Publishing ecosystem: the way forward
The ecosystem of publishing has changed – the industry has become vast, more dynamic, technology-oriented and diverse. What’s the current state of the industry, the challenges at various levels and how the industry can move forward, finds out Varsha Verma.
The publishing industry in India has undergone significant changes over the last decade, and is set to evolve in newer directions and as we enter a new decade in book publishing.“Publishing is indeed a noble profession. Education sector is evergreen. We are happy to participate in adding enriched values and contribute to the academic circuit and to the student’s community. We are silently involved in developing young and agile brains as future Human Resources and we also are contributing to our nation’s progress in achieving 100% literacy In India,“ says M.R. Purushothaman, Chairman and Founder Director, Scitech Publications (India) Pvt. Ltd.
“The publishing sector in India is the third largest in the world in English language publishing. Current statistics reveals that the sector is truly a colossus—a giant in slumber, which needs to be awakened and given its due status and identity. The educational books sector, which forms 70 percent of the book market in India, is the mainstay of the industry,” shares Kartik Raj Kushvah, President, Delhi State Booksellers` & Publishers` Association.
To which, Syed Arshad, Founder and Director, Bluerose Publishers Pvt Ltd, Delhi, adds, “Publishing has advanced to a new level. Many new avenues for writers have opened up as technology has advanced. Authors can now see their stories, books, and novels transformed into films, web series, video games, webtoons, and other forms of entertainment, in addition to selling globally while avoiding the risk and hassle of inventory and fulfillment.”
“We can expect to see a continuation of many trends observed in recent years. Self-publishing will grow, audio will become one of the priorities, and digital printing technology will accelerate publishers’ shift from an inventory-driven model to a more on-demand model,” says Kartik.“The digitization of the book publishing process, the downturn of the economy, the need for change in business practices that publishers have been avoiding for years, and the increasing diversity of the industry have completely changed how books get published,” he adds.
Diversity in titles help BRING in new customers!
Modern Book Centre is situated in the God’s Own Country which hosts a lot of readers. “We have been in existence since 1979 and has earned ourselves a reputation of growing a generation of readers across Kerala especially in English language.We try to stock books that you wouldn’t find initially in other bookstores or online portals as we identify them even before they become a rave. We try to maintain as much variety as possible of an independent bookstore with genres ranging from Metro Reads to Literary Fiction,Poetry to Genre Bending Fiction/Non Fiction. We also stock textbooks & Academic Books on subjects ranging from Literature to Sociology and everything in between,” shares Anoop NE, Executive Director, Modern Book Centre, Trivandrum.
Trends in industry…
“The diversity of titles that are being published is a huge plus point. The diverse titles helps bring in new customers, which in turn is leading to higher future sales. More key International titles being locally reprinted has reduced the non-availability of the titles as compared to earlier times,when they needed to be procured from abroad,” he adds.
Challenges in the industry…
“One challenge I find is the delay in availability of key/niche titles in our city. This is a huge challenge as post Covid, most of the bookstores are very active on social media. So,once a book is available in any of the stores,especially in cities where most of the publishers are located,the customers will buy from them,leading to loss of sales for us. If the publishers could send the books in such a way that almost all major stores across India get the books at the same time, It would be really helpful. There are many more industry wide challenges,but this is something which is specific to bookstores like us who are on the other end of India,” adds Anoop.
“The industry as a whole should do something extraordinary to fight piracy especially with a lot of pirated books being sold through Amazon and Flipkart,” he concludes.
Ebooks vs. print books…
“Publishers are progressing towards exploring digital spaces, even though the demand for print books continues to grow in India. The print-versus-e-book debate has almost died down in the book industry, replaced by the realization that print and digital formats are likely to coexist and in the future, lead to a hybrid publishing model that taps into the strengths of both,” adds Kartik.
“We have seen a lot of people diverting towards e-books because of the benefits associated with it. eBooks are portable and lightweight, making them convenient to transport. In terms of the environment, fewer trees would be felled, books would not have to be printed and shipped around the world, and resources would be conserved because delivering a book electronically to a device is the way of the future. Those advancements and innovations, of course, are always welcome,” shares Syed.
Challenges in the industry…
“Post-Covid, many of our booksellers have closed or gone to their villages or left the business. A lot of money is unpaid by them, it was not a small figure – it is about 25% of the total booksellers we have in the industry. Many of the prestigious authors working with publishers have passed away during Covid. The aftereffect of Covid is that sales of books suddenly has weakened due to reduction in readers – it is also about 25% reduction as readers have switched with mobile or other electronic equipment or stopped reading the books. Hence, print run which was in thousands has gone down to hundreds which is a challenge for the publishers and how to sell their books and survive under the scenario,” tells Narender Kumar Verma, Chairman, Diamond Books Pvt. Ltd.
To which, Purushothaman adds, “It is worrying to see the reading habit of children declining. Their journey of seeking knowledge is spent by investing their valuable time on gathering digital contents from gadgets like the mobile phones, laptops, tablets along with playing games on the same. Digital contents fall short in triggering the analytical abilities of thinking and learning. This worrying trend has to be changed. Parents should assist in cultivating the reading habit among children. Reading general books for acquiring general knowledge has completely stopped among the young generation.”
The economic challenge…
Talking more about the challenges faced, Narender adds, “The paper prices also have gone very high – about 40% increase in the prices of paper. All these facts have resulted in decrease in sales and increase in cost of book production. The Book Fairs all over the country have started but the number of visitors has fallen down. Due to this, cost of representing the book fair has increased and it has become very difficult to sustain. Increase in cost prices have resulted into negative profit. Neither the author, nor the booksellers are happy due to increase in publishing cost. Also there is a destruction in the retail sale through digital mode for buying the book and hence booksellers are also decreasing.”
His views are reiterated by Purushothaman, who adds, “Escalating cost of raw materials [Paper and Board] and printing leaves the publishers with no option but to increase the price of printed books. The high price of books makes even the most willing readers just postpone or avoid buying books.”
“Moreover, the Indian book publishing sector gets no direct investment from government, which is a serious roadblock. Other challenges include the fragmented nature of publishing and bookselling, a tortuous distribution system, long credit cycles that make it difficult to manage cash flows, and increases in direct costs,” tells Kartik.
A level playing field
in retail is a must!
Ajay Jain is an author, photographer, traveller and founder of Kunzum, a chain of boutique bookstores in Delhi/Gurgaon, set up mid-2022. He strongly believes in the value of books for individual and societal development, and wants to contribute his bit to expand readership. The bedrock of his venture are thus the 3Cs: Culture, Community and Curation.
Trends in book retail…
“Despite all the naysayers predicting doom for brick and mortar bookstores, and of reading in general, I feel we are on the cusp of a cultural shift. The pandemic has been a time for reflection for all of us; the futility of mindless immersion in tech and social media has dawned upon some of us already. There is a move to go back to the basics where we enjoy the simple pleasures of life: socialising in person with family and friends, maintaining healthy habits, not chasing material wealth beyond a reasonable point and entertaining ourselves with books, music and other art forms. It is thus a great time to be in the business of retailing books. There is a vibrancy in this trade on all fronts. We are seeing the emergence of a new crop of authors, and their energy comes through on the shop floor. Design standards make you want to covet the titles on display. Backlists, especially classics, are being repackaged in a way that they add to the décor of your homes and workplaces,” says Ajay.
“But what’s really motivating are the readers; the ones who frequent stores are passionate for stories well told. They want to engage with our staff and curators so they may discover new stuff to read; and they leave us with recommendations that would leave professional reviewers in the shade. And these readers cannot be stereotyped; they come from all backgrounds. Contrary to popular belief, the youth are reading in ways you would not expect them to; they are the ones who are getting their priorities right, and can be counted upon to be readers for life,” he adds.
Challenges in book retail…
“While publishers are doing a great job in coming out with new titles, there is still discontentment on all fronts. It seems everyone is complaining about poor financial dividends in this sector. I feel publishers need to accept responsibility and embark on course correction,” says Ajay.
“Moreover, discounting of books have to go. Physical bookstores cannot compete with price cuts on Amazon, the only books e-commerce player of note. Publishers can plug this – they can impress upon Amazon to eliminate discounts, and hold back supplies to offending vendors on the site. If they have the will, they can do it. With a level playing field, customers would any day prefer to pick their books from a physical store,” adds Ajay.
“Also, publishers are not investing enough in promoting the culture of reading. And this can be done without significant monetary outlays. If they do so, it can and will lead to an exponential rise in sales!” concludes Ajay.
While, Syed shares, “The transition to the digital era has resulted in a significant shift in the way books are published. Paperbacks and hardbound books have given way to eBooks and Kindle. Physical book sales are declining as the popularity of eBooks grows. One thing is certain: traditional publishing tools will not survive the digital disruption. In the last decade, the publishing industry has evolved significantly to deal with digital disruption, piracy, changing reading habits, the rise of audiobooks, extreme competition, production issues, and excessive promotion. They have altered their strategies in order to avoid becoming obsolete. Publishers have delved into digital layouts and online publications in order to make a significant impact. BlueRose has discovered that the key to success is to encourage new ideas.”
“Shortage of paper and higher input costs have increased the prices of books. Publishers are also facing new challenges like decrease in number of readers due to high purchase prices. Distribution is main problem faced by our publishers in India because they are not keeping regular stocks for sales, not just in English languages but also in language publishing. We need good-quality manuscripts to boost our industry not only in local market but also in overseas market,” says Kailash Chand Saemwal, Priya Book Distributors.
Need for government intervention…
“We humbly request the Government to consider relaxing the GST on the raw materials and printing of books, so that books will be priced accordingly to attract readers in buying books. Government should also identify and announce the book publishing sector as a small-scale Industry in order to get support from financial institutions. Besides, paper can be supplied at a subsidized price through NBT-NCERT for the benefit of students. One sector that has been badly affected due to the pandemic is Book Publishing. Government should consider giving support in order to revive and re-establishing this sector,” says Purushothaman.
Purushothaman further says, “The standard and quality of teaching and education is apparently in an imbalanced state. We need to reengineer the curriculum and the examination system. We trust the new “National Education Policy” will certainly help to improve this in the near future.”
On a concluding note…
“While private enterprise in publishing has grown, particularly in the last decade, the growth can only be seen in brief and passing spurts. Certainly there are no signs that the industry is perishing. But if it has to survive, if it has to expand, then it must not only seek nourishment from outside, it must learn to lead a healthier life itself. Since, publishing has reached a “new normal”, with Amazon and other major platforms and businesses owning a major share of the business. However, I believe in the brilliance of everyone in this industry to create a brighter future for writing, publishing, and reading. We must experiment with new ideas, new technologies, and new models, to create a fairer and more sustainable industry,” concludes Kartik.