Indian Publishing: Looking Back to Look Forward A 75-year journey –Nitasha Devasar

Like most things in Indian publishing, there can be several interpretations of its age, though none thankfully of its longevity. The 75th anniversary of Independent India is also seen as that of Indian publishing even though its roots lie in a much earlier period. The marker is an appropriate backdrop to look at how the industry has evolved, the characteristics that have endured and emerged, and, of course, the road ahead.

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Size has always brought attention and both local and international publishers have grown and thrived in what is today the third-largest English-language book market in the world. Ranking fifth overall, with an estimated value of US$10–12 billion and growing at a CAGR of 19 per cent, India remains an important growth market for publishing. Over 95 per cent of Indian publishing is educational, a sector that has substantial government-sponsored publishing especially at the school level. The size of the domestic market, the strong English language connection and price-sensitivity are not just the starting points for Indian publishing but its continuing leitmotif and very foundation.

The way Indian publishing looks today has been shaped by this historical context as well as the evolving needs of its youthful population in need of education and entertainment, localized content and authorship and burgeoning research output. It is characterized by the presence of both family and international firms, a mix of print and digital formats and a wider ecosystem including bookselling, distribution and more recently EdTech. Government policy plays a key role in the arena of copyright protection, education and taxation The complexities and segmentation of the markets and the multiplicity of stakeholders,combined with the need to provide access both easily and affordably, requires collaboration across private and government, local and global, English language and Indian language players, more than ever before.

Publishing is also personal, not only for authors who are choosing publishers to frame, curate and amplify their thoughts and ideas, but also for the professionals who make it their career and the families who have run businesses for generations. The firsthand accounts of these individuals, families and start-ups showcase the journey of Indian publishing from their vantage points and perspective, adding rich texture and strong flavors to the already potent mix.

Three industry veterans from academic, educational and trade publishing – Christoph Chesher of Taylor & Francis; Manzar Khan, Headword Books and earlier OUP; and Richard Charkin, Bloomsbury – have collectively spent over 100 years in publishing, have international roots in the Indian market and provide an outsider-insider perspective. Their individual journeys reflect both the strong connections and the enduring and intrinsic nature of international publishers – with roots that are historical and part of the growth trajectory of local publishing – in the Indian landscape.

The first-person accounts by Pramod Kapoor of Roli Books, a first-generation Indian publisher of visual books and Milinda De, a second-generation book distributor, Sarat Book House, based in Kolkata (once the mecca of academic publishing in India) tell the story from their vantage points and provide unique, personal perspectives that still fit the larger narrative.

The professional accounts talk to the trajectories taken by general (Thomas Abraham), school (Sesh Seshadri) and higher education and academic publishing (Nitasha Devasar) and provide pointers on where these career publishers think Indian publishing is heading as it hurtles towards its century.

No account of Indian publishing can be complete without the story of the founding and working of the National Book Trust, yet it has not been told in such detail before. This insightful account by Kumar Vikram weaves a rich and enduring tapestry of the many hues of the knowledge partner of the nation.

The story of Indian Language publishing is also an enduring one but the many digital innovations and avatars that have emerged in response to the needs of readers and users in recent decades are told by Jaya Bhattacharji Rose. The dimensions of the innovations emerging to meet young reader needs are ably showcased by Smit Zaveri. Both articles give us a glimpse of the opportunities and options that have emerged and will continue to shape and make Indian publishing into the next century.

Size has always mattered in Indian publishing and when this combines with a strong growth rate, it gives heft. Growing demand from users, technologically supported innovations, cheap internet and a proliferation of devices support volumes and pricing caps. At the other end of the spectrum, India’s accelerated pace of scientific research and publications, now second only to China, means that global outreach and access for Indian research is headed towards its big moment.

The future of Indian publishing despite its many challenges and real capacity gaps glows bright.

(For the details see Logos: Journal of the World Publishing Community published by Brill and free to view till end April 2023. https://brill.com/view/ journals/logo/33/2-3/logo.33.issue-2-3.xml)

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