Are publishers willing to reduce prices of their classroom text books?
It’s time to try and predict the future role of the private publisher in Indian schoolrooms. Publishers can continue to be part of this growing market segment, K–12 as the new age would call it, but how they will be part of it is what Sesh Seshadri of Overleaf Books delves in this article. Indian publishers believe that the NCERT and CBSE are faring poorly with regard to providing textbooks for children, both in terms of quality and availability. The reason is that the National Curriculum framework was released in 2005, and the NCERT published books are aligned with that syllabus. We are now in 2017, and we have not seen any significant changes in the content of the NCERT books. Further, there is a cost to running the NCERT, and if the syllabus hasn’t changed for over twelve years, and no new content has been generated in this time, how can the cost be justified? This, too, at a time when the NITI Aayog is recommending fewer subsidies even in the agriculture sector! Organizations with varying degrees of state ownership suffer due to lack of independence from the government.
Sesh SeshadriThe pricing of textbooks has been a major debate in recent weeks, reaching a crescendo even as I write. (The hunchback/heavy schoolbag remark made by the late RK Narayan in the Rajya Sabha seems to have taken a back seat for now.) On the price issue, publishers have drawn the ire of parents. In my opinion, the best starting point is for publishers to internalize this matter, overcome current dilemmas, and make tough decisions on the way textbook selling is done. Too much cash is transacted in the entire selling mechanism, and it is easy to foresee the government applying pressure on schools because of this. (The same pressure faces the pharmaceutical industry as well.) This is a path, of course, not predestined, but being forced on textbook publishers. However, publishers must see that it is for the good of schoolchildren, and their parents, who would be happy to have their financial burden reduced. Let us not forget that the same school segment was operating at much lower level discounts, with retail bookshops selling books, as opposed to schools utilizing the opportunity to commercialize the transaction. Hold a mirror up to the past few weeks, and you will see that the story of publishing and selling books is changing. The e-commerce operators have had to wake up after the Delhi High Court judgment ruled to “ensure schools don’t sell textbooks”.
How attractive will this Indian school publishing market remain? This is an area already viewed as a low-margin profit market by overseas publishers. The rupee will have its own risks, driven by inflation which will, in effect, return fewer dollars. Yet, the government is chasing FDI into India. We are facing yet another turning point in the industry.
Having said that, the government is trying to create world-class institutions, and success is unlikely if we make availability of content the monopoly of the state. It is the middle class which sends its children to the CBSE schools because it can afford to do so. What the government should concentrate on is to help the economically underprivileged with better education, surely a cause worthy of being funded. Many studies and reports have been published comparing the teaching and learning outcomes in CBSE schools with government schools. The question that then arises is: why is the government not focusing on the few million schools it owns instead of on a mere 18,000+ CBSE schools? Further, should the government exit the NCERT and put its funds elsewhere? (Even as I write this, there is a move to upgrade the NCERT, and increase its powers.)
Parents should fight for reduction of school textbook prices; publishers should fight for the freedom to publish. In other words, the NCERT cannot and should not be the sole provider of classroom content. I say this in the interest of children, their parents, and, indeed, in the interest of childhood literacy and school education on which all else, including the future of our great nation, rests.
HarperCollins 200th anniversary website making waves
HarperCollins Publishers is celebrating two centuries of publishing in commemoration of the company’s 200th anniversary. The centerpiece of the yearlong celebration is a website, www.hc.com/200, that showcases HarperCollins’s storied history and influence on readers of all ages around the world.
The anniversary website includes five key sections: The HarperCollins 200 (a global collection of 200 iconic HarperCollins titles—beloved books that have inspired, informed, entertained, and endured); Timeline (journey through key moments in HarperCollins history, from its humble beginning as a small printing business in New York City to its current role as a global publishing powerhouse operating in 18 countries); Stories (short snippets delve deeper into significant moments in HarperCollins history, lending further detail to noteworthy moments, innovations, and authors in the company’s evolution); Inside the Archives (collection of high-resolution images of artifacts from the HarperCollins archives including original story notes from authors; correspondence between HarperCollins executives and authors; vintage photographs; original manuscripts; and first editions); Why I Read (HarperCollins asked its authors from around the world why they write, why they read, and what books have influenced them).
The website is a springboard for activities created by local teams across the globe and designed to bring the 200th anniversary to life in each market. They include a campaign to support literacy and reading, charity projects, and an exhibition of historical items at the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New York City.