Please meet Mr. Arjun Sachdev, Member of the Board of Directors of Allied Publishers Private Limited. Arjun and I first met in October 2001 when I visited his family in Mumbai.
ANDRA: Arjun, you are my cousin or more precisely–my father’s sister’s late husband’s cousin’s son. Without your parents, I don’t know how I would have managed applying for an internship in India in 2001: Since your family is very well connected in the publishing industry, your father introduced me to Tata McGraw-Hill in Delhi. Your mother took care of finding a place to stay for me, and also connected me with the Delhi part of the family. I am very grateful for the efforts they made. Something I will also never forget is my first visit to Mumbai and how you introduced me to the Mumbai party-scene. We went out three nights in a row, do you remember?
Arjun Sachdev: Firstly, it’s been great knowing you all these years Andra, and wow, didn’t think it’s been 14 years already, how time flies. But it’s really nice to know the impact that India has had on you both personally and career wise and I am sure we would keep meeting in India in the future as well. As far as the party scene, yes, I do remember us going out and having quite a few beers together. We had a blast at ‘Ghetto’ as well. Now I can’t imagine partying more than once a month, let alone 3 days in a row…
ANDRA: Well, we have both gotten older and there is not so much time and energy for nightlife any more, I guess. Apart from you now being married and with your own family, your father has retired, and you have taken over the Mumbai office of Allied Publishers. As far as I know, Allied had been founded in the 1930s and became family business in 1947, right? Can you please tell us a bit about the history, the management and your business-focus?
Arjun Sachdev: Well, Allied was founded in 1934 by a Scotsman by the name of Graham Brash and my grandfather purchased the company from him after the independence and partition of India. My grandfather was based in Karachi prior to partition and was running a paint business there. But he was a risk taker by nature and jumped at the opportunity to sell his paint business and acquire Allied Publishers which at the time had two offices, one in Bombay (Mumbai) and the second in Calcutta. My grandparents had 3 sons and 1 daughter, out of which my father, SM Sachdev was the eldest followed by my aunt, Nalini Tandon, then my uncle, Sunil Sachdev and finally my youngest uncle, Ravi Sachdev. All the three sons were given different responsibilities. My father was based in Mumbai and my eldest uncle, Sunil Sachdev was based in Delhi. They both handled the publishing and distribution business. My youngest uncle, Ravi Sachdev was made in charge of the printing press and all production activities were under him. For many years now, Allied Publishers Group has been the largest distributor and provider of information products, be it books, journals and e-resources in the Indian Subcontinent. Talking about our own imprints, we mainly concentrate on school-books. Our mission is to provide all types of information published around the world to the Indian customers–both booksellers and end users–as importers, distributors and stockists of foreign publishers: Allied is offering Journals and Magazines from across the world. Also we promote Indian publications abroad as leading Exporters, through our Export Division, which is based in New Delhi. One of the most famous authors we as a publisher are selling licenses of, is the world-famous yoga-teacher, late B.K.S. Iyengar.
ANDRA: It’s kind of a tradition that every year we bump into each other at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I trust this will also happen in 2015, even though they have changed the structure of the halls. Would your visits be related to your import or export business?
Arjun Sachdev: Yes, I know, and these “bumping into each other” always happen by chance without any planning which makes it even more fun. Yes, I have also heard that the layout has changed, I wonder if it would make things simpler or more complex. Normally when we visit it’s to strengthen our relationship with those international publishers that we sell in India and also to find new publishers to represent. So, it’s almost entirely import related.
ANDRA: When I last spoke to Sunil in Delhi, he was telling me about how Amazon came up as a competitor in your market. When I was visiting last winter, I was amazed how much money Amazon must be spending for ads, TV-commercials and outdoor-advertisement in India. What is your perception and what is your strategy to not seriously lose business to them?
Arjun Sachdev: Yes, he is correct, Amazon and Flipkart are both competing with the traditional book store and nowadays the younger generation is happier buying books online rather than a physical store. But for publishers or distributors like ourselves, this won’t really affect our sales as we can still sell our own publications as well as those books that we distribute via these online retailers. So rather than a threat, I find these online stores as a benefit to us because we are able to reach those readers who we might not have been reachable in the past.
ANDRA: That’s good to hear. What about the digital world in general? What kind of new products and solutions are you offering, and what is your experience so far?
Arjun Sachdev: I am happy to say that most of our sales nowadays are for electronic products, be it eBooks, eJournals, Databases as well as software solutions. We have even digitised most of our best-selling school books, so that students can have access to them on any electronic device. We are channel partners for publishers and information providers who cater to different industries like medical, scientific, manufacturing etc. For me personally, these are very exciting times in my industry and people are making that leap from paper to digital content.
ANDRA: Do you find that though digitalisation it has become easier to do business internationally? Any stories from the past you might have heard from your father, Ravi or Sunil? I mean, we both kind of grew up with the process, communicating using e-mail, Skype etc.… Still, I’d be interested to learn how you evaluate the opportunity to meet people face to face, e.g. at the Book Fair?
Arjun Sachdev: Yes it has become easier to do business now because of the digital age. Basically, it is now cheaper and faster to communicate and sell which has led to an ease in business. There are days when I email a supplier as many 3–4 times a day, but haven’t met him even once. We have even become very good friends, but don’t even know what each other looks like. So yes, in today’s day and age relationships could be established without physically having to be present… but…. you can always go that extra mile if you are face to face with a person in the same room. When you meet someone physically in the same space, the kind of bond you can develop is stronger than the one made through an email, call or even a video conference. I am sure we will continue to come for the fair as long as our suppliers continue to come as this interaction leads to building relationships.
ANDRA: One more thing, now that we are talking about meeting people face to face. What would you say is the greatest challenge in this context? For example when international publishers visit in Mumbai or Delhi, would you observe that these visits in India are sometimes difficult for them? Would they maybe even perceive the two cities differently? How do you feel when you visit Germany? Anything you are kind of struggling with?
Arjun Sachdev: Communication is normally not an issue for an English speaking person who is visiting India because most people speak English at some level. I hear an issue that most foreigners have is getting the Indian VISA which takes quite some time. But once they get to India, in most cases, it’s all smooth sailing. Culture-wise, India is very diverse and hence when you talk about the Indian subcontinent it truly is a collection of different nations that have come together and created this country. Hence, even a visit to our top two cities, Mumbai and Delhi, could be like visiting two cities in two different countries. The climate is different, the people are different, the architecture is different, the language is different, the food is different and even the style of doing business is very distinct from each other. I honestly love Germany, especially the efficiency and order of everything. In most cases, at least in Frankfurt, people do speak English. The only issue I have with Germany is that for some reason Germans think water is of the sparkling variety which I truly dislike. But leaving that aside, I love visiting Germany.
ANDRA: Well, we’ll bump into each other in October. Anyway, I am also planning to come to Mumbai at the end of the year, so in any case I am very much looking forward to talking to you face to face again very soon. Thanks a lot for the interview, and please give my regards to your family.
Arjun Sachdev: I will see you at the fair for sure, and please keep yourself free for a meal. About Mumbai, you are always welcome and I can’t wait to meet you here in India as well. I will give your regards to my family and it’s been a great interview.