In spite of its history of culture and development, post-independent India was never considered the land of innovation. Science and technology were considered a means to secure a lucrative job abroad. Research positions had no prospects and were considered a dead end. There was simply no money in them. This attitude was reflected in the academic book publishing industry. In fact, the entire book publishing industry was derivative instead of innovative.
Whether it was fiction or non-fiction, foreign was considered better than Indian across the board. American and English authors sold better than Indian authors, especially those writing in Indian languages. Not that there were many popular Indian writers writing in English anyway.
The academic book publishing industry suffered a similar fate. The major share of the market was from textbooks, which had to comply with syllabi as set by education boards. There were teachers who compiled their own textbooks but these needed to be approved by the boards to be accepted. Any textbooks that were used as supplemental reading material were more often than not by foreign authors. Research publications and journals were rare, because there was no profit in them. The Indian book publishing industry, in short, was playing it safe.
In the last few decades, however, there seems to have been a change. Readership of books has gone up. Regional languages seem to be doing better than they ever used to. Readership of English language books has also gone up. What’s more, there is now a market for popular novels by Indian authors. This trend, as was mentioned in a previous article, seems to have been sparked by Chetan Bhagat. The success of his simple and popular stories based on his own life and experiences did extremely well.
There has been a spurt of young Indian authors publishing books in English as well as their regional languages. The Indian book publishing industry is seeing a boom in original content in fiction and non-fiction categories. Not surprisingly, this trend seems to be seeping into the academic book publishing industry as well. More young authors are coming up with books that are research-based or academically inclined. Course material is becoming more varied with private universities and educational institutions setting up business.
All this is not happening in isolation and nor is it a sudden occurrence. The last few decades, and the last few years especially, have seen several developments that have affected the Indian book publishing industry. Here are some of them.
The Indian Book Publishing Industry Saw A Change With Newer Players
Up until the 80s and 90s, the Indian book publishing industry was dominated by old and conservative publishing houses. These tended to lean towards educational books only. They had a market monopoly because of the law that said no foreign company could own more than a 49% share. This law was meant to protect Indian industries post-independence but it eventually reached the end of its usefulness.
In the 80s and 90s, the Indian book industry saw younger players enter the market. These publishers were less interested in educational content and more in popular entertainment. They managed to gain a foothold because of the devaluation of the rupee. Because of this, imports became quite expensive, giving Indian products a chance to take over the market.
Today, even though the market is open for international companies, these Indian book publishing companies have prevented them from taking over completely. These companies are more comfortable with technology and taking risks than the old companies. They are aware of international standards and keep up with them.
The Indian Book Publishing Industry Is Being Driven Forward By International Competition
There have been several international publishing companies setting up offices in India. Why they are doing so has been discussed in another post (see: Why are International Book Publishers Coming to India?). However, the fact remains that they are now here and are doing quite well for themselves. The foreign competition has provided Indian book publishers the incentive to step up their game or get left behind.
While in the past, Indian publishers could get away with shoddy print quality and technology; this is not possible any more. Globalisation has left the publishers with no choice but to keep pace with the international standards. Academic publishing houses also face the same competition from international publications. These international book publishing companies are willing to pay authors more, invest in better content, and produce a higher quality of content and product.
Small academic publishers who could get away with half-hearted peer reviews now find that this costs them in sales. Their customers would rather give their custom to presses who will give them reliable and verified content. Academicians who have fresh insights into their field are finding international book publishing companies more willing to take risks. These are risks the conservative Indian book publishing industry probably would never have taken in the past, but are now being driven towards.
The Corporate Social Responsibility Funding Will Affect The Indian Book Publishing Industry
The new Companies Act 2013 has brought about an interesting development in the field of research in India. This act mandates that companies that meet certain criteria need to invest a certain amount of money in a list of activities that will further research and technology. One of the activities they have listed is “contributions or funds provided to technology incubators located within academic institutions which are approved by the Central Government”. Academic institutions receiving these funds can get tax exemption on this funding based on certain requirements.
This is a step taken to encourage innovative research within academic institutions. A direct result of this CSR funding would be more researchers looking for ways to publish their findings. This could mean new and exciting opportunities for the Indian academic book publishing industry. There is going to be new and innovative content looking to be presented. If they do not play their cards right, they will lose this opportunity to book publishers who offer a better deal to the authors. They would also need to improve their panel review processes to deliver better content.
The E-Book Revolution Is Yet To Take Over The Indian Book Publishing Industry
While the rest of the world is moving away from paper books and on to digital formats, this is not yet the case with Indian consumers. Indian readers still prefer to hold actual books in their hands. There is also the fact that digital e-reader technology is something the vast majority cannot afford. This has made India one of the few markets where paper books are still doing much better than e-books. While this will have to change at some point when using paper would not be ecologically viable, this is not likely to change in the near future. Most of the Indian book publishing industry can avoid investing in the digitalisation technology. However, this is not an investment they can avoid for ever.
The Indian book publishing industry is sitting on the verge of a new era. If they play their cards right, they can give tough competition to the international book publishers. Companies like Manakin Press are already playing by the global rules and these are the companies that would benefit from their international reach. It remains to be seen whether older companies will be as flexible in adapting to the changing market dynamics.