Why is Indian publishing not getting its due?

Nitasha Devasar*, Managing Director, Taylor & Francis India and South Asia and President, Association of Publishers in India, ponders this $8 billion question.

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India is the second largest English language books market in the world. It ranks sixth overall and has a value of approximately $8 billion according to Nielsen’s report on the subject. Indian publishing is said to be growing at a CAGR of 19% and has shown great resilience over its 72-year existence. There are, arguably, no other positive indicators on which India has such high global ranking.

Over 95% of Indian publishing is educational. It feeds the higher education sector which is amongst the largest in the world and is dominated by government-funded institutions. Internet access and connectivity continue to grow with Indians now constituting 12% of global internet users, second only to China. Mobile data is affordable, feeding the demand for online content and online learning.

Global trends reinforce these local factors. According to one estimate, 95% of all English-language content passes through India for some value addition. Be it content verification, compilation or typesetting; scientific editing or sourcing expert reviews, it’s happening in India. In the process, generating employment for thousands of our educated unemployed, a burgeoning category now reaching over 2 million.

Indian research on a growing spree

The geography of research has shifted to Asia, and China and India are leading in publication of high-quality peer reviewed research, according to the Web of Science. Indian research output is growing at 8%, standing third globally, after the USA and China. The publishing industry plays a vital role in the discoverability and impact of this research internationally, a key factor in the government’s ambitions to make India a knowledge economy.

Indian publishing industry: need for recognition

Few industries are aligned so closely to the quality of our education sector and to cashing our demographic dividend via skilling our workforce, as publishing. Yet, inexplicably the industry does not find space either in government policy or in public discourse. Its potential to improve the quality of education and produce an employable workforce; or grow research that can support industry and enhance India’s rankings in the knowledge universe remains unexplored. It remains unrecognized as an engine of progress by its stakeholders: the government, the educational establishment at various levels, the scientific and technical research ecosystem, readers, parents or students.

As the industry increasingly grapples with these contradictions, here are some probable causes:

  1. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, while it is true that, not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted, data and metrics go a long way in proving value. Objective data in Indian publishing is hard to come by. We need both macro measures of the industry and micro data of its components as well as the linkages to the broader education ecosystem. Arguably, being part of the GST tax regime may be one way of getting the industry on the government data map.
  2. Another anomaly is that while 95% of Indian publishing is educational (school and higher education), the link between quality publishing and quality education goes unacknowledged. That education in India is both personal and political, with strong cultural and societal elements, adds to the complexity.
  3. Further the link between quality education and quality of research and training available to teachers and researchers and thus a system that rewards quality over quantity of output or marks, is not a priority. So authenticated research and knowledge often do not command premium. Another anomaly, in a culture that places value on education and sees it as a means to improving an individual’s prospects.
  4. In higher education too, while the overwhelming use of English is a distinct advantage, there are several missing links in the chain. The linking of quality research to high-impact publishing and further to scientific progress, industry patents and commercial success on one hand and employability and skilling on the other is not established or recognized in the knowledge ecosystem.

Overall, this creates an environment in which copyright and intellectual property compliance and awareness levels remain low, despite a comprehensive copyright law.

Link between education and industry: need of the day

So, in conclusion, we need to have a data-backed value proposition that objectively measures the contributions of Indian publishing within the educational system. The links between education and industry, and further linkages with employment and economic growth need explicit manifestation. As more and more global publishers continue to enter our market and the indigenous publishers multiply, there was never a better time to tackle this than the current.

Some of this has started to happen with the growing partnerships between publishers and premier educational institutions and councils of education.

As technological advancement makes the learning experience both immersive and interactive and brings knowledge to bear on real-life concerns, for example in the use of AI by the Indian railways to improve the travel experience, the value proposition of publishing will grow.

However, to benefit from this natural process, the Indian publishing industry must come together and work together much like its counterparts in other parts of the world are beginning to do.

Irrespective of whether we are local or global, technical or general, Indian language or English publishers, there is more that binds than separates us. How we do this, is for us the $8 billion question?

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