Frontlist | A chat with Oxford University Press India’s MD

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Mr. Sivaramakrishnan Venkateswaran is the Managing Director of Oxford University Press (OUP) India. We had a conversation with him on the publishing industry and its future. Here are his thoughts:

Q1. We are in the digital era, tell us how OUP is evolving with increasing digitization? 

Oxford University Press (OUP) has a rich legacy of over 500 years during which it has seen several landmark events and disruptions of varying nature, including the more recent advent of digitization in education. We have taken these changes in our stride to constantly evolve our products and services and remain as relevant as ever.

At OUP, we have adopted the ‘digital first’ approach to the development of our products and services. This means that our learning solutions are completely tailored to how the learner wants to use them and therefore medium agnostic. Several of our titles are now available in e-book formats, our learning resources, including assessments, are available online and our print books have accompanying digital support material for the learner’s benefit. We have also developed blended or integrated learning solutions that seamlessly combine print and digital resources to create a consistent learning environment not just for the student but also for the teacher and the parent.

Over the years, we have ensured that teachers and educators have training support available to be able to use these solutions and also apply them in a remote learning setup during Covid-19.

Q2. How is digitalization helping publishers?

Digital is helping publishers to widen their reach and achieve scale. Given India’s advantage of low mobile data cost, digital learning content is today available to a wide audience, anytime and anywhere. OUP’s digital first approach to creating learning solutions is ensuring that our content works well in digital & blended formats in addition to print. Digital learning applications help us to track usage of content by the learner and teacher allowing us to draw learnings and make changes at the time of version and content upgrade.

Digitization has also allowed publishers to license their content to third-party online content providers who specialize in creating an online interface but often lack expertise in developing pedagogically rich content aligned to learning outcomes.

Q3. What are the major challenges for the publishing industry? How are publishers dealing with it? 

At OUP, we believe in equity, access and affordability of content in a way that it is a win-win between the three key stakeholders – the author, the publisher and the institution/ learner.

The foremost challenge for publishers today is the safety and protection of their Intellectual Property (IP). Publishers develop, curate, license and package content for the benefit of the learner in conjunction with authors, designers, illustrators and others at a substantial investment of skill, time and resources. It is important that Publishers get the ROI on this effort so that there is an incentive to constantly develop new, well-researched and leaner-centric content. This calls for rigorous implementation of our existing copyright and piracy laws.

The other issue is of the freedom of the educator and the learner to exercise choice while selecting educational content. In a globalized learning environment, it is important that we allow this choice, as learners have varied interests, learning patterns and pedagogies that work for them. Binding them with one kind of learning material may not be a sustainable idea if we are to make India a vibrant knowledge economy.

We would also like the Government to reconsider its decision of keeping books out of the GST ambit. While books were kept out of GST, all the inputs are taxed, and the publishing industry cannot claim offset of these taxes. This results in input taxes adding to the costs of publishing. If publishers can claim offset of these taxes it will help to bring down the cost of learning resources.

Q4. What are your personal suggestions for the government to help the publishing industry? 

The role that publishers play is often less understood or underestimated. It is not just the Government but also other stakeholders who need to understand that role of publishers is much beyond simply ‘publishing content’. Publishers have an extremely close and valuable relationship with their authors, designers, reviewers, user schools and collaborators who help them to research and create reading and learning resources. These partnerships ensure that the end product is one that has been well edited, pedagogically designed, peer-reviewed and appropriately marketed. All these factors significantly enhance the reader’s experience and provides learners with aids that they need to meet their potential.

We also feel that there is a strong case for the Government to work with reputed publishers to determine curriculum changes and pedagogy suited to drive learning outcomes.

Q5. Is the copyright law currently a challenge for publishers or is it helping them to protect their content?

We think it is great to have laws that seek to protect IP. Copyright laws allow IP and creative endeavours to be turned into rewards for creators. It ensures that works – of all kinds – are produced and disseminated to their widest possible audience of readers and learners and therefore these laws need strong enforcement. In the present environment there’s limited awareness of copyright and piracy laws, as a result of which the gravity of any violation is underestimated and often not dealt with the seriousness that the issue deserves.

We firmly believe in equity, access and affordability of content in a way that it is a win-win between the author, the publisher and the institution/ learner. This balance can be sustained only if we have laws that safeguard IP.

Copyright and Piracy laws need better understanding and implementation across. The concept of licensing needs to be promoted so that there’s a legitimate mechanism of providing access to content, so that those who create and invest in its creation are remunerated. We think that there is a strong case for publishers, public intellectuals and regulatory bodies to work together on building copyright awareness in India.

Q6. What is the current state of the Indian publishing industry and how do you picture the future of the publishing industry post Covid-19?

The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital learning resources and given enough credence to the remote model of learning and teaching. One of the significant insights for Publishers and others from this experience is that digital and print can seamlessly co-exist and a blended approach to learning and teaching stands to deliver better outcomes in the times ahead. At OUP, we pioneered the concept of blended learning and teaching a few years ago and we are experiencing steady uptake of our learning solutions from schools across the country. We think more and more publishers will explore blended learning and offering digital support in addition to print books. The key will be seamless integration, teacher support and provision for a robust formative assessment platform. OUP has been leading this effort and has developed “Oxford Advantage”, a blended solution for schools, which already has a user base of over 100,000 learners and growing rapidly.

Q7. What is required to promote Indian publishing industry on the global platform?

There is a growing demand for language content, especially in the online segment. As per a Google study from last year – of the 40 million new internet users added between 2015-2018, nearly 90% were consuming content in local/regional languages. Statistics such as these help to create opportunities for publishers in translation, online vernacular content and licensing. If Indian publishers can successfully offer quality content, then global technology giants seeking to tap into the young Indian demographic will probably be ready takers for our lexical content. Of course, this implies owning original content with all legitimate rights and permissions to use the same.

 Q8. What is your take on NEP (National Education Policy)?

 The NEP is a significant step in the right direction – it was much needed given the advent of digitization over the last decade or so and the fact that we did not have any revision or updation of the NEP for 34 years. Quite commendably, the NEP is an outcome of a highly consultative and participative process. The importance given to the introduction of multidisciplinary learning, hands-on experience and the development of a pedagogical framework for early childhood care and education are very well thought of reforms in the school education space. Even on the higher education side, easing of entry and exit barriers, the goal of 50% GER by 2035 and the proposal to have foreign universities collaborate with Indian universities augur well for the Indian learners. We do expect the NEP to make India a more vibrant knowledge society through the delivery of quality and outcome-based education.

 Q9. The Delhi Book Fair happened virtually this year, what is your take on the whole scenario?

 A virtual book fair ensured continuity to this landmark annual event. It was an excellent example of the resilience of the publishing industry which committed itself to keep learning going against all odds during the pandemic. Providing access to books while learning institutions remained closed combined with the digital divide undermining some efforts, the online book fair was a boon for readers and learners of all ages. We think that the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) in association with PragatiE did an excellent job of evangelizing and organizing the first ever virtual Delhi Book Fair.

 

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