Politics before education

Books – education, eBooks and trade publishing

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Politics before education

Book publishing and printing in India has been growing over the past three decades. Some researchers have recently been showing very high double-digit annual growth in recent years. Still, IppStar’s research (www.ippstar.org) of the book publishing and printing industry in India and Bangladesh have more modest and detailed growth figures. The fundamental problem with textbooks and school book publishing in India is that while there is great need, the demand is growing only in the private education side.

IppStar’s recent research shows that in Bangladesh, where the government has invested considerably more than the Indian government in public education, the per capita textbook consumption is much higher than in India. In India, the overall trend for all levels of education is that of privatization.

In a frightening figure presented in January 2018 by Maheshwar Peri of Education 360, he said, “Indian students spend more than Rs. 45,000 crore (US$ 6.5 billion) annually on overseas education, while the entire central government budget for higher education is Rs. 33,000 (US$ 4.7 billion).

Government stalls textbook production

Nevertheless, eyeing the growing market, an increasing number of international book publishers are entering India, particularly in the children’s books and education market. Kailash Jajoo, a book printer based in Noida who prints school textbooks for private publishers, says, “I print books for Class 1 to 12 for nearly ten publishers. On average, I print, bind and supply close to 2.5 lakh textbooks in a month. Compared to last year, publishers have placed smaller orders this year. They say that the education policy is not clear as of now. That is the reason why they don’t want to go ahead with larger volumes as they don’t want to face losses.”

Under the new HRD minister, and due to the recent abrogation of Article 370 and 35A in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, there will be specific changes in the new curriculum. “For example, social science textbooks were on the presses, and the publishers instructed us to stop the printing mid-way, soon after the bill was passed in parliament. The final curriculum should have been issued by now but is being extended for unknown reasons. Books are being divided term-wise, as in, one book will now be available in three parts. This may help us gain some money on the bindery front,” adds Jajoo.

eBook share in the Indian market

Digital publishing in India is an emerging market. Even though it has a smaller percentage share as compared to printed books, it is still growing. While the rest of the world is adopting eBooks, Indians still prefer the printed medium. According to reader surveys done at the New Delhi World Book Fair in subsequent years by IppStar (www.ippstar.org), eBook reading had grown from 40% in 2014 to 54% in 2019. However, the expectations of respondents for eBook growth have declined.

Although the number of English eBook titles and sales has grown in the last two to three years, the language trade publishers have failed to sell eBooks worth more than 2% of their total sales revenue. The IppStar survey respondents no longer believe, as they did in 2014, that eBooks will dominate the future book market.

Gagan Das, national manager of trade books at Parragon Publishers, which publishes children’s books, says that more than 50,000 children’s titles are published in India every year. “Even though eBooks have witnessed marginal growth, I don’t think they’ll be able to take a sizable share of the market. eBooks are a new trend and, with time, will fade away from the market.”

Domestic trade publishing to grow

“Except Rupa Publications, there hasn’t been a serious domestic competitor in trade publishing for any foreign publisher that sells in India. It is the biggest Indian publishing house but has largely remained unnoticed. The tough competition from international publishers doesn’t allow local publishers such as Rupa to increase their prices,” explains Das.

He says that even though many international publications have established their offices in India, there is still plenty of scope for Indian publishing houses as the Indian market is gigantic. While he says that foreign publishers have a majority market share close to 60%, Das believes that the Indian publishing houses have an edge. The domestic publishers know the dynamics and the audience of the country better and can use it to their advantage to gain readers and generate better revenue streams.

“However, it also depends on the mindset of the readers. Many of them don’t realize that national publishers also publish some outstanding titles every year. Once the mindset changes and the readers judge books based on their content and not on global brands, we will see domestic book publishing grow even better in the country,” Das concludes.

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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