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.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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