How Sheth Publishers survived the pandemic
The pandemic years were truly difficult for the industry, especially for educational publishers. Yet, Mumbai-based Sheth Publishers managed to tide over the crisis thanks to its strategic marketplace, its investment in eLearning modules and its never-say-die attitude, Deepak Sheth of Sheth Publishers tells Dibyajyoti Sarma
04 Nov 2022 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma
It is no surprise that the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic were especially difficult for education publishers. You ask Deepak Sheth of Mumbai-based education services provider Sheth Publishers, and he will tell you all about it. Before Covid hit, Sheth planned to invest in a digital production engine to meet the company’s short-run needs. And during the pandemic, Sheth Publishers was sitting on a massive pile of unsold stock as the first nationwide lockdown was announced just before the new academic year.
Yet, Sheth Publishers has managed to tide over the crisis thanks to its strategic marketplace (the company publishes books not only for the Mumbai institutes, which is its primary market, but also for schools and colleges in Goa and Gujarat), its investment in eLearning modules much before the pandemic and its never-say-die attitude.
Still, the loss of two full academic years has been particularly hard, and Sheth says it will take the company another two years to recover the losses.
“The education institutes were closed on and off for nearly two years. And even when the education institutes were open, students were not attending. So, the sale of books was close to nothing even during the academic year 2021-2022,” Sheth says. “And exams are now online. Students don’t want to study for online exams.”
He adds, “The academic institutions are now open, so the next academic year should be better. But it would not be the same as it was two years back. The pandemic has caused a lot of economic upheavals, and many parents have lost their jobs. So, the same number of students may not return to the classroom.”
And then, just when the lockdown restriction was lifted, another shock hit the industry — the hike in raw material prices, especially paper prices. Sheth says the rising paper prices will force publishers to hike the prices of books. But this is not a feasible solution, as educational publishers have to contend with piracy, especially from photocopy shops.
Sheth also mentions the revised GST charges on books. “There has been a 6% rise in the GST. Earlier, books were in the 12% bracket; now, it is 18% for printing jobs outsourced with paper. “So, even if the raw material prices go back to the old rates, we will still have to pay 6% extra GST,” Sheth says. “But you cannot add this excess cost in the book’s cover price (unlike trade publishers perhaps) because, as an educational publisher, you cannot price a book beyond a certain amount.”
He adds, “We have a big competitor for all our books, not another publisher, but piracy through photocopy. Our government has not taken steps to stop textbooks’ rampant piracy by way of photocopying. The argument is that a child gets a book cheaper. I can understand the logic if you are talking about imported books. But books printed in India are already cheap. The cost doesn’t go up beyond Re 1 for an A4 size page. How much lower can you go beyond that?
“On the other hand, a photocopier charges 50-65 paise per page. But the people involved in piracy and the students who go for it don’t understand the other costs involved in making a book. There is the DTP cost, the discount structure for distributors, booksellers, and a 15 to 20% royalty to the author, marketing cost, and free samples cost. The photocopy shop doesn’t have to bear these extra costs. It is just cheating.”
Now, to spread awareness about piracy, Sheth Publishers, with the help of its authors and solicitors, is planning to draft a one-page material to be printed on every book published by the company.
Sheth: Digital is expensive for long-run jobs. It is not worthwhile if I have to print 10,000 copies of a book