Academic publishing as a sector: innovations, challenges and policies

The prospects of the Indian academic publishing industry have never seemed brighter. Yet, is it ready to establish itself as a self-contained sector? Monica Malhotra Kandhari, MD, MBD Group, looks at the possibilities in terms of innovations, challenges and policies.

10 Apr 2019 | By PrintWeek India

Monica Malhotra Kandhari

Books have always been regarded as an important media for the development and promotion of human values. They act as catalysts for the advancement of a nation. They record new ideas, preserve and communicate knowledge, impart education and values, and aid the overall development of an individual. The publishing industry in India is counted among the top seven publishing nations in the world.

According to PwC, India has more than 9,000 publishers to serve its nearly 1.3 billion people but also imports a lot of books. The Indian publishing industry has grown and evolved over time and in 2017 was estimated at USD 6.7- billion, according to Nielsen.

With the coming of the digital age, the nature of the industry has changed. The advancement in technology and the availability of skilled manpower in India makes the country a major outsourcing hub for print and pre-publishing services in the world, be it print, design or editorial. The sector has tremendous potential, both in the domestic as well as the export markets. The government allows 100% FDI to publishing houses across the country to make India a publishing hub, by utilising the vast English-speaking technical manpower.

The prospects of the Indian academic publishing industry have never seemed brighter. India is witnessing a growing interest in the international circuits for the Indian customer base. This has resulted in several international publishing houses setting up a base in this country. There are a number of opportunities for academic publishers in India as well. Over the years, demand for digital content has increased, as the students are more inclined towards the digital education and they are more receptive towards animations, VR/ AR and any kind of videos.

Thus, the entire ecosystem has changed and now both print and digital co-exists and supplement each other. To add on to this, publishers are now coming up with more technology-driven products to meet the students’ needs. There are more digital innovative products in the market to enhance the learning outcomes in the fields of STEM education, Science Labs, Math lab, Language labs, Robotics, etc.

Academic publishing growing

If you look at the numbers, India has low per capita book consumption. The major reasons for this are low literacy rate and disposable income, and to some extent non-availability of books. Expensive books would not sell because of the first two factors. With changing times, education is becoming more and more important. Literacy is beginning to be emphasised and higher education is being sought by people who would not have considered it an asset in the past.

The reason for this is the growing population which leads to more competition in the job market. In the past, people could find jobs paying a decent wage after passing class VIII. As the competition grew, completing schooling became necessary. In today’s job market, even a graduate degree is no guarantee of obtaining a job. Technical or professional training might ensure you a job but not always. This is resulting in people going for more specialised education and hence, more demand of books.

Due to its massive population, numbers get amplified in this country. Even with a small percentage of people that are buying academic books, we are still quite a huge market.

As the need for academic books grows, the academic publishing industry is going to see a massive rise in demand. It is the anticipation of this demand that is bringing foreign publishers to our shores. However, Indian academic publishers might find themselves better prepared for it considering that they already know the ins and outs of this industry.

Corporate social responsibility funding

The new Companies Act 2013 has brought a new opportunity in the field of research and companies earning over a certain amount now need to put in a percentage of their profits into social responsibility projects. One of the activities the act mentions is research and technology. Essentially, companies can fund research institutes as part of their social responsibility funding. Any such funding received by the institutes can be tax-free.

This is going to give a boost to the research and development that is happening in the country. This increased funding will obviously lead to more innovative and original research. The findings and dissertations will eventually need to be published. This is where the Indian business of academic publishing will find an opportunity to shine.

The Indian academic publishing industry is peaking at the right time to take advantage of the dipping sales of books internationally and the growing demand in India. The growth is further fuelled by international publishing houses coming to India.

Policy related challenges

Education is in concurrent list of centre and state but few policies should be centre-specific and could only be implemented post-consultation with centre. Also federation of publishers’ and booksellers’ may also be consulted if need to be. The amendments in few policies are required keeping in view the major challenges that publishers are facing.

With the introduction of GST, although the government has placed books in the zero tax category inputs such as printing, binding and royalties to authors now attract tax at 12%. This is a big challenge for the publishers since they don’t get input tax credit and so the cost of books has gone up. The government should look after this matter.

Also, government needs to devise the policies on syllabus change and should provide minimum one academic session time to change the implementation. This will result in the effective implementation of the change and will not lead to any confusion to educational institutes and students.