The future of education publishing and economic growth

Education publishing in India may have faced some setbacks due to the pandemic, but the future prospects remain bullish, writes Som Nath Sapru.

15 Feb 2022 | By PrintWeek Team

Som Nath Sapru

Education publishing is a key segment in our country. It is the backbone of literacy growth. It helps continuous learning and advances promotion of our culture and values. India has 22 official languages besides many spoken languages in many parts of the nation. The existence of these languages offers many opportunities for publishing, especially since the new education policy of the government is to teach all students of primary classes up to middle level in local languages. This has opened up opportunities for publishers nationwide, which in turn, will result in the growth of the publishing industry.

The education publishing industry in India will have to throw open opportunities to textbook writers, translators and graphic designers. In the larger interest of publishing, they may have to collaborate with the government and the corporate sectors, and raise funds to offer diverse content in multiple languages and dialects to reach a larger number of students in different regions of the country.

Let's talk about the senior student level, say, class 12 or college and university students. We have about 250-million K12 students and about 35.4-million higher education students. Most of these students depend on English language textbooks and other related books. Very few students opt for Hindi or the local language translations. Most of these translations are made available to publishers, or they get it done from the approved list of the government.

Due to interference of publishers’ associations, the government may involve and encourage some senior and established publishing outfits in the policymaking for smooth and secure publishing in the country. There is every possibility that the government's intervention in the regulatory challenges will change the existing scenario. This change will implement certain reforms, and will facilitate the growth of human capital.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already ushered in some changes. For example, post-pandemic, publishers have scrambled to adapt digital technology in the publishing process, be it eBooks, audiobooks, or online retail. Earlier, it was estimated that the digital publishing market in our country is not more than 10.7% whereas publishing experts are now expecting that the digital market will grow. Experts are predicting and expecting growing demand for both eBooks and audiobooks.

It is an established fact that the publishing industry in India has a bright future since many international publishers from various African countries are arriving in India to get their textbooks edited and printed by Indian publishers, thanks to the cost factor, and also because of the skilled workforce available in India.

National Educational Policy

Most importantly, the National Educational Policy, which was approved in 2020, is expected to offer one of the gainful opportunities for the publishing industry. The new policy will lead to a new curriculum and the publishing of related teaching and learning material, where the industry will have to generate new textbooks and supplementary materials to enable parents, students and teachers to adapt to the new curriculum.

The New Educational Policy, an innovation to bring transformation in the sphere of rote learning, is a welcome change. The New Educational Policy offers computer proficiency, enhancement of technical-training and the imparting of multiple avenues of skill development. It also encourages leadership skills. It will promote critical thinking, decision-making and communication skills.

All these new policies will enhance the revenue of the publishing industry. Experts estimate the number to be Rs 800.5-billion by 2024 (close to USD 1.01-billion) up from Rs 500-billion in 2019.

Meanwhile, the industry has to reconsider the deduction of 12% GST on the authors’ royalties. In reality, they should be paying this money from their coffers. But perhaps they are not doing that since they cannot claim any ITC for such expenses.

Moreover, the industry has to reorganise their distribution system, especially in mofussil towns and cities, wherever the distribution system is highly irregular and disorganised. Students in such places get their required textbooks much later, sometimes even at the end of the session.

Undoubtedly, the Indian publishing Industry is receptive to the new technology. It has accepted the new challenges and is adapting newer digital formats. At the same time, there are challenges, especially with the available readership in different local languages. Therefore, to get to proper scale, the publishing industry will have to innovate and come up with technology-based solutions to be stable, and address the need-based diverse audience segments in different states, especially in the north-eastern states.

I checked with industry experts, and I was told that Pratham Books is the first to adopt such an innovative model. This model, called StoryWeaver, is a digital platform which can create, adapt, read and translate children’s stories in regional as well in foreign languages.  

Massive promise

India’s K12 education landscape currently counts 250-million students, topped with over 35-million in higher education. With textbooks positioned as the primary source of knowledge across the board, this demand alone is more than enough to create billions in annual revenues.

While the Covid-19 pandemic supported the rise of online teaching-learning, and thereby, adoption of eBooks, the number remains at 8-10%. However, experts expect eBooks and audiobooks to have a promising future. At the same time, the government has imposed 18% GST on eBooks, whereas the GST on the printed version of the same texts is only 5%. This is going to be a discouraging factor in the growth of digital books.

Monetary benefits aside, the publishing sector has qualitative value for society and the nation’s economy. Several research groups found that access to published science and research increased the quality of education in our country. Publishing also forms an outlet for multilingual and cultural works emerging from far corners of the country, helping preserve and propagate social authenticity.

The publishing sector has massive promises, but it’s not all hunky-dory. Experts say piracy and copyright infringements remain a permanent barrier. Moreover, there are regulatory factors. NCERT, and provincial state textbook publishing houses dominate the textbook market in our country and enjoy special protections, thus leaving very little room for the private economy to thrive and grow.

Besides implementing immediate reforms as per the government's new textbook policy, the government could also facilitate the growth of human capital in the long run. Come what may, the publishing industry has a promising future in our country.

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