“Future augurs well for a company that believes content is king”

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says Raghu Ram Aiyar, executive sr. vice president, Amity University Press in conversation with Varsha Verma.

The K-12 publishing segment is growing at a rate of 16 percent per annum. With the rise of e-textbooks, the content has become the king and the publishers are considering taking more interactive approach to data provision. But, with stiff competition and discount wars, the industry is reeling under pressure. Here, Raghu Ram Aiyar, executive sr. vice president, Amity University Press, discusses the trends and future prospects of the K-12 publishing industry.

Varsha: You are a veteran in the academic publishing industry; describe your journey so far?

Aiyar: I began my career in the year 1990 as the senior vice president at Macmillan. During those days, Kolkata used to be the south-east headquarters of the company’s worldwide operations. It was baptism by fire, as it were. The company was going through a rough patch as it was marred by labour problems and was toying with the idea of closing down its operations. But, the company moved on this time around concentrating on publishing books catering to the Indian market. Those were the days when the decision makers and influencing factors spent quality time with publishers reviewing the content of the titles religiously and with deep keenness.

Unfortunately, this trend seems to be on the wane in the present day. The trade has taken over in helping the institutions in deciding the prescriptions. Maybe this is because choosing the right book is important but not a prioritised area. Publishers hardly get any time at the school level.

From Macmillan to Amity University Press (AUP) in 2003: The visionary chancellor Atul Chauhan had laid the foundation and then the company sprang into action with my joining them. It was a start from the scratch, yet again. Mornings and nights were spent by us in formalising a publishing programme that has caught the imagination of a discerning school audience, today. Amity University Press (AUP) has carved a niche for itself and has become a name to reckon with in the publishing industry. I take extreme pride in the fact that our books are considered benchmark by schools that do not even use our books. AUP has grown from strength to strength from 2003 to 2016. The future augurs well for a company that does not believe in compromising on quality and believes that content is king.

Varsha: What have been the major trends in the publishing industry and where does it stand now?

Aiyar: The publishing industry has been undergoing a major evolution and with digital media gaining popularity, it has become relatively easier for more and more non-publishing media companies to join the business of creating and distributing content. With the rise of e-textbooks the content has become the king and the publishers are considering taking more interactive approach to data provision. They are trying to go down the enriched content route and provide the end users videos and interactive graphical content. The publishers are viewing Massive Open Online Courses (MCOC) as a lucrative business opportunity to market textbooks and e-textbooks.

Varsha: The Indian publishing industry is still disorganised. What are your views on K-12 segment, which has become a little organised?

Aiyar: The discount war is forcing many institutions to prescribe books not on the basis of merit but on the basis of the discounts being offered by the publishers. However, institutions belonging to old school of thought, who don’t want to compromise on quality still opt for publishers with a proven track record. The rising competition is forcing publishers to add value to content and make it available online if they want to sustain their legacy and do good business.

I strongly feel there is a need for a forum where academic publishers can sit across the table with institutional heads and develop online version of their texts and also load them with interactive features that are going to be beneficial to students.

Varsha: What are the limitations and challenges that publishers face today?

Aiyar: I feel the publishing industry has witnessed a major metamorphosis since its inception. The publishing industry today is at a crossroad as the conventional publishing industry is facing an eminent threat from e-books. E-books today are ready to phase out or edge out the printed ones. The trend seems to be picking up because publishers don’t need to invest in paper or arrange for transportation of the consignments. Moreover, more and more middle class Indians are choosing kindle edition over the physical book because low cost editions are available at the click of the mouse.

The publishing industry is yet to acquire an official industry status; it still continues to be an unorganised sector. The other factors which pose challenge to the industry are rampant piracy and discount war. The pirated copies sold at busy traffic intersections lead to corporate infringement and all the publishers need to join hands to curb the problem from assuming mammoth proportion.

One eminent threat that I can foresee in the future comes from the government. If the government decides to hike the cost of paper by a large percentage, the cost of the books will go up, whereas the government has been building pressure on the publishers to cut down on the prices of the books. Isn’t it ironical?

Varsha: How is digital affecting the K-12 industry and how is it expected to transform the publishing industry in the next 10 years?

Aiyar: I think e-books can never replace physical books, they will continue to be around for a longer time in India as compared to other countries. Internet is yet to penetrate fully in the country and many remote areas still continue to be out of bounds. Moreover, a large section of the society still finds kindle and e-books unaffordable and inaccessible. However, in the coming years it would become imperative for the publishers that every new book is simultaneously released as an e-book.

In future publishers should be ready to dole out extra money on scanning, proofing, preparing the PDF and turning the physical book into an e-book. They have to be prepared to change the format of the book to meet the requirement of different e-retailers. Another important thing that they need to keep in mind is that marketing through e-vendors does not eliminate the distribution cost completely.

Though, e-retailers are not charging a fortune right now, but will not think twice before milking publishers like distributors in future.

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