Outsourcing signals boom in India’s publishing industry

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS
Friday, June 19, 2009

As the world seeks to come out of the current economic downturn, the $2 billion Indian publishing industry is getting more organised and getting ready to take advantage of an expected surge in the outsourcing of publishing activities.

Catering to the world’s seventh largest book market overall, and third largest for books in English after the US and Britain, the Indian publishing industry has long been characterised by small players. But they are now keenly aware of the advantages of being part of the global fraternity, industry experts said.

Outsourcing of publishing activities has become an increasingly bigger market. A recent report by market research firm ValueNotes estimates that the Indian publishing outsourcing industry is expected to grow to a $1.2 billion annual market by 2012 from $660 million in 2008.

The growth is expected to come from the rise in the number of publishing firms that will outsource their work. These include traditional segments - academic, educational and legal publishing – as well as new segments such as magazines, corporate and publishing of business-to-business (B2B) newsletters.

“We also expect a large boom in the outsourcing of children’s books, which are very expensive to produce abroad because they involve high-end artwork and design,” said the head of a firm that has been in the business of producing children’s books for American and British publishers since 2000.

India continues to remain the favoured publishing outsourcing hub, with 35,550 people in direct employment. The total employee strength is estimated to cross 55,000 by 2012.

Publishing outsourcing includes a wide range of services. The four broad heads include content, design, technology and ‘other’ services. Content continues to drive the industry and contributes 72 percent to the industry’s total revenues.

“The boom in the publishing sector is a result of a sustained effort for the last 40 years by the government of India and the publishers operating in the country to promote readership and reading habits. For example, the National Book Trust (NBT) has been tirelessly promoting the book culture in the country for the last 51 years. Moreover, the readership has also increased,” said Amar Mody, joint director of the National Book Trust.

According to Mody, exposure to the world is one of the primary reasons for the increase in the number of readers in the country. “For the first 30 years since Independence, Indian readers had been rather insulated from what was happening in the publishing industry around the world. “Good books in French, Latin and other European languages were translated to English and we read them. But with the mushrooming of publishers and tie-ups with foreign publishers, foreign books are being translated and published in India leading to a growth in the industry,” Mody explained.

The translation segment has been a boost to the growth in the industry.

Over the past couple of years, services off-shored have undergone a transition - from low value services such as tagging and copy editing to high value services such as original designs, testing and assessment and e-learning tools.

There has been an influx of technology in the industry that has enhanced productivity, workflow management and most importantly reduced costs and turnaround time.

According to ValueNotes, most providers have access to similar technology. However, the differentiator has really been the capabilities developed around workflow and innovation. Today’s technology will become tomorrow’s standard, and constant innovation will differentiate the winners.

The academic segment contributes to about 60 percent of books outsourced to India, followed by the educational publishing segment.The ‘other’ segment - comprising mostly magazines, corporate and B2B, which are now fast growing segments in the publishing outsourcing market - has increased its share since 2007, indicating significant traction in the last couple of years.

Says Kapish Mehra, the publisher of Rupa & Co: “The younger generation contributes to a large reading segment and since nearly 75 percent of the country is young, it has opened up a huge market.”

ValueNotes reports that Indian players are shifting focus from the matured academic segment to the more lucrative segments in the publishing market. The firm believes that educational, magazines, corporate, B2B, trade and e-books will be attractive segments over the next three-four years, and that Indian service providers can extend their current capabilities to service these upcoming opportunities. It has identified over 140 Indian players in the publishing outsourcing industry.

The Confederation of Indian Industry, a leading industry chamber, estimates that the Indian publishing industry, which is growing at an average annual rate of 15 percent, was now exporting its books and publishing services to over 120 countries. The export market alone has been estimated to be worth $550 million a year. Most of the products exported are books, pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals.

Apart from outsourcing and exports, India itself provides a huge book market, with well over 100,000 titles published each year by more than 16,000 registered and many unregistered publishers.

“A publisher needs to keep in mind the student at which the book is targeted, and ensure quality and pricing is appropriate. The Indian market offers such a wide range of opportunities that the biggest problem is prioritising them. Growth in publishing, prior to the global financial crisis seemed to be about 12-15 percent. Now it appears that the educational market continues to grow, but other segments have had a setback,” Vivek Govil of Pearson Education said.

Like most other mature markets, about 60 percent of all books published and sold in India are educational books, including textbooks. An estimated 19,000 books are published in English each year, a figure surpassed only by books in Hindi, an estimated 20,000 a year.

The industry still suffers from a serious piracy problem, caused largely by the high price of books, especially foreign books published under licence, where currency exchange rates push up the prices.

But recently, more and more multinational publishers have realised the way to handle this is to set up Indian subsidiaries and publish the books locally. This process has slowed down due to the global economic situation, but is expected to pick up again by the end of this year.

The industry also has to sort out how to reduce prices of books, since even popular works of fiction rarely sell over 15,000 copies each, and sales figures for top non-fiction works rarely cross 5,000.

It is not easy to solve this problem, because Indian publishers typically price their books at two-and-a-half to four times the direct production cost, far lower than the global average of 10. Industry experts say increasing volume is the only way to reduce prices, and they expect this increased volume to come mainly from the Indian languages book market. Among the multinational publishers, Penguin has started bringing out books in Indian languages, and more are planning to follow suit, as the book-buying population is growing fastest in this segment, in line with newspapers sales - a result of the rising literacy level in the

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