A New Report Evaluates the Indian Publishing Industry’s Prospects

The Association of Publishers in India, with EY-Parthenon, offer a look at the multilingual Indian publishing industry and its challenges.

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‘The Key Enabler’

Working with the Association of Publishers in India, the international consultancy EY-Parthenon has released a study, The Value Proposition of Indian Publishing: Trends, Challenges, and Future of the Industry.

The intent is to “highlight the contribution of the Indian publishing industry to India’s economic growth.” And results, found in the descriptive material, indicate that book publishing in India “is the key enabler for education attainment, continuous learning and recreation, promoting Indian culture, values, and excellence.”

In terms of defining characteristics of a book business set in one of the world’s most complicated national settings—India has at least 22 officially recognized languages, for example, with many more languages spoken as a matter of course in various parts of the vast nation.

This, in fact, may offer opportunities, the study writers suggesting that the publishing industry can also collaborate with government and private organizations to offer diverse content in multiple languages at various price points, and to enable greater access and affordability for end-users.”

This is true, but of course, working with a government creates many constraints and regulatory considerations, as well, and one of the key points confirmed by this report is that in India, the publishing industry “is dominated by educational publishing with a small share of trade [commercial] publishing.

“There are 250 million K-12 students” in India, the study reports, “and more than 35 million higher education students in the country. These students rely primarily on books as the medium for learning. Thus, the Indian publishing industry makes an integral part of the Indian education system.” And that means, of course, that in various ways, the industry already works at significant proximity to government.

‘The Growth of Human Capital’

Nevertheless, the Association of Publishers’ secretary-general, Subrahmanian Seshadri, is quoted in media messaging, saying, “Encouraging the publishers’ involvement in policy-making reforms pertaining to the publishing industry and government’s intervention in overcoming regulatory challenges are expected to transform the present landscape.

“Besides implementing immediate reforms, the government could also facilitate the growth of human capital in the long run.”

These things are true, of course, and lie closer to the educational side than the trade. And so the arrival of this study and the educationally dominated Indian book business have a kind of parallel to this year’s announced interest in the International Publishers Association and Dubai Cares‘ Africa Publishing Innovation Fund, which is looking for “proposals for projects to develop reading culture beyond the classroom” because so many of the African markets’ book businesses hold a primarily educational, textbook-driving role.

Sure enough, in a summation provided to journalists–there seems to be no actual executive summary provided with this study—we read, “India needs a strong regulatory ecosystem for copyrights. Given the business landscape in India, private publishers face significant competition from state publishing houses. On the other hand, regulations or norms related to the use of state-published materials vary across the country, inhibiting the industry from operating as a free market.” Exactly so, and here the great tension between policy interests and private publishing interests so often lie.

Especially as the internationally recognized digital acceleration occasioned by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has revealed in quickening adoption of ebooks, audiobooks, and online retail, it’s interesting to read in this study that India’s market is only about 8- to 10-percent digital. “However,” the study’s authors write without explanation, “ebooks and audiobooks are expected to be critical growth drivers and have a promising future in the industry.”

Indeed, that “promising future” message is the one that this exercise’s folks want to put across, writing, “The publishing industry has a promising future in India.”

But later, “One of the biggest opportunities for the Indian publishing industry is the National Education Policy,” approved about a year ago, in late July 2020. “The shift,” the report’s writers say, “would lead to the new curriculum and publishing of associated teaching-learning material where the publishing industry will have to provide textbooks and supplementary resources that enable parents, students, and teachers to adapt to the new curriculum.”

And that, of course, probably perpetuates the hegemony of the educational sector, which already coexists with what the association says are issues in privacy and copyright.

The EY-Parthenon report projects the total market value of the Indian industry to be some 800 billion rupees by 2024 (US$10.7 billion), up from 500 billion rupees in 2019 ($6.7 billion).

“In terms of revenue,” the association tells us, “publishing is one of the largest media-related industries in India, larger than print news media such as newspapers and magazines; digital media (social media, apps, online streaming, music, and games); filmed entertainment; and radio and music.”

Jain: ‘Witnessing the Opportunities’

Neeraj Jain, who is president of the Association of Publishers in India–as well as managing director of Scholastic India–is quoted, saying, “We’re pleased to release this report, as it syncs with our mission to represent the views of members and fellow associations to stakeholders, government, and the society at large on the value proposition of the industry.

“Through this report, we look forward to witnessing the opportunities that are highlighted and yet to be seized in the market.”

Some of the topics in the section of the 56-page report called “Challenges Facing the Industry and Learnings From Across the World” will be of interest. We are  excerpting small parts of the explanatory copy here, and it’s advisable to read the full text for any section of interest, as there’s a good deal of detail to be had.

  • Distribution channel inefficiencies: “The book distribution system in India is complicated, especially for tier-2 and tier-3 cities or towns in which the distribution value chain is highly fragmented and requires substantial lead time before books reach the end user, according to leading academic publishers. Also, the lack of a formal distribution network for most regional language publishers results in them selling through friends and family-based retailers or book fairs and, thus, limiting their reach.”
  •  Technological challenges: “Publishers in India are adopting newer digital formats. However, the challenges faced by the Indian market are slightly different, with sizeable print readership and a significant reader base in regional languages. To attain scale, publishers in India will have to innovate and build technology-based solutions that address the needs of diverse audience segments. One such innovative model adopted by an Indian publisher is StoryWeaver by Pratham Books, a digital platform for authors, illustrators and readers to create, adapt, read, and translate children’s stories in regional and foreign languages.”
  • Regulatory challenges: “Before the goods and services tax (GST), there was no tax levied throughout the value chain of book production. After the implementation of GST, books are not taxed per se, but the inputs to book production–such as paper manufacturing, printing, and binding–are taxed at 12 to 18 percent. Another new input tax levied on the industry is the 12-percent GST charge on royalty fees paid to authors. Compounding the problem, publishers are not allowed to claim tax credit on the GST charged on inputs. This situation has led to an increase in the books’ prices of 10 to 20 percent to accommodate the overall effect of GST.”

The report concludes that the way forward will be for the publishing industry in India to:

  • Support 21st-century education
  • Create a knowledge society
  • Function as an ambassador for India in the world

It fleshes out those three key points in extensive detail.

Source – publishing perspectives

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