Hub India for publishing outsourcing

India is considered to be in the forefront when it comes to preferred destinations for publishing outsourcing.

11 Feb 2012 | By Samir Lukka

A report in Business Standard newspaper reveals figures from a survey conducted by research firm Valuenotes Database among 237 publishers, consultants and service providers, largely from the US and UK, that India remains a favoured publishing sourcing destination with 66% of the respondents rooting for it. India was followed by the US with 30%, the Phillippines 18%, UK and China 16%, Vietnam 8% and Australia 5%, with the remaining 18% in favour of other upcoming destinations.

The major players in India are Aptara, Office Tiger (RR Donnelley), Integra Software, Macmillan (print set-up sold to Repro India but this remains an in-house activity), Datamatics and KGL.

"Top on the outsourcing agenda for media and publishing houses are activities like advertisement outsourcing, digitisation of media records,entity/element extraction, editorial archiving, print on-demand, format conversion (print to e-book/e-magazine, PDF, XML) and cross-compatibility and standardisation of services across different mediums like the World Wide Web and mobile devices," says Bimal Mehta of Vakils Premedia (a subsidiary of Vakil & Sons): 

A reality check
However, there is a difference in perception. 

Mehta feels that "A look at the statistics for India shows that the publishing business process outsourcing market has stacked up annual growth figures of 30%. The fact is India is increasingly becoming 'not a low cost destination'. Expectations of working with India needs to improve because there is this pre-conception of a lack of reliability, especially high-end work. The biggest obstacle we have, which is still a problem, is having people believe we can do the job."

In the literal sense, publishing outsourcing would mean providing services to publishers. Right from typesetting to digitising of the content for cross-media technolgies. 

"In the current scenario, pre-media and repro houses are moving up the value chain with services like editing, graphic design, web publishing, cross-media technologies and a host of other content processing options which come with a scope that truly spans an end-to-end response to the problems of the publishing industry. Book composition still constitutes the major chunk," adds Mehta.

The differences also appears when it comes to segments within the publishing industry. Magazine publishers have a tilt towards Philippines; educational segment has a preference for India and the US. The preference of an outsourcing destination is highly dependent on the kind of work that is being outsourced. For example, India remains at the forefront of pre-press activities while China is established as a printing hub. Philippines on the other hand has a culture akin to that of the US and thus preferred by publishers in US for work that requires cultural nuances. 

The difference is also observed when different buyer geographies are concerned. While a significant proportion of US-based publishing service buyers prefer India, the choices are quite diverse. From sourcing within the country to off-shoring to Philippines, buyers seem spoilt for choices where outsourcing destinations are concerned.

"India is also a preferred destination for buyers in Europe and Philippines is its closest competitor because it has similar advantages as that of India in terms of the pool of English language and the low cost combined with availability of manpower,"says Mehta. "Indian publishing outsourcing vendors have competition not just in its traditional rival Philippines, but in the US also such as the Mid West. Developing mutually beneficially partnerships with US-based vendors may be one way to tilt buyer preference more strongly towards India." 

With this in mind, in August 2011 Mumbai-based pre-media house Vakils and US-based Jyoshan Digital Media Services, promoted by Venkat 'Puru' Purushotham formed a company called JVX Media Services to deliver content on cross-media platforms. It began with providing annual reports in XBRL format and will subsequently lead to more cross-media technology. Vakils Premedia has already been providing an array of services to several publishers and corporations for several years. It services clients in Australia, Europe, UK and the US. 

The most focussed category among all publishing industry segments is trade publishing which has been an early adopter of the digital media.Trade books are targeted for the general consumer and are sold through channels like bookstores, libraries and wholesalers. The target consumers of trade books range from children to adults and include a variety of works ranging from fiction and non-fiction with hardcover or paperback books.

"The pressures that publishers faced in the wake of economic recession stimulated the e-book market. The e-book segment is growing tremendously in the US and has witnessed serious attempts by publishers to make it a strong revenue source," says Mehta. "Trade publishers have been outsourcing parts of their functions for over a decade, not just as means to tackle cost pressures, but also as part of their business model. Trade publishers also consider outsourcing to be highly effective to address lack of in-house capability and allows companies to cope with rapid changes in demand."

The above statement is best explained by Pramod Khera of Repro India which procured Macmillan India's printing operations in March 2011. 

"Macmillan is one of the largest publisher for educational books in India and Repro India has focused on servicing education publishers. Hence, the fit between the two companies is perfect. As far as Macmillan's printing unit is concerned, more than the machinery or the facility itself, the business model that we are entering into with them is important. We believe that this is something that will become a trend in the publishing industry. As far as the publishers are concerned, printing is not their core activity.The way we have tried to build the portfolio of services at Repro, we are trying to relieve the publishers of their pain areas related to production and fulfilment. We want to become a one-stop solution for the publisher: Right from managing the content to production to fulfilment. With this, the publishers are free to focus on their main business, which is getting additional titles, interacting with the authors and the last mile: gettingit to the customer through marketing and distribution. Macmillan is an example of this sort of strategic alliance with the publisher where we are freeing them of the production and stocking hassles."

Editorial process outsourcing
The content landscape today has opened an array of opportunities right from project management services in scientific, technical and medical publishing to author relationship management, content development services, legal process outsourcing, pre-media services, with the most obvious trend being Editorial Process Outsourcing, better known by the "EPO" moniker in the newspaper and magazine segments. This space, in particular,represents the unique challenges posed by time constraints in a typical publishing environment, with limited time window to edit, compose and publish editorial and advertising content. 

A last-minute breaking news or advertisement / classified content being accomodated before going to print is often seen as competitive differentiation.  With its much vaunted and technically skilled English speaking workforce, billable at a high benefit-cost ratio, India is well poised to ride the publishing outsourcing wave. In the palette of offeringsthat come with Indian EPO package are creative services like page design, generation of graphics and picture elements and presentations besides coreservices like content creation through phone and mail interviews, case studies, creation of reports and summaries, as well as research and analysis. 

It is the capability to provides these services that another India-based repro house Express KCS comes up with surprises. The company counts upwards of 500 newspapers among its clients. The tipping point came when the US-based San Jose Mercury News went public on the fact it had successfully outsourced all of its pre-press to Express KCS. This deal initiated a stampede and The firm garnered more newspaper clients.  

The Indian-based company's chief operating officer, Tariq Husain, turned what was already one of India's best known repro companies into a global player.

Express KCS was founded in the 1970s by Husain's father, Khalid. He returnedt o India from the UK after completing his training in modern pre-press at the London College of Printing and set up one of India's first world-class repro companies. His timing couldn't have been better, as this was about the time that global advertising agency J Walter Thompson decided to set up inthe country. 

In the 1980s, Express KCS became the first Scitex client on thesub-continent, which was a notable achievement given that this was at theheight of the cold war and, while India was Russia-backed, Scitex was Israeli technology. 

Despite its booming popularity with publishers and printers, Express KCS faces the same challenges now as when it started out. The company faces another unique problem about majority of Express KCS' clients not being prepared to publicise the fact they are outsourcing to India. A lot of thisis to do with image. Outsourcing is still seen as a dirty word. For manypeople, it carries negative connotations of local jobs being lost for thesake of bigger profits. 

Local outsourcing
Sticking with what you know is always the safe bet and at least with your current repro supplier there are going to be no nasty surprises in store. Also with quotes getting keener in order to fend off competition from overseas there are plenty of bargains to be struck for those willing to shop around.

Despite aggressive price-cutting, offshoring your work is still cheaper and there are still lingering concerns about levels of customer service. 

Offshore outsourcing
India has become one of the emerging repro capitals of the world thanks to the likes of Repro India and Express KCS, which take students from local colleges who are highly-skilled and cost a lot less than their UK equivalents. Quality levels are as high as you would expect from a local operator at a fraction of the cost and with advances in electronic file delivery technology, the time and distance are no longer an issue.

As the backlash against offshore call centres showed, many customers and companies prefer to deal with partners closer to British shores and despite the obvious attractions of offshoring some companies will steadfastly refuse to go down this route due to negative preconceptions bandied about.

Perfect for control freaks – you can keep on top of everything and control every aspect of the process. If anything goes wrong then you’re accountable. If it’s in-house then you’re not just part of any old job queue with other people’s work and if it’s implemented correctly then in-house repro should save you money in the long run.

Initial financial outlay is high and you have to find the right calibre of people to implement change. It will inevitably take a while to bed down and there could be painful teething problems.

This article was published on 10 February 2012 and received 305 views