A visionary publisher, marketing guru

The death of Qazi Anwar Husain puts an end to the work of a legendary figure in Bangladesh. The prolific writer, translator, editor and publisher breathed his last on January 19 at the age of 85 years and six months. The creation of the first Bengali spy novel “Masud Rana” gained him huge popularity among a wide section of book lovers and readers. For the past 55 years, the spy thriller Masud Rana has captivated its fans.

Looking back, it was undoubtedly a groundbreaking event in Bengali detective fiction when Anwar wrote and published the first Bengali spy thriller in 1966. Entitled “DhongshoPahar” (The Hill of Destruction), the book’s central character was Masud Rana. a daredevil spy from the country’s counterintelligence agency. The first book shook conservative Bengali society as Anwar introduced not only a Bengali spy but also sex in fiction. Despite heavy criticism, his avid readership was also large, which prompted Anwar to write and publish the second book in the Masud Rana series titled “Bharatnatyam”. [Indian (classical) Dance]. It took 10 months to complete the writing while he spent seven months writing the first book.

Before he started writing Masud Rana, Anwar was stunned and shocked when he read “Dr No” written by Ian Fleming, the creator of British spy fiction character James Bond. His friend Mahbub Amin gave him the book saying that Anwar knew little about international thriller fiction. By this time, Anwar had already started writing and publishing the juvenile crime novel series titled Kuasha (Fog). He set up his press in the premises of their residence in Segun Bagicha in 1963 and Kuasha’s first book was published in 1964 from this press.

As James Bond inspired him to develop a Bengali spy persona, he took a daring motorcycle ride to Chattogram, Rangamati and Kaptai. It was to stage the story of his fiction. He also read English fiction and thrillers. So an exhaustive preparation was there. It was also an event, probably not unexpected by Anwar. He was a big fan of Bengali novelist Manik Bandyopadhyay, who took the trouble to visit and stay with fishermen on the bank of Padma River before writing his famous novel, Padma Nodir Majhi (The Padma River Boatmen) . On more than one occasion in his later years, Anwar mentioned this while talking to this scribe, adding that most writers, including himself, lacked Manik Bandyopadhyay’s devotion.

In response to overwhelming demand from readers, Anwar decided to continue the series by adapting English detective fiction. He understood that writing alone would take too much time. Also, there was almost no spy novel writing experience among writers of that time in that part of the world. So, no book was available to get an idea of ​​thrillers of this genre.

Finally, the young, energetic editor foresaw that there was a niche market for spy fiction there. To exploit the market, he had to publish his books regularly and also at low prices. Wasting no time, Anwar drifted into the uncharted territory of paperback publishing. Sheba Prokashoni became the pioneer of publishing paperbacks printed on newsprint, a cheap, non-archival paper, in Bangladesh. Qazi Anwar’s motto was clear and simple. Readers bought and read the book for fun, then threw it away. There was no reason to keep the books for long. However, it turned out to be wrong as many readers kept Sheba’s books, especially Masud Rana.

A big challenge was the marketing of newly published books. Anwar introduced the “discussion” section at the end of each book to communicate directly with readers by posting and responding to their letters. Avid readers found it very exciting when their names were printed. An announcement of the next book was also made. The story summary printed on the back cover of each book also attracted readers.

To diversify the marketing, Anwar and his team also used covered minivans branded as “Masud Rana” and “Kuasha” on roads and highways. It was in the late 70s. Innovative advertising helped attract new readers, the ultimate consumers of Sheba Prokashoni. Regular advertisements for his books also started appearing in Dainik Bangla and Shaptahik Bichitra (the daily and the weekly no longer exist). Reviews of Sheba’s books have also been published in different newspapers like Morning News, Sangbad and Chitrali.

As Sheba Prokashoni diversified her portfolio by publishing abridged translation of world classics, children’s and juvenile thrillers, and various detective fiction, including the Western genre, the business boomed. Many writers and translators also emerged under the leadership of Qazi Anwar Husain. Rahashay Patrika (the Mystery Magazine), a monthly magazine like Reader’s Digest, started publication from November 1984 under the editorship of Anwar. The magazine also gained popularity and served as a vehicle for advertising Sheba’s books. Additionally, Sheba publishes books throughout the year and is not targeting the February 21 book fair.

Over the years, Qazi Anwar Husain has developed a unique business model in the publishing industry in Bangladesh. There has been no credit-based transaction since the very beginning of Sheba Prokashoni. Booksellers must buy the books published by paying in cash the commissions due. The publishing house makes extensive use of the country’s national postal service to send books to retail sellers nationwide. Individual readers can receive the books directly by mail after paying a monthly or annual subscription. Sheba’s books are still available in bookstores and newsstands at train stations, bus stops, river terminals and on street corners.

Sheba Prokashoni has also developed a regular payment system for writers’ royalties and fees. Usually, writers or translators receive their first and main part of the royalties within a month of publication. Based on book sales, they then receive quarterly royalty payments. There was even a time when Rahashya Patrika published a notice appointing writers to collect office dues.

Thus, the late Qazi Anwar Husain also deserves the accolade of a visionary publisher. He was a unique and insightful entrepreneur in the publishing industry of Bangladesh who proved that dedicated and creative book marketing is the key to success in the business. Its publishing business model can be a case study topic at universities, especially for marketing students.

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