Romancing Books: Publishers discuss quality, price and piracy

The global publishing estimates rank India as the sixth-largest book producing market in the world, and the third-biggest in English language publishing. Ramu Ramanathan, group editor, Haymarket Media India, chaired a round-table session with leading publishers at the recently held Romancing Print 2014. The panel consisted of Manas Saikia (Cambridge University Press), Vikas Gupta (Wiley India), Sugat Jain (Ratnasagar), Ganesh Venkatesan (Elsevier), and Neeraj Jain (Scholastic India). Edited exce

23 Jan 2014 | By Ramu Ramanathan

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): A number of book festivals are being hosted in India. The number of people who attend these shows indicate there is a huge hunger for books. And yet we are faced with the question, what is the future of books?

Manas Saikia (MS): One of the biggest innovations that happened was around 600 years ago; when the wine press was established. Over the years, new forms of communication have been developed. What is happening now is that the mode or medium of communication is undergoing a metamorphosis, shifting its role from being a book to other thing devices. The medium utilised for communication will depend on how you want to use communication. Even today, there is dearth of reliable data to estimate the actual worth of the industry, and we are in the process of persuading FICCI to calculate and estimate the data.
RR:  How big is the book market?
Neeraj Jain (NJ): It is anybody's guess because there are no set data even today about how many publishers exist. Figures from Rs 5000 cr to Rs 20,000 cr are floating in the market. Nonetheless, what we can say with conviction is that the current estimates and studies prove that print is here to stay. However, if we compare the growth rate then digital is growing at a faster rate compared to print.
Vikas Gupta (VG): Even the definition of a publishing is undergoing a transformation. Books will continue to co-exist with the emerging technologies and mediums. A section of ‘printed’ publishing might seep over to other mediums of communication. But anything, which you read cover to cover, will remain in the print domain.

RR: e-Book sales comprise only 1% of the Indian book sales. With your experience at Elsevier, what is the scope of monetising this market?

Ganesh Venkatesan (GV): The e-Book market is still in its infant stages. From the global perspective, the e-Book sales have gradually captured a good market share in the US. At the same time, in Europe, the trend is gaining traction and has to shape-up. In India, the initial growth trajectory for any new technology hits a peak at a very faster pace, which is followed with a dip, and then shoots dramatically. This has been the trend. The e-Book market is no different.
RR: With the emergence of digital technology, how difficult are the times for educational book publishers such as Ratna Sagar and Wiley?
Sugat Jain (SJ): The reason for growth of digital content in education is not because of accessibility, but hype. Everybody wants digital content, even though 95% of them won't actively use it. At our part, we do have to oblige to and adopt the demands and trends of the market. I am yet to see people who are happy consuming educational content only on tablets. Kids are comfortable, but teachers are not.
VG: The reason for a shift to the electronic form of dissemination of content was always reliability and cost. At the same time, the core Indian education market will not shift towards e-content, but others would.

RR: Do you advise a medium printing company to invest in an e-Publishing setup?
GV: Invest now in technology, educate and start a core pre-press activity so that you are geared for the future.
MS: India is the core of digital origination of content. However, it doesn't reflect in our exports since (if it is calculated), it is counted in the ITES segment and not publishing.
RR: Several publishers maintain a list of empanelled printers. As publishers, what are your expectations from these printers and how do you evaluate them?
VG: The challenge is always the cost of print. It’s not because we want to squeeze profits but because we have to combat piracy. Second, we prefer if the printing company can offer an option of short and long-run. Third is whether the company has a secured operation environment that protects our intellectual property. If we don’t see the protection of my IPR at the shopfloor, we cannot entrust them with our content.

GV: Transparency has been another issue.  Today, the biggest differentiator is now we opt for extensive audits and try to nip critical issues at the bud.
MS: Most of the printers are aware of "the bad apples" who engage in book piracy. In fact, it is usually one of the printers only who informs a publisher that his book is being pirated by another printer. Curiously enough, they share the information on conditions of anonymity. Most printers think that piracy is not their concern. But it is. Every copy photocopied or pirated results in one less copy printed.
NJ: We have faced similar situation, where we were forced to move a bulk of our work from a printer in Delhi to one in Mumbai because of lack of security measures to protect our content. The new company we appointed allowed timely audit of the files which we sent in order to ensure that the files are secured. When we started working with Disney, they insisted on printer’s audit. Several Delhi printers failed the test not on quality but other aspects such as employment of child labour. Now, the situation is that we can only print with three printers.

RR: Apart from price, what are the other factors that you consider? How can price sensitivity be addressed?
SJ: Traditionally, we focused on quality. In addition to quality presses, finishing is equally important.
VG: it's not difficult to have competition as well as association with each other. However, excessive competition results in declining print-runs and price-cuts. Why can't we have a national network of printers? Why can't we reduce costs without reducing business?
RR: Printers across the country have been investing in in automation, ERP systems, presses, binders, PUR equipment, etc., but the cost per book has stagnated. Why?
Bhuvnesh Sheth (Replika Press): I think it is a pertinent question for a book print firm. 60% of input cost is of paper, and publishers want printers to reduce prices while the paper price has increased by around 20% in the last 12 months. How can both be possible?
Amit Tara (Tara Art Press): Why isn’t the raw material cost increase for printers considered by publishers?

VG: People often ask why large publishing houses are offloading jobs to Chinese print companies. Why is it cheaper in China? The difference is the economy of scale. Pooling of resources will help you in scaling operations and you wouldn’t have to worry for acquiring customers. Instead of investing in toner presses, why can't printers come together and buy an inkjet? When you have regionalisation, how does a printer reduce cost? They do so, by printing locally. Not even the biggest printer can supply to more than 1000 schools. Therefore, it is increasingly becoming a necessity for printers to join hands and establish a network across India.
CJ Jassawala (Thomson Press): We have considered this option. The top printers tried to come together during Welbound's NBPC initiative but we realised it doesn’t work for all. Sometimes small is beautiful. With the mindset of our printers, these ideas are not yet implementable.