A New Zealander in London selling books from India

‘Books from India are my gift to the world’, says Ray McLennan, who, in 1998 had purchased Motilal Books, a small Oxford-based distributor focusing on academic bookshops

A New Zealander in London selling books from India

Vishnu Makhijani

In 1998, Ray McLennan, who had been importing from India musical instruments, saris, tilak, Tulsi malas and agarbatti etc., purchased Motilal Books, a small Oxford-based distributor focusing on academic bookshops and university libraries.

In 2014, he set up his own company, Rays Books of India Pvt Ltd, to broaden his accessibility. Between them, the two companies recorded a turnover of 1.7 million pounds in 2020, in spite of the Coronavirus pandemic, riding largely on online sales, informed McLennan, who is originally from New Zealand, in an interview from Hertfordshire, north of London.

As many as 16,000 books were sold per month in 2020 and made for 9,000-plus titles sold during the year. "We have had an increase in turnover (in spite of the pandemic), but due to increased freight costs, a lower margin. Our greater sales are because online selling is king. Bookshops have been closed much of 2020," McLennan said.

His Indian associate, KPR Nair of Konark Publishers, was quite astounded when he visited McLennan in St Albans in 2019.

"I could not believe my eyes when I saw the kind of stock of books held by him of Indian authors, from Chetan Bhagat to Shobha De to Ramachandra Guha to Shashi Tharoor. I was floored by his in-depth knowledge of our products and equally by his passion about Indian culture and our way of life, etc. What was to be a brief meeting thus ended up in a four-hour-long passionate talk about books, history and culture and untold stories about Indian authors and our publishing industry.

Only in India, McLeenan said, "is the English publishing scene full of titles on an endless range of subjects, authors and publishers. We have over 9,500 Indian published titles in stock with Amazon.co.uk, and 13,400 units in stock with Amazon.com in the USA".

"We have titles available from more than 750 Indian publishers we exclusively represent into the UK and the worldwide book trade, including Penguin Random House, HarperCollins India, Westland, Konark, Orient Blackswan, TERI, Juggernaut, Kitab Mahal and Jaico.

"We exhibit internationally every year at the London Book Fair (the 2020 edition was cancelled and the 2021 event will be held digitally) where we meet with publishers and customers. We attend the Delhi World Book Fair every year in February (the 2021 edition was virtual), which presents us an opportunity to meet contracted publishers and new publishers, see new titles, and plan future business with them all to maximise sales outside of India," McLennan said.

He visited India originally in 1975, has since visited the country every year, and since 2004, multiple times a year.

"From 2006 we have been the only major supplier of all Indian publishing worldwide, and although we have had financial collapses, terrorism, changes of governments, ebooks, Brexit, and now Covid, our sales have continued to increase as we create more awareness of what has been published, its price and where to get it.

"Yes, Covid is giving us problems, but we will continue to supply demand which is mainly coming from the USA and the UK as can only be expected as the two biggest centres of English language publishing and selling," McLennan concluded.

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