Rs 2 Cr deal: How Ratan Tata’s biography set record in non-fiction publishing
'Ratan Tata: A Life' by Thomas Mathew will be published by HarperCollins on March 30. Harper won the keenly contested global auction in January last year; the acquisition created a record in the history of non-fiction publishing in India
Ratan N. Tata: A Life, the authorised biography of Tata Sons’ chairman emeritus and legendary Indian business tycoon Ratan Tata, written by former senior bureaucrat and retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Thomas Mathew, is one of the most anticipated releases of the year 2023.
The book, which will be published globally by HarperCollins in print, audiobook and e-book formats on March 30, set a record in non-fiction publishing in India after the publishing house won the keenly contested bidding war for worldwide rights in a deal of over Rs 2-crore in January last year, sources in the publishing industry told The Federal.
The bidding war
While fiction writers, from Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh to Amish Tripathi and Chetan Bhagat, are known to receive huge advances, Ratan Tata’s biography became the first non-fiction title to have recieved Rs 20 million advance. The rights for over-the-top (OTT) and film have been retained by the author, who is represented by Anish Chandy of The Labyrinth Literary Agency.
Mathew’s comprehensive account of Ratan Tata’s life includes unknown details and fascinating stories from his formative years, the time he spent in America as a student, his return to India and his early tenure with the Tata Group. It documents Tata’s business strategies, leadership vision and personal integrity that have shaped the Group.
Mathew’s access to the private papers, correspondence and photographs of Ratan Tata over the past few years has enriched the biography, which includes formerly unreported details about events such as Tata’s Nano project, ouster of former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, and Tata Steel Ltd.’s acquisition of Corus, according to a release by HarperCollins.
With inputs from a variety of interviewees – from the likes of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Karuna, the janitor at GT Hospital, Mumbai – the book is a definitive account of Ratan Tata’s life and times, his struggles and his important contributions to contemporary India.
A man who overcame travails
Ratan Tata’s story is that of a man who overcame extraordinary travails and whose compassion took priority over business compulsions. As the head of India’s oldest and largest business house, his story also encapsulates the narrative of India’s growing ambitions on the world stage and rising clout in the last few decades.
Ratan Tata turned the Tata conglomerate into a global colossus, acquiring the marquee brands of Tetley Tea, Jaguar Land Rover and Corus Steel, among others. Today, the group is among the most respected brands worldwide, with a market capitalization of over $250 billion that employs over 750,000 people – that makes cars, blend tea, write software, among much else – across 100 countries.
During his momentous tenure, Ratan Tata transformed the Tata Group from a collection of disparate companies into a unified powerhouse. Today, it is one of the world’s largest business conglomerates and is greatly admired for its compassionate capitalism and trusteeship model of holding wealth.
A brief history of hefty bids
Historian Ramchandra Guha had sparked a similar bidding war in 2009, which Penguin Random House had won. Guha had got Rs 97 lakh in a seven-book deal, which included a two-volume biography of Mahatma Gandhi. Both HarperCollins India and Random House India had offered Rs 1 crore-plus as advance for a five-book deal, but Guha and his literary agent Gill Coleridge of RCW Literay Agency had gone with Penguin India for less money, adding two old titles.
Guha’s seven-book deal included Makers of Modern India, an anthology of the writings of political leaders, who were also men of ideas, and The Past and Future of Indian Democracy, a collection of essays. The backlist included States of Indian Cricket, Savaging the Civilized and Environmentalism
Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India (2010) had got reportedly Rs 25 lakh advance. In 2013, Westland gave Amish Tripathi, author of Shiva Trilogy, Rs 5 crore (close to $1 million), as advance for his five-book Sri Ramchandra series. Chetan Bhagat had signed a multi-million dollar deal with Amazon Publishing for six-books deal (three fiction and three non-fiction titles) in 2018.
The Federal reached out to both Mathew and Chandy, but they were not available for comment on the advance.