From ready-to-print files to e-publishing!

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–Pre-media service providers across the country are offering high-quality pre-media services to publishers across the globe. Varsha Verma shares more on this industry segment and trends within. Pre-media is the term that is used in the design, creative and publishing industries for the processes and procedures that occur between the conception of original artwork and the manufacturing of final output channel. It is a process that combines creative art and technology to communicate the final message to a consumer.

A lot of pre-media service providers in India have emerged due to good quality, timely delivery and of course low rates. These pre-media service providers offer and supply ready-to-publish files developed on industry-standard software, delivered on the platform of choice and ensuring that the client’s requirements are met.

These service providers also work on e-books, e-learning solutions, etc. On an average e-books are 30 percent of revenues from developed markets and are forecasted to be 10 percent of revenues in developing markets like India with the growth anticipated to be three-fold. There are early signs that e-books are going to make a big impact in the Indian sub-continent in the coming years. Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce company and BookGanga have already ventured into e-book infrastructure space, selling e-books in India. Penguin India has also released e-books by Indian authors. Readers in India can purchase e-books from any of these retailers at international prices – Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Google, Gardners, Sony, OLF, Apabi, Go Spoken/Mobcast, OverDrive, eBooks.com, IGroup and Baker & Taylor.

By 2015, Asia will account for the second highest e-learning expenditures after North America which has till now shown a growth rate of around 10 percent in this segment. In India, the e-learning market is growing at a rate of almost 20 percent. Higher education e-learning is major market revenue generator in e-learning industry today. Right from playschools to universities, everybody is trying to compliment their traditional classroom training with some sort of e-learning courses as well. However not all schools and colleges are open to this technology yet. Some have opted for hybrid learning which includes use of AV and laptops in classrooms with some online learning.

This has opened up new avenues for publishers who, in turn, are utilising the services of such pre-media service providers, instead of investing on their own in this field. In fact, India is a hub for such pre-media services and almost every other such service provider is working for global companies.

What makes India a preferred destination? What is the total expanse of this business and what are the opportunities and challenges in this segment, finds out Varsha Verma.

Publishing industry today…

“Growth in digital media has revolutionised the world and of course the publishing industry. Authors looking for publishers now have the option of self publishing. The publishing industry is experiencing a paradigm shift. The recent statistics related to digital books sale and purchase, e-readers, tablets and e-book lending, etc. reveal that there is a boom in the e-books domain. The rise in the sale of e-books is having a dramatic effect on the sale of print books,” tells Nitasha Malhotra, e-sales and marketing manager, Realty Pre-Media Service Pvt Ltd, Pune. Headquartered in Pune, India, their core focus has been in pre-media services, e-books, design and digitisation services. Established in the year 1997, they currently have around 120+ employees.

Pros and cons of going digital….

“E-book sales do not involve any overhead cost to the publishers/authors as compared to the print books which involve cost of printing, binding, storing and distribution. Another added advantage is the possibility to add interactivity in the digital version of the books and make reading more engaging for the readers. E-books run over variety of devices – tablets, mobiles, e-readers, etc. Tablet devices (iPad, Kindle Fire, Galaxy Tab) have played a vital role in interactive children e-books,” shared Nitasha.

Many publishers are struggling with adopting new processes that fit with their existing processes and deliverables. “Content is now available in many different formats, depending on publisher uptake of new technologies. Customers are confused about why they can’t get the content they want in all the ways they want it. The publishing industry is at an inflection point and most publishers seem to be looking to the market to make a strong direct statement about the direction they should take with their products and processes instead of taking the lead,” told Ameet Chauhaan- president and CEO, vPrompt eServices, who offer enhanced, interactive e-books in English and in almost all foreign languages, besides offering services like digitisation of content-XML based solutions, pre-press or composition services for books, journals, magazines, etc. with a staff strength of 350, they work on various platforms.

At the same time, the publishers/authors have to part with their revenue as commission to the aggregators like Apple, Amazon, etc. “These platforms not only provide them with a popular distribution channel but also provide technology that prevents unauthorised sharing, forwarding and copying of the e-book formats. Also there are some people who advocate that nothing can substitute for the look and feel and smell of a real book. And of course the digital books need a suitable device/platform for reading unlike the print book which can be read by anyone who knows the language,” said Nitasha as a matter of fact.

Publishers on e-books…

The publishers were initially reluctant as they were not sure of two things, whether e-books will sell? And whether the e-books will be secure and free from piracy? But now the situation has changed. “Publishers do not want to stay away from this revolution and reap the benefits of earning more revenue at low added cost. Also readers now are more interested in digital formats as the penetration of devices has increased considerably,” added Nitasha.

“There are major disparities in how publishers are dealing with recent technology changes. Many are experimenting with new models and deliverables on a limited basis, while others are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach and not changing much at all. In the meantime, new companies are stepping in to fill the gap between existing publishing processes and outputs with products that are born-digital,” shared Ajay Srivastava, managing director, vPrompt eServices.

In 2013, somewhere between a fifth and a third of book publishing revenue in the US came from the sale of e-books. Till 2013, there was a growth in this number as more and more publishers were getting their backlist converted. But now this figure seems to be stagnated. Now publishers, authors, etc will not hesitate to continue experimenting with new kind of content.” The recent development in digital publishing is augmented reality for print books. By means of this technology, one can add an amazing experience to the print books,” told Nitasha.

E-learning: a growing segment

E-learning as an industry is in the midst of massive growth. “With the cost of implementing e-learning tools falling and increase in demand for such courses, more and more schools, colleges, universities have added online courses and distance learning to their programmes. e-learning has led to development of classes without boundaries and walls. The students are benefited as the cost of such programmes is considerably low. At the same time, the lecturers, presenters, etc are also compensated for their knowledge and skills due to large participation. Use of videos, audios, animations make learning fun and effective for the students,” shared Nitasha.

Publishers have also taken advantage of this new trend and are getting their education content adapted/developed to suit this trend. Due to the limited knowledge regarding the array of features and formats available in digital publishing, publishers need the services of some specialised digital solution providers and consultants.

Standing out from the crowd…

But the question is – how can publishers ensure that their books are discovered in the online environment where shelf space is infinite and titles huge? “A properly entered metadata helps in fruitful search of the book on popular search engines. Just converting to e-book and uploading it to stores online may not lead to its sales and popularity. One has to reach out the masses and the best way to do so is use internet to market your book(s). Use of social media marketing services in order to reach out to your target audiences helps to increase the presence and hence sales of the book. We, at Reality Pre-Media, help publishers to harness the benefits of various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and all others. We also offer SEO services to promote their website and hence their books. Use of appropriate keywords is highly recommended,” told Nitasha.

While, T Giriraj, sr. director strategic planning, vPrompt eServices, shared, “Creating a high quality digital archive is at the top of the list. Engage a high quality content services partner who has good experience in this area. Make sure that content components are done properly (full linking for references, images that scale to work on multiple devices, charts and tables in fixed layout format to preserve context, etc). Once you have a strong set of content, then decide on a sales and delivery model, and finally, license or build tools that make the content more findable and useful. Consider adding interactivity that creates additional value for digital content.”

Challenges faced…

The content services industry is very competitive, with numerous new companies coming into the space, increasing operational costs for suppliers and a continued reduction in profit margins as customers look for the very best pricing. “vPrompt is coping by specialising in high quality processes and deliverables and in focusing on customer service and communication that goes beyond expectations,” told Giriraj.

“Availability of free conversion tool and lack of awareness are the two key challenges that we face today. Many publishers believe that the freely available conversion tools should work equally for them and convert their books to e-book formats without any error. We have to educate the publishers about the shortcoming of such tools as they do not produce professional e-book formats and the styling of the book is often messed up. The e-books so produced are rejected by Apple and other platforms due to invalid characters. We, being one of the pioneers in this field, offer extremely professional service with three levels of quality assurance.

We not just offer conversion services but act as a digital consultants for our client offering them solutions pertaining to conversion, marketing and distribution,” told Nitasha.

Besides, there is a cut throat competition and a price war among the service providers and as everywhere the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ hold true here also,” added Nitasha.

Business…

“Most of the business comes from international publishers though the domestic publishers have now started taking interest. Approximately 90 percent of our business comes from territories across the globe (excluding India) with major chunk coming from US and UK,” told Nitasha.

Similarly, Giriraj shared that their major clients are from US, UK, and Australia. “We have started doing work on Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages apart from other languages such as Persian, Urdu and Indian languages,” he added.

Looking ahead…

“Though the e-book market is still in its infancy stage in India and may have some teething problems also, like low e-reader adoption and penetration rate, low internet penetration rate and e-commerce transactions (11 percent), etc. The government has plans to have the internet penetration rate of 25 percent by the end of 2015. With a huge population, a literacy rate of 75 percent and growing and a steady growth of infrastructure, domestic market of India is definitely going to be a huge digital publishing market!” shared Nitasha.

Similar views were shared by Giriraj. “We also think that India is on the verge of digital revolution. With the availability of bandwidth, infrastructure, people are more inclined to using online e-content. This is not to say that the print publishing will go away but with the emergence of e-books, e-content, there is an increasing shift towards online content. Also the rapid growth of mobile smart phones and notebooks has really helped people to access data faster anytime, anywhere. The revolution is happening in every sector be it mobile, healthcare, education, retail, finance, logistics and travel. On content side, interactive e-books, mobile apps and knowledge based services are fast emerging and we at vPrompt are very much a part of this revolution,” concluded Giriraj.

“Publishing is a unique business that needs both skill and technology”

shares Vinay K Singh, executive director, Thomson Digital, a division of Thomson Press (India) Ltd, in a chat with ABP editors SK Khurana and Varsha Verma.

Vinay K SinghThe world is flat wrote Thomas L Friedman. It has never been as levelled and flatter for the publishing industry across the globe. Books can reach anywhere…threats and opportunities are everywhere. Publishing services is not an organised industry in India but the prevailing pessimistic views about the industry are irrelevant; the industry is growing but requires certain degree of healthy competitiveness, discipline and professionalism,” says Vinay K Singh, executive director, Thomson Digital. Thomson Digital is a full-service publishing solutions company with a global reach. With its expertise spanning end-to-end solutions in content development, content processing, e-learning, rich media and conversion services; it is a one-stop-service provider for publishers and professional institutions across the world. As part of India Today Group, a highly regarded media house in India, Thomson Digital carries a legacy of nearly five decades.

“Infact, India has 80 percent of the global pre-media business as a country, which may amount to $4 billion worth of business. But, there are rules in the game, suppliers are falling prey to their own greeds. In a race of growth and overnight success, they are potentially compromising on quality/service which could be a significant trick for its sustenance in future and that is a major deterrent to the industry. Publishing is a cyclical business and there are set number of customers, who allocate different shares to various solutions providing companies,” tells Vinay as a matter of fact.

Pondering on the challenges within the industry, Vinay also talked about the manpower issue, “The employees move from one company to another for instant gratification. In fact, it is difficult to estimate the actual worth of each employee as in an effort to attract talent from the industry, companies do not shy away from giving manifold higher salaries to the people coming from their counterparts. The cost of attrition and training also adds further. It is difficult to find employable talents even in big cities like Delhi and Chennai as the quality of affordable talents are hard to train and retain.”

“Then comes the infrastructure, electricity and the diesel prices, also adding direct costs. This is the reason why publishing houses are also moving from metro cities like Delhi/NCR to other cities like Trivandrum, Dehradun and other two-three tier cities, ” he adds.

New office in Gangtok…

“Very recently, we have also opened up a new facility in Gangtok, which employs 200 people. Since the weather in this place is wonderful and infrastructure and manpower cost does not go that high, we will be able to get good results,” shares Vinay.

Telling more about the new office in Gangtok, Vinay shares that the quality of people is good as their language skills are fine and above all lot of hands-on educated people are females, who make excellent employees in this field. “We have deputed 12 trainers and managers from our NSEZ unit from Noida,” he adds.

On Noida unit…

As a matter of fact, the NSEZ Noida unit of Thomson Digital now employs 1,200 people, working round-the-clock in three shifts on various products like books, journals and magazines. “For magazines, we do everything besides editing while for print and e-products, we provide 100 percent publishing solutions,” tells Vinay. They do a mix of all kinds of books – though less number of black-and-white books. The trade books are full of text, while the illustrated books are all-colour.

Technology is prime at Thomson Digital and they have employed 100 people in R&D and have recently come up with a ‘push-button’ technology which works on the principle 1P1P which means one person, one project. “With this, we are able to cut down our turnaround time from 6 days to 24 hours, besides having complete control over the project. This is a game changing technology and we had launched this last year during Frankfurt Book Fair,” tells Vinay.

On asking about their success mantra, Vinay replies that undoubtedly, the business is run for making money, but there is an element of passion that keeps the management on track and is shared by the employees as well. “Our company can boast of the single set of investors since the day it came into being, thus the passion, culture and objectives of the company have remained intact over the years. We have not believed in growing in numbers, but in the focus towards contribution we make,” he shares.

Looking ahead…

With the new Indian government in place, which seems to be very dynamic and result-oriented, Vinay is also hopeful that the new budget and other reforms would help the industry to grow.

“Publishing is a unique business that needs both skill and technology in equal proportion. The industry has been ever since the mankind existed and it will continue to flourish as there will always be a need for content, publishing and knowledge, but may be in multiple formats,” concludes Vinay optimistically.

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