Asoke Ghosh, The IPA’s longest serving Executive Committee member, wrote the fourth of our edited extracts from Publishers on Publishing, which was released during the IPA Congress in New Delhi earlier this year. A founder member of the Federation of Indian Publishers, he shares his views on the future of the Indian publishing industry.
Q: How is the Indian publishing industry placed today?
AG: According to ‘The India Book Market: Understanding the India Book Market’ report by Nielsen, there are 9,000 publishers in India, with over 21,000 retailers, publishing in 22 official languages — but if we include regional dialects, then the total is about 1,600 languages. Literacy, in India, is rising rapidly; it increased from 65 per cent in 2001 to 74 per cent in 2011 and is predicted to reach 90 per cent by 2020. With such impressive figures, the industry has a long way to go to satisfy demand.
Q: What are the landmarks or milestones in the Indian publishing industry?
AG: In my opinion, publication of a large number of books and the addition of more and more new players in publishing is the milestone of the industry in India. Most encouraging is the fact that a lot of publishers from abroad are leading Indian publishing now. Due to their involvement in the publishing industry, publishers in India, though facing stiff competition, are also gaining new heights in business with partnerships and collaborations. Also, in the last 10 years, we have seen an increase in the number of Indian authors being published.
Q: To what extent have the changes in technology, both in production and marketing, affected the work of Indian publishing?
AG: Technology has opened up significant opportunities for self-publishing, wherein the author can publish and promote their own work and interact with readers. Everybody in India, from publishers or printers to retailers, are striving to automate their mechanisms, right from pre-press to press, and from inventory management and control to the marketing of books online. Technology has given a way for Indian publishers to market their books worldwide but, at the same time, it has stolen the beauty of bookshelves, both in living rooms and academic libraries.
Q: What are the enduring challenges for Indian publishing?
AG: If you ask me, there are many challenges in publishing such as distribution, substandard content, cost of production, pricing a book at an affordable rate and so on. But, of course, piracy and re-export are also among the other enduring challenges in India. Another challenge that I feel is the problem of cut-paste, low quality content. Another challenge that a publisher is facing today is the long collection cycles and problems related to overdue payments.
Q: What is your take on e-books and other digital platforms?
AG: Technology goes hand-in-hand with publishing. E-books are the future of publishing. It is quite convenient to market and supply them, and one does not even need to maintain a large inventory. Online publishing can be done quickly, in no time. In my view, these technologies are here to aid publishers and do not cause any hindrance. Real publishers will certainly embrace the technological advances and will use them for their benefit. But, the e-reader is still a little expensive for the common customer in India. In fact, the infrastructure is not yet truly compatible for digital India. Anyway, things are changing now and people are buying e-readers for their children to keep up with the fast-paced digital age.
Q: What are your views on the ‘glamourization’ of publishing with a profusion of lit fests, book fairs, reading events, etc.?
AG: Of course, in today’s world the ‘glamourization’ of any business or industry is a must, and it’s no different for publishing. Book fairs are a great place to connect with all publishers, and moreover, not every company can afford to place their books online, especially the small players. Like book fairs, literature festivals also bring authors and the publishing world to the reading public. It helps publishers to acquire new manuscripts, and the reader get a chance to meet and interact with their favourite authors face-to-face; the author-publisher and author-reader interaction is a delight at these fests.
Q: Another important trend is bigwigs like Amazon coming into publishing. How is it affecting publishers?
AG: Amazon is like a monopoly. But, we are in a trade where we always propagate freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to publish. The small and the big — all should exist. Imagine a country where only three or four publishers dominate, then if somebody writes a book, his/her work will not get to see the light of the day. A publisher plays the role of an educator and one must recall that we are contributing to the growth of education in our country.
Q: What is the future of local Indian publishing? Would you agree that in spite of the difficulties of the business, more and more players continue to enter the industry? Why?
AG: It is a positive sign that people are interested in publishing and more and more new players are entering the industry. I am optimistic about the future of the industry, and look forward to people and the sector as a whole to do better. If you are in it, shape up your mind to do better, make more money, create more employment, produce worthy books, build a huge audience, maximize your sales and secure positive results. Let’s join hands to impart quality education to our children!
ASOKE GHOSH is Chairman and Managing Director of PHI Learning. He has been associated with the International Publishers Association since 1974 and is currently a member of IPA’s Executive Committee. He is also a founder-member and twice President of the Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP). He is currently a member of FIP’s Executive Committee and Chairman of its International Relations Committee. More recently, he was conferred with the Simon Master Chairman’s Award at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards 2018.
Reproduced with kind permission. Publishers on Publishing — Inside India’s Book Business features 65 contributions from professionals in the Indian and international publishing industry. Edited by industry stalwart, Nitasha Devasar (Managing Director of Taylor and Francis India), and published by All About Book Publishing — the Indian publishing industry magazine. You can find out more here.