School textbooks – muddle or dilemma?

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industry

When one talks to both school textbook publishers and printers, the current muddle gets even more complicated. Last month, one of our editors went to a small city in the Delhi NCR where printers who had purchased new multicolor offset machines said they were still waiting for orders to print and bind textbooks for the new school year that will start in April 2016. Apparently many of their publisher customers were unable to commit because of the government’s threat of syllabus and content revision which has not come even now in December – a juncture or milestone that may be described as the thirteenth hour in the school textbook supply chain.

Some private publishers we have spoken to are seemingly unconcerned. They do not believe that the government’s revisions are anywhere near the horizon nor are they impressed by the government threat to supply books to all the schools. With new private schools opening every day and continuous demand for better content and production quality, there seems to be little likelihood of the government overtaking the private publishers anytime soon. In any case, even the NCERT godowns are full of previous inventory while its print orders for new books are declining drastically. Perhaps it is not only the poor quality of the NCERT books, but also that being a government body it is more paralysed by the education ministry’s threats than private publishers.

Another anomaly that comes to light is the practice of textbook publishers who preferred to produce all-in-one books to cover the multiple requirements of several regional markets for a single subject. Extra pages and quizzes made for bulky schoolbooks to cover a range of curricula in various states without having to publish a specific book for each market. Now publishers are having to scale down their print orders and also streamline their books aimed at specific markets. Other constraints have also limited the hitherto speculative scale of book production since the government has banned the use of price stickers to upwardly revise the price of previous year’s books. This means that extra inventory to be pulped – hitherto an unknown and costly practice in the country except in the case of censorship.

Moreover, there is concern amongst some of the large textbook publishers who have seen an upsurge of competition from smaller regional publishers in each state. Thus many of these publishers are hedging their bets by reducing their print orders in case there is a significant syllabus change. Large publishers are also affected by the churning of their sales force – their inventory can easily become stagnant while their realizations dry up by the all too human temptation to sell a good story to the next publisher looking for experienced sales talent.

An industry expert that we know (who is clearly over-qualified to be an education minister) welcomes change in content. As a parent of school going children, he looks forward to better content and the use of new teaching methods but at the same time cautions publishers against overproduction. He recommends that print orders for books should be even smaller – based on actual requirements, demand and consumption; and not on the basis of forecasts that anticipate need. For parents like him, the quality of content and production are very important as are the quality of teaching and new methods in education. With new technology including digital printing and a larger number of printers equipped with new multicolor offset presses and automated binding equipment this makes sense.

In 2024, we are looking at full recovery and growth-led investment in Indian printing

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. It created the category of privately owned B2B print magazines in the country. And by its diversification in packaging, (Packaging South Asia), food processing and packaging (IndiFoodBev) and health and medical supply chain and packaging (HealthTekPak), and its community activities in training, research, and conferences (Ipp Services, Training and Research) the organization continues to create platforms that demonstrate the need for quality information, data, technology insights and events.

India is a large and tough terrain and while its book publishing and commercial printing industry have recovered and are increasingly embracing digital print, the Indian newspaper industry continues to recover its credibility and circulation. The signage industry is also recovering and new technologies and audiences such as digital 3D additive printing, digital textiles, and industrial printing are coming onto our pages. Diversification is a fact of life for our readers and like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

India is one of the fastest growing economies in nominal and real terms – in a region poised for the highest change in year to year expenditure in printing equipment and consumables. Our 2024 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock – to emphasize your visibility and relevance to your customers and turn potential markets into conversations.

– Naresh Khanna

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Naresh Khanna
Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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