Nitasha Devasar: ‘Indian Publishing Has a Vital Role To Play’

In News by Porter Anderson

Leading the Association of Publishers in India, Devasar wants the global industry to recognize the value India contributes to the business.

Nitasha Devasar

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Indian Publishing Has a Vital Role To Play’
Nitasha Devasar, the managing director at Taylor & Francis India, is in a particularly good position to serve as president of the Association of Publishers in India (API).

It was a year ago that she edited and published Publishers on Publishing: Inside India’s Book Business (All About Book Publishing, 2018). And Devasar’s message has been that the Indian publishing industry is more important to the global content business than many people realize.

“The Indian publishing industry is now the second largest English-language market in the world,” Devasar says in an interview with Publishing Perspectives, “and continues to grow at a heathy pace of almost 19 percent.

“Arguably, India doesn’t fare this high in any other positive indices and yet, neither its key stakeholders nor government policies recognize and support the role publishing can play in the wider socioeconomic goals of the country.

“It’s said that more than 95 percent of global content passes through India for some sort of processing or another and as a result, that content is generating employment for our graduate and technical workforce. The links between our publication of quality content—for leisure or learning, skills development, and creating an employable workforce, as well as for growing scientific research and harnessing the outcomes via patents for commercial and social gains—are not being utilized.

“And it’s in this context that Indian publishing, comprising all publishers operating in this geography, is simply not getting its due.”

A Publishing Industry ‘Divided and Segmented’

In following up with Devasar to understand better the market conditions she’s describing, we start by asking her what challenges she can see working against the Indian publishing industry.

“We need consistent advocacy and awareness-building in key stakeholder groups, even within our industry.”Nitasha Devasar

Nitasha Devasar: Currently, it’s a mix of taxes and restrictions that are giving us a hard time.

First it was the GST [goods and services tax] on ebooks, which was later reduced, and yet the GST on author royalties continues.

More recently, it’s a five-percent custom levy on imported books that’s disrupting demand as publishers and the supply chain struggle to cope with this extra charge. As governments increase their participation in curricula, platforms, and access to content, the environment publishers operate in becomes tighter. Added to this are the enduring challenges of piracy, lack of copyright awareness and digital-vs.-print debates that add to the confusion and slow purchase decisions.

All this is impacting the publishing industry, which itself is divided and segmented over many of these issues.

Publishing Perspectives: Given that it’s a large English-language market, does Indian content travel well elsewhere? What are the factors holding this up?

India is “a country that has 22 recognized languages and in which the medium of higher education is English.”Nitasha Devasar

ND: I’m best placed to answer this in terms of academic content. And from a Taylor & Francis perspective, I can say that content from India flowing into our global markets is growing steadily and is in keeping with the shifting geographies of research toward Asia.

Scholarship from India accounts for about eight percent of our global books content and journal articles have also been growing steadily putting us among the Top Five in this category globally. We are working to drive India’s fast-growing scientific research into peer-reviewed journals and books that are read and used in Europe and the United States.

But this could happen at a much faster pace than we currently see. The constraints on this range from a lack of awareness by Indian researchers of publishing practices and ethics to a lack of institutional support and training to publish in high-impact journals and an academic evaluation system that rewards quantity over quality.

All these factors are recognized and are being addressed both from within academia and with support from publishers. Externally too, the lack of diversity in peer review pools and editorial boards is being taken on board and we’ve been working in the last couple of years to increase board members and reviewers from India, and Asia in general.

Census: ‘More Than Half of Young Indians are Bilingual’

PP: What about Indian-language content and its growth?

ND: This is an interesting question because recent census data suggests that more than 50 percent of young Indians are bilingual and 18 percent are trilingual. Not so surprising in a country that has 22 recognized languages and in which the medium of higher education is English.

Migration from one part of the country to another for studies or employment has fueled this multilingualism further. Alongside that, the proliferation of cheap data and mobile devices with Indic keyboards is feeding this trend, and consumption of local-language content is now growing faster than English. This has led to formal and informal collaboration between English and indigenous-language publishers to make educational and literary content available in regional languages.

That output has yet to find commercially successful models and currently follows the print economy. The government has a digital focus, which is aimed at both services and content, so there’s a scope for collaboration with the publishing industry in developing and disseminating indigenous-language content, but this has yet to happen. The space is being filled by startups, which are operating in the indigenous-language self-publishing space and in social media and making content available and discoverable.

There’s also the growth of OTT [content called “over the top” because it bypasses traditional media] and across languages. According to Netflix, the company is subtitling Indian content shows in 25 languages.

PP: In your capacity as president of the API, you’ve worked on the specific issues faced by publishers in India. What does the group see as the best path forward at this point?

ND: At the most basic level, the takeaway for publishers is two-fold: one, that we need to de-prioritize our differences, whether they’re geographic, linguistic, or any other, and find common ground to stand together as an industry in dealing with increasing challenges in the external environment.

Second, we need consistent advocacy and awareness-building in key stakeholder groups, even within our industry. These things are vital to our health going forward. The API has been working on both aspects with mixed results and for all Indian publishing, whether local or international players in India, to gain from the great macro trends for growth in education, research, and the market, and to continue to grow, this is vital.

PP: And can you point to other trends and issues today in Indian publishing?

“Publishers need to rally around and project their value and relevance as a collective. “Nitasha Devasar

ND: Indian publishing has always been characterized by a multiplicity of seemingly contradictory trends and this has been both a cause for disruption and survival.

The industry and its output have always spoken in many voices as different segments faced varied markets within India. The past few years have been tough as many of these markets and margins have been squeezed further. Add in recent policy and tax changes, more government participation in what’s read and taught to the enduring issues of piracy, patchy government funding, segmented supply chain and low copyright awareness and the industry associations are constantly in a reactive mode.

Today, all this is playing out in a much more challenging way, so the stakes for the industry as a whole are bigger.

Publishers need to rally around and project their value and relevance as a collective. In the present times, when the Indian government wants to grow both its digital and its knowledge footprints, Indian publishing has a vital role to play. This has yet to be realized, and it’s this recognition that’s needed for Indian publishing to get its due.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Indian market is here. More from us on developments in Sharjah is here. And more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

A version of this story was printed in our Frankfurt Show Daily for Wednesday, October 16. All of our Publishing Perspectives Show Dailies from this year’s book fair are available for you to read, free of charge. You can download copies of each edition in PDF in our magazine section

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.