been our biggest seller. People do like to hear about the game (and dressing room spats) from star cricketers, and so a lot of memoirs are being published right now, he says.

Karthika feels books that are mass-oriented and have cheap price points can make the most of such big events. I personally feel that cheaper and mass market books do particularly well around such events as a large part of the readership at such points would include people who are not regular readers or followers of sport-based literature otherwise. Generally a person who doesnt really follow books on cricket is expected to pick up a book on cricket now, more than ever, she says. Retailers seem to agree with the notion. Sivaramn Balakrishnan, manager, marketing, Crossword adds that of all the sports books, cricket books draw the maximum revenue. And it is the biographies that sell the most. However, the real sales will start reflecting only once the tournament begins, says Balakrishnan, who also points out to the growing popularity of the sports genre in books. However, Shashindra Nath Mishra, chief operating officer of Oxford Bookstore anticipates a rise in the sale of books on cricket. We have placed an order to get more copies of the new cricket releases as we are looking at a rise in the readership once the mega event begins, says Mishra.

Experts also feel that quality of these books is a key issue that needs to be looked at. According to cricket historian and columnist Boria Majumdar, books that are just there to cash-in on the World Cup and the IPL are bound to fall flat on their faces, until they provide something substantive and add value for the reader. I am totally against quickies, as more often than not theyd be chucked into the bin. For a book to actually work, it has to be substantive, well researched and its contribution has to be long lasting. If they are just to cash in on the event without any depth or substance, they are bound to fail miserably as the spectators and readers are very smart, especially on cricket. And considering that the World Cup will receive a lot of press any which way, with or without the books, they need to really reflect quality, he says. Majumdar co-authored the much talked about book Sellotape Legacy on the XIX Commonwealth Games held in Delhi.

But do these mega-sporting events lead to just a burst of sports literature, which again falls silent after the event and its afterglow are gone, or can we consider the Indian market large enough, and interested enough for consumption of sports-based literature around the year While most in the publishing world believe that the market is still quite nascent, definite growth is expected in the time to come. Immediately, it would be a frill market, a surrounding market. It will become mainstream depending on how fast sports develop in socio-economic terms in the country and are integrated further in our social dynamics. There was a time when most books on sports were imported material, which only a few in the society could afford and had access to. However, now with books being published in the country, various strata of the population are craving for this information and it will just act as a fuel for more books on sports to be released in the time to come, says K Srinivas, publishing manager, Pearson Education, India. Pearson also recently published a book on the IPL, titled The IPL Story, Cricket, Glamour and Big Money.

Karthika concurs, We definitely are now entering into a mature phase as far as this market is concerned. Although there is not a large number of readers dedicated to this segment, but the numbers are surely growing. In fact we have decided to start an imprint, Harper Sport, which would start with bringing out five to six books on sports in a year. Mitra too, is planning to dish out a few more titles with various sports as their subjects. However, he feels that a dedicated readership is actually what is really required to push sports literature further in India. I think there are great stories to be told about hockey, tennis, badminton, soccer, athletics and wrestling, to name just a few, especially in the light of Indias recent sporting successes across disciplines. But I feel sports literature in India needs a dedicated readership in order to flourishlike other books, it always has to contend and compete with the allure of television, which is a more readily accessible medium, he says.

India is a country, which eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. May be its time we start reading cricket as well. And while there are already enough books on the shelf for this edition of the cricket World Cup, what is more crucial and central to the issue is the future of sports literature at large in the country. The answers arent as clear though.