Future of publishing– printing to platforms


The future of publishing lies in how well publishers can create a solution that can go up the value chain. Publishing would evolve into a model where the content is free but the services, delivery format and personalization of learning that publishers can create will have a premium price, says Vikas Gupta, Managing Director, Wiley India. AABP: What is the future of publishing in India in the context of the key challenges being facedby publishing industry and publishers today?

Vikas: The publishing landscape has changed drastically over the past few years. One of the biggest challenges is the misconception or unawareness that exists about piracy or photocopying amongst people at large.

The common perception is that downloading or photocopying content is not piracy. In recent times, we have seen this notion finding further support with the judgement that photocopying for educational purposes was not to be considered as infringement of copyright basis the specific educational use exception provided under the Copyright Act. The argument was based on the rationale that university level books are expensive and photocopying will make access to content economical for students. However, this makes the publishing scenario bleak and increasingly difficult for both the authors and the publishers making it increasingly difficult to even cover the costs of making quality books today. An author puts in enormous effort, years of research and hard work to create original content. Not paying for a book is equivalent to not acknowledging this hard work, thereby killing an author’s motivation to create.

On the other hand, publishing is a valuable service which makes an author’s content reach out to the masses in the best possible format through its distribution network, which comes at a cost.

When it comes to digital content, the scenario is even more serious as people generally assume online content is free of cost and can be replicated easily. All this is making publishing a difficult business proposition and publishers are struggling to survive.

In this challenging scenario, publishers who will understand the value of technology as an enabler will be able to thrive by (a) creating unique value propositions using technology, (b) building a viable ecosystem for learning and (c) offering new business models, the remaining are at the risk of perishing sooner or later.

AABP: How is technology changing the publishing landscape?

Vikas: Why is content valuable? Well, a book or content satisfies unmet needs of the reader, student, faculty and anyone who is looking to enhance his/ her knowledge or skills. However, a book alone cannot satisfy the needs of a learner. In this age of low attention span, fast reskilling need and plethora of information available, true learning can happen only when there is an environment that is aligned to each learner’s requirements and is supported with visual learning aids. If a publisher limits the offering to meet only one of the various needs of learners or offers one-fit solution for all, the business model will not work. That is where technology becomes an enabler. Content is available in plenty through the Internet or any other online or media channels, but the value of a publisher is how best the knowledge can be curated, packaged and delivered – and this can be best done using technology. In other words, technology helps us package and deliver the learning in a way that is aligned to each learner’s personal comfort and style, in various formats such as adaptive learning, stimulated learning, micro learning, video-based learning – all of which can be integrated with classroom learning, and can be made accessible anytime and anywhere.

Thus, the business model of publishing is not around the price of the book or content, but rather around how effectively a learning solution is being provided. The future of publishing lies in how well publishers can create a solution that can go up the value chain. I believe that in future, publishing would evolve into a model where the content is free but the services, delivery format and personalization of learning that publishers can create will have a premium price. For example, in the case of test prep, publishers can charge for how well they can offer the knowledge in bite size which can be easily ingested by learners or how well the learner can master the evaluated areas to be able to crack the exam best.

Classroom learning will be more about peer learning and discussing specific complex areas, while the core learning will be around a self-paced learning –the concept of a flipped classroom. The need for books or content will remain but the supplementary solutions and services will decide how successful a publisher’s product is.

AABP: How will this work in fiction and what can be done to stop piracy in fiction?

Vikas: Piracy is affecting fiction as well. Moreover, there are only so many storylines in the world. What creates a great experience is how well the story is told. Exponential increase in use of technology has disrupted our lifestyle in every possible way, be it through a more personalized shopping experience or personalized medicines or financial services – why not fiction as well?

Imagine creating a digital book, which can offer a personalized experience to individual readers. For example, after the first few chapters, there will be a set of question leading to different options based on how the reader answers the questions. Each option will lead to a different ending. Thus, you have many stories within a story based on what each reader prefers, and hence there is no question of piracy.

The future of fiction according to me is technology enabled where using techniques such as AI, sentiment analysis, text analysis and data analytics you can create multiple customized options and recommendations for each reader, immersive experiences such as a possibility to communicate with characters, multiple perspectives and infinite endings. You can create storylines around incidents or topics that are catching the attention of majority of the people at a certain point of time, and hence create a formula for sure shot success.

In case of reading for reference, with technology, you can interlink multiple reference material leading to alternative references, social reading and shared library experiences.

AABP: What would be future of higher education in the next decade, with a special focus on the next 3-5 years?

Vikas: It is true that the need for print books is disappearing in the higher education space and will continue to do so. Piracy will not allow the higher education book business to scale up anytime soon. But, school books will continue to grow as new schools are coming up regularly and K12 education is heavily dependent on textbooks. Additionally, the unavailability of good Internet bandwidth and Internet literacy in masses as well as a price-sensitive market will ensure dependence on printed books.

I feel new technologies are increasingly taking market share. If not in the next 3-5 years, digital will replace print by the next decade. In the near future, higher education publishing companies and education-based technology (Ed-Tech) companies will be joining hands to create and offer solutions that leverage the strength of both. Publishing companies hold the strength of credible content along with the expertise to curate high-quality content while technology companies have the expertise to create personalized learning solutions.

AABP: Are today’s challenges different from those in the past as there is a decline in reading habit in ‘book format’ and competition for attention with increased ‘screen’ time by millennials?

Vikas: According to Edelmen’s Digital 2017 Trends Report, weekly share of time spent watching TV and videos on mobile devices have grown by 85% from 2010 to 2016. This means there is huge consumption of content in digital format today. It is also important to point out that today, almost all businesses and companies are in the business of content generation – be it technology companies or educational firms; every organization is generating content of some kind. At the same time, consumption on fixed screen has decreased by 14% over the same period, which means due to excess amount of content available, the competition to capture attention of the end-user is brutal and the path for reaching out to them complex.

There has been a major change in how people read. Even in the case of newspapers, most people glance through the headlines and the accompanying bullet points. There are apps which enable news headline to appear in your social media feed or present news items in short snippets of 2-3 sentences. There are only 10% people who go through newspapers in detail. People prefer speed reading ? they want to consume more in less time.

Publishing needs to align with this consumer behavior – and thus be more visual and bite sized, and be available anytime and anywhere. The same principle also applies to the academic content.

AABP: There has been proliferation of free access (v/s priced access) in all kinds of content and formats. How this will affect the economics of publishing in a price sensitive market like India?

Vikas: A lot of content is available for free on the Internet. Hence, people prefer to pay only for something that has a premium value or is exclusive. A learning resource or fictional content will be a hit if you are able to capture the reader’s attention in a better way as compared to what is widely available.

The publishers of tomorrow can offer flat or static content for free and charge for the unique content/ learning experience. There can also be a model where the authors give their content free in an open access model, while the publisher offers value-added services such as premium videos, workshops, mentoring, etc. at a cost. So, the publishers need to create the right product mix to offer as a combination of both paid as well as free content.

Traditionally, publisher’s value has always been for the various services they offer to their authors and readers – in curating, packaging, marketing and distribution of content. The same principle remains relevant today. Digitization and its influence on consumer learning behavior have disrupted these methods content curation and distribution but have also opened up new models to monetize these services. Some of these could be subscription models where one can get a select set of loyal customers buying constantly; freemium model, where one can let customers get a taste of the core offering and then charge for various premium services to improve his or her outcome; and value-added curator/reseller model, where one can take available good content and build services around it.

Undoubtedly, this requires new capabilities but so does any business with changing times. Publishers cannot charge premium just for content anymore – they need to come up with innovative experiences and services which are valuable and which solve the end users’ problem ? consumers would be happy to pay for these specialized services.

AABP: What are the strategies being employed by publishers to cope up with the onset of new technology (from your experience in API and FIP, is there a difference between ‘Indian’ and MNCs in this context)?

Vikas: I would say that the route taken by Indian publishers towards technology was more cosmetic in the initial phase – an ebook is hardly the response to digitization. However, things are changing now. Publishers are realizing that it is just not enough to have a website, there is far more to it in the form of creating a customer-centric solution. Also, the distribution of content in India is quite fragmented. Publishers are using technology to tackle this problem as well.

Technology is making multiple innovative options available to learners and teachers to choose from, based on their learning preferences and background – such as learning by doing, collaborative or social learning, anytime-anywhere-learning, learning through gamification and virtual reality, adaptive learning, mentored learning – the list is endless. In this context, technology can become an influencer and enabler to reach end users in the format they are searching and make learning a personalized experience. However, technology alone cannot be the solution. Think of pure online learning such as MOOCs – a trainer teaches and thousands of students just hear. Majority of learners are unable to learn as it may not suit their individual learning style, it is again, in a way, a one-size-fits-all format, which doesn’t work.

While technology helps in making quality content available without any restrictions on time or geographical regions, the value of a learning solution as provided by a publisher or an educator will always depend on several driving factors: Basis my experience so far, both global and Indian publishers are looking at the industry from different perspectives. While MNCs are trying to customize global solutions, Indian publishers are collaborating with Ed-tech start-ups to create solutions customized to local needs. Both the approach has their own set of pros and cons and there are challenges as well to deal with. The biggest challenge that all the key players are facing is about monetizing the new initiatives with universities and colleges. Universities and colleges show interest in using the digital solutions but they do expect these to be a free supplement and thus, there exists a reluctance in paying.

AABP: How is Wiley specifically future proofing their business in India?

Vikas: Wiley is innovating on various education solutions constantly and for various formats — be it print, digital or online. We want to serve the need of each customer for the entire spectrum of their learning needs through their complete career arc. To safeguard our future, it is best to be a player in all the three mediums today, and offer a judicious combination based on market and learners’ needs.

In this crowded knowledge and content space, Wiley believes publishing will always be relevant if our focus moves from creating only great content in silos to offering quality content as complete learning solution that improves outcomes; helps achieve career success; meets the user’s learning needs by being technology driven; is credible and authentic; is able to create a personalized, adaptive and user-centric experience; and also leverages user, product and functional networks and connections.

Wiley is focused on leveraging its core strengths ? deep partnership with its readers and authors, high credibility and trust of customers, its distribution networks ? to innovate on newer models and improve outcomes with effective and unique services. It is also trying to localize its global offerings, to enhance and make user experience more relevant across geographies and strengthening its footprints in research and learning frameworks, education, training, certification, and assessment products.

AABP: How do you think India fits in the global pub scene in the next few years give our demographic etc?

Vikas: India will play a huge role in science, technology, academic and medical publishing. This is because print content will still be in demand in geographies like Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, and India can bring in economies of scale. India will also be a key provider of technological solutions using high-end technology such as AI and analytics driven platforms and tools. Recently, a small AI company in Bangalore was bought by Google. Such innovations will permeate in the business of content and learning as well. In the digital world, India will be as good as US, innovating solutions at one-tenth the price in US.

For more on Vikas Gupta’s views on the Indian publishing landscape, see, Publishers on Publishing: Inside India’s Books Business, edited by Nitasha Devasar. Pages 26 & 39 have more details.

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