“There are many miles to go for Indian publishing”

~says Nitasha Devasar,* President, Association of Publishers in India and Managing Director, Taylor & Francis, India & South Asia, who has recently completed one year as API President. In this candid conversation, she shares her experiences in Indian publishing.

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The Association of Publishers in India (API) is a trade organization that stands for the promotion and advancement of international publishers in India as well as protects the common interest of members and professionals engaged in global publishing. Nitasha Devasar is the President of API. Here, she shares her views on the Indian publishing industry and the role API is playing.

AABP: How was this year for Indian publishing? And what has been API’s role to support its members?

Nitasha: It has been a tough year for Indian publishing. In fact, the past few years have been tough but this year, with issues relating to the kinds of books used and prescribed in Indian schools, the authorship for technical books and the changes in the tax regime, it’s been especially eventful! Add to this the enduring issues of piracy, spotty government funding, segmented supply chain, low copyright awareness, we have been on our toes constantly. However, challenges often pave way for disruption and even correction, so we have tried to approach them in a constructive way. API has worked with other associations including FIP and FICCI to reach out to the government around GST for books and the more recent customs levy on import of books; with online sellers on sale of pirated books on their platforms. We are working for advocacy and awareness around copyright, publishing ethics and the value of providing diversity and choice to readers. We work with the GBO, the UK IPO, the PA and IPA as well as fellow associations in other parts of the world to share concerns, get support on common causes and keep abreast of best practices and successful campaigns that we can bring to India.

AABP: What have been the major challenges for foreign publishers in India?

Nitasha: In India, there are certain enduring challenges for the industry as a whole and all publishers operating in the geography face these. These are well known and include, as I have mentioned, a segmented, highly price-sensitive market with regional variations. Online and offline piracy, low copyright awareness and low consciousness of quality are issues that all publishers operating here face and, in a way, this is a level field for all of us in the industry. Other than these challenges, the distribution networks are complex and convoluted with long payment cycles. For international publishers (I prefer this term as I think it’s apt) who need to meet global collection standards, this is a challenge. The recent import levy on import of books, the limiting of books used in educational institutions by nationality or policy, the GST regime, all impact this group.
However, I believe the bigger challenges are for Indian publishing as a whole and all of us, local or foreign, need to rally around these. India is now the second largest English language publishing market in the world and is growing by over 19% according to one estimate. We need to come together to build on this overwhelming advantage and getting the buy in for this, an understanding that if the ecosystem improves, everyone will benefit, irrespective of origins, is currently the biggest challenge.

AABP: How easy or difficult has been your role, as API President, to reach a consensus, given that each member would have their own priorities?

Nitasha: Well, I won’t lie to you, it’s tough. More so when we have needed the buy in across associations and not just within API, which is a smaller group. However, there is an increasing realization that for sustaining Indian publishing we need to come together and build consensus on core values. There are bigger issues, perhaps even of survival of many publishing businesses, at stake and not only do we need to come together internally but also outreach externally to our institutional and individual audience. We understand this collectively, but still building consensus on nitty gritties is hard, as individual situations come into play. We have tried to build on the existing relationships with the FIP, IRRO and FICCI. In fact, many of us are members on all these bodies and I have during the last few years attended all of their meetings and volunteered API to work on many issues collectively. The ongoing challenges faced by school publishers has been a rallying point for associations to come together as is the continuing need to build awareness around copyright and publishing ethics. The API took a lead to create materials that share the best practices used globally but address the specific challenges faced by Indian researchers and institutions in this context. These are freely downloadable from the API website (http://bit.ly/PublishingEthicsBooklet) as also from those of the other associations.

AABP: Your book Publishers on Publishing: Inside India’s Book Business is a collaborative venture. Tell us a bit more about working to bring publishers together around a common cause in this context.

Nitasha: Actually, that was a great experience and reinforced my faith in our ability to come together for something we think is important. Getting 60 voices from publishing and allied areas to share first-hand their experiences, the trends and challenges and the wider purpose of developing and outreaching original content to a wider audience was very satisfying. It was an exercise in inclusion where multinational and local, independent and language publishers along with self-publishing platforms and the ecosystem of book fairs, festivals and literary agents all find space. There has been a lack of voices talking about the value of what we do collectively, and Publishers on Publishing brings India’s top publishing voices directly to readers and writers, with its interviews and biographical essays, truly getting ‘Inside India’s Book Business’ as its sub-title says. Ironically though it has attracted more interest internationally, probably because of the size of our market and its pace of growth.

Publishers on Publishing connects the dots about the value of our industry and the direct link with quality education, research and employability and this is a message that we need to convey consistently and persistently.

AABP: As a woman, how has this job, of being President, treated you? Do you think gender matters in this context?

Nitasha: I know you wouldn’t ask this question [about how the job treated them] to any of my male peers, but I also understand why you feel the need to ask me about this. Like any other API President, I have had the support of my peers and the respect for the position. I think electing a woman as President is in sync with the value system of our organizations and we are happy to have the best person for the job, irrespective of gender. Currently, we are two women on the executive committee and we also have many more female colleagues coming in for our meetings bring diverse ideas and styles to API. I was on the executive for three years in various roles before becoming president, so we have been moving in this direction for a while.

Each president brings their personality to the job and for me that has meant an inclusive approach, aiming to get varied voices and views to the table, finding balance in the issues for different kinds of publishing. Of course, some of that has been driven by external challenges the industry has faced recently. For example, our executive committee started the term with a survey to ask members for their wish list and then set out to work accordingly. Getting in trade publishing voices into the committee has been a long-standing demand and that has happened in the last few years. We now have a trade committee as well, headed by our Joint Secretary, Aparna Sharma of DK.

AABP: What are your key takeaways from last year for Indian publishing? And your views on the future of publishing?
Nitasha: The key takeaway is that the challenges and changes will continue and increase for the industry. We need to come to terms with this and come together to consistently and increasingly project the importance of what Indian publishing (local and international) does for education, research and the growth of a nation. See how effectively China is leveraging its publishing to increase its footprints in the knowledge economy. We have the advantage of using English in higher education and research, a growing education market and a cultural affinity to valuing education. Unfortunately, publishers are not seen as vital in this and that is what we need to address collectively by operating like the industry we are. We need much more support from the government and more than that the recognition that we can and do play a vital role in building India as a knowledge economy, harnessing digital effectively via our content and growing the quality of research to international standards.

Globally, the value proposition of publishing is facing challenges and the industry is changing rapidly (though at a different pace across the world) and coming together much more, in response to this. In India, we still have space for all kinds (and levels) of publishing, and the market is steady. However, even for things to remain the same, the industry must change as a collective and that is something that many of us are coming to realize. But perhaps not fast enough. Still, there is much to be proud about and many miles to go for Indian publishing with its 75th year just around the corner in 2022!

*The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily represent those of Taylor & Francis Group.

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