Is demand finally catching up with the need for education in India?

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Education

Huge growth for the book industry was forecast by Unesco in the 1950s in its slim publication called The Book Hunger. One could say that now demand for education (and books) as in many other economic segments is finally catching up with earlier forecasts…

The book publishing industry in India should be notorious for the poor level of data that it invests in and generates. In the main, many of the leading publishers thrive on the lack of, or poor, unvalidated data that can be cut and pasted from the internet. The problem is exacerbated by the Nehruvian idealism of not taxing books at retail and this has turned many paper suppliers, printers, publishers, distributors, and customers, including schools and universities, into a less than transparent knowledge ecosystem.

Huge growth for the book industry was forecast by Unesco in the 1950s in its slim publication called The Book Hunger. This growth did not take place and the need-based forecasts for books and even for the paper industry done by the IIM Ahmedabad in the 1970s were all belied by the slow growth in demand. One could say that now demand for education (and books) as in many other economic segments is finally catching up with earlier forecasts albeit about 30 years late perhaps because of the failure of the central and state government to actually build the number of schools required. However, there are experts who say that given the growth in demand, there is little hope or likelihood of the state being able to provide quality education across the country.

Moreover, the school textbook market in India is undergoing a massive makeover with private schools growing exponentially in numbers across the country’s geography. A 2016 FICCI study estimates the number of private schools in India to be 3.4 lakh, growing at a CAGR of 4% over the last five years; the study says that around 1.3 lakh more schools would be needed by 2022. These schools are plugging the demand-supply gap created by inadequate availability of government schools as well as the poor infrastructure and quality of teaching and outcomes in these government-run schools with the exception in states such as West Bengal and Kerala.

The Indian school book publishing market has suddenly come into media focus with S Chand & Co. going public with a Rs. 650 crore Initial Public Offering (IPO) to part-finance an expansion and consolidation project. There are some large textbook publishers in the country such as S Chand and Navneet Prakashan and Macmillan, whose topline growth over the years has had the benefit of acquisitions. However, it is not clear to what extent the schoolbook industry can be scaled given the multiplicity of exam boards such as ICSE and CBSE and various state boards in an education system with both state and central governments having concurrent status. The NCERT’s attempt to dictate content (at times with an ideological agenda) rather than setting benchmarks and standards could also be a constraint to growth that is largely driven by the need to achieve excellence in terms of either employability or entrance to established institutions of higher learning.

One interesting feature of the S Chand Red Herring prospectus issued in December 2016 is that two research reports are cited. The first is the Nielsen India Book Market Report 2015 that says the Indian book market in 2015 was Rs. 26,100 crore and expected to achieve a level of Rs. 74,000 crore in 2022. The prospectus also cites India’s demographics with a potential student population in the 5 to 24 age bracket numbering 520 million in 2016 and expected to grow to 534 million in 2020.

Technopak’s December 2016 research report also cited in the prospectus is, according to IppStar’s research (www.ippstar.org), somewhat more credible with its figure of book industry revenue of US$ 89.7 billion (Rs. 60,000 crore) in 2015 and a growth forecast to US$ 188 billion (Rs. 126,000 crore) in 2020. IppStar’s research actually shows a much higher figure for the Indian book industry sales, including book imports and exports.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the private school textbook industry is growing in double digits and although it is fragmented one cannot say how successful consolidation and the injection of private or public equity will be in actually scaling it up.

 

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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