Academic Publishing – innovations, challenges and policies

India is witnessing a growing interest in international circuits for its 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.

Monica Malhotra Kandhari
Managing Director, MBD Group

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 and it 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 Indian’s skilled manpower resource make 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 domestic as well as export markets. The Government allows 100 percent FDI to publishing houses across the country to make India a publishing hub, by utilizing 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 international circuits for its 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 students are more inclined towards digital education and receptive towards animations, VR/AR and various kinds of videos. Hence, the whole ecosystem has changed and now both print and digital channels co-exist and supplement each other. To add to this, publishers are now coming up with more technology-driven products to meet the students’ needs. There are various 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.

 The Academic Publishing Industry in India can only grow Bigger

If you look at the numbers, India has had a very low per capita book consumption, due to, low literacy rate, 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 has become important. Literacy is being emphasised and higher education 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 eighth. As the competition grew, completing school became necessary. In today’s job market, even holding a graduate degree is no guarantee of obtaining a job. Technical or professional training might ensure a job but not always. This has resulted in people pursuing specialised education and hence, more demand for books.

Due to its massive population, numbers get amplified in this country. Even with a small percentage of people that buy academic books, we are still quite a huge market. A market that is by no means saturated. 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.

Indian Academic Publishing Industry will benefit from Corporate Social Responsibility Funding

The new Companies Act 2013 has brought a new opportunity in the field of research, and the companies earning over a certain amount 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 research and development in the country. This increased funding will obviously lead to 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 the concurrent list of centre and state, but, few policies should be centre-specific and should only be implemented post consultation with the centre. The federation of publishers’ and booksellers’ may also be consulted if need be. The amendments in few policies are required keeping in view the major challenges that the publishers face.

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 per cent. This is a big challenge for the publishers, as, they don’t get input tax credit and hence the cost of the books have gone up.

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

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