Nitasha Devasar in Frankfurt Week: The Outlook in India

In News by Porter Anderson

‘Uncertainty is the only certainty,’ says Taylor & Francis’ Nitasha Devasar, in describing near-term prospects and long-term opportunities amid the contagion’s surge.

A monk in Dehradun, capital of the state of Uttarakhand. Image – iStockphoto: Winterline Production

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

See our complete guide to Frankfurter Buchmesse 2020 here. It has our latest stories, event highlights, our free digital magazine, and more.

Predictions: A 9-Percent Economic Contraction
Among so many world publishing markets struggling with the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, India now is one of the two nations suffering the most severely.

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As we update this article from our Frankfurter Buchmesse magazine, India’s total caseload is at 7.2 million and the United States’ has reached 7.9 million according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center‘s figures. By late September, India had reported 95,000 deaths in its population of 1.4 billion; it now reports 110,586 fatalities

As HarperCollins India CEO Ananth Padmanabhan has said to us, ruefully, today (October 14) in a Publishing Perspectives Talk with major publishers’ CEOs, “In India, ‘social distancing’ is an oxymoron.”

Nitasha Devasar is managing director of Taylor & Francis in India and South Asia, and she’s vice-president and commercial lead for South Asia and Africa for the corporation. She’s also a two-term president of the Association of Publishers in India, and the author of Publishers on Publishing: Inside India’s Book Business (All About Book Publishing, 2018).

‘1 Million New Cases Arrived in Just 11 Days’

Nitasha Devasar: Taylor & Francis’ 75th anniversary in 2022 will be a celebration of ‘both resilience and adaptability’

As the Associated Press reports that India is confirming more than 63,000 new cases of the pathogen’s infection today alone, we find that asking Devasar how things look from her vantage point on the ground in New Delhi produces a typically clear-eyed and steady philosophical answer.

Nitasha Devasar: The late [British economist] Joan Robinson once said about India, “Whatever you can rightly say about India, the opposite is also true.” And that’s truer in today’s uncertain times than ever before.

“The percentage of the relief package relative to education is meager, only 2.2  percent of the total program.”Nitasha Devasar, Taylor & Francis

It’s bad and yet there’s a push to keep going forward. In terms of the infection’s growth here, the last 1 million new cases arrived in just 11 days.

The geographies of the virus within India are shifting though. Recoveries from illness continue to be high, but deaths have crept up slightly. GDP [gross domestic product] contracted 23.9 percent in Q1, and the Asian Development Bank expects the Indian economy to contract 9 percent in 2020-2021, following an earlier estimate of 4 percent.

Reinforcing this sentiment of slower economic recovery, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India said at an event recently, “Recovery is not entrenched, recovery will be gradual.”

The bank will focus on five key areas to assist a revival of the economy in the coming few months, human capital with specific emphasis on education and health being the top among them. Shaktikanta Das advocates raising expenditure on education and acquisition of skills substantially, as education and skill development contribute less than 0.5 percent to our overall labor productivity growth.

Publishing Perspectives: How do you see some of these effects playing out for publishing?

ND: The fortunes of the publishing industry are closely tied to the educational sector, as 95 percent of Indian publishing is educational.

“At Taylor & Francis, the rate of growth of submissions of scientific and medical research papers from India in the past few months exceeded submissions from the United States.”Nitasha Devasar, Taylor & Francis

The government has announced its new education policy, which promises allocating 6 percent of GDP to education spending. This, despite the fact that in 2020-2021 budgeting, the government spent only 3.2 percent of GDP on education—down from 4.14 per cent in 2014-2015.

While it will be implemented in a phased manner, the government has generally pushed for exams, admissions, classes, and degrees to go on, in an offline, online or hybrid format, as possible.

The percentage of the relief package relative to education is meager, only 2.2  percent of the total program. Economic packages for supporting small- to medium-sized enterprises in publishing are almost nonexistent.

There’s a need for larger industry intervention and government support for book publishing, which is battling these challenges because of ongoing closures among their largest customers, the educational institutions.

‘The Demand for Print’

PP: In the academic sector, is there a shift toward digital? If so, do you see it reverting after the pandemic? And what are the trends that Taylor and Francis sees in this space in India?

ND: Despite periods of complete lockdown and closed higher-education institutions, there was continual and growing demand for digital resources, both in ebooks and journals in past months for Taylor & Francis in India.

Once reopenings were initiated and some supply chains were partially restored, the demand for print via Amazon and other online retailers picked up and has remained steady, fueled by student and professional demand.

In the traditional supply chain, print customers who have encountered distribution issues have asked for digital alternatives, which we’re able to supply.

Another interesting trend has been seen among Indian researchers especially in STEM—a steady increase in submissions to, and acceptance by, our global journals, including open access journals. At Taylor & Francis, the rate of growth of submissions of scientific and medical research papers from India in the past few months exceeded submissions from the United States and were second only to those from China.

We’ve also published two COVID-19-related books from India, one each in STEM and humanities. And we’ve sped up the review and publication of scientific papers related to the pandemic to support ongoing research. As educational institutions start opening up this month, we expect some print demand to return in that market.

‘This Is Really a Call to Arms’

Celebrants at the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in the state of Assam’s Guwahati in late August and early September. Image – iStockphoto: D Talukdar

PP: What are the greatest challenges and opportunities ahead?

ND: Uncertainty is the only certainty, and immobility looks to be the future of mobility.

In such circumstances, what will stand us in good stead is the size of our local market for publishing; our demographics, which emphasize learning; employability and skill-training; and a diversity of needs and accessibility that can drive demand for all kinds of content, irrespective of format.

What the coronavirus has done is brought to the fore some things that academic publishers have always known:

  • The importance of books, of experts, of validated content; of being able to connect knowledge to those who need it most, in format-neutral ways. Publishers responded to the health crisis by freely sharing a variety of learning and reading resources. Some opened their entire catalogues.
  • That visible lesson about format not mattering is something we need to take to heart, because a lot of future publishing could be about that.
  • The other lesson is about resilience and survival and the importance of collaboration and partnerships. For the Indian publishing industry, this is really a call to arms. There are several universes operating in Indian publishing and that they can all coexist and survive has given Indian publishing its vibrancy and growth. Academic institutions, the supply chain, local, international, Indian language, English, school, general books, all need to come together on core issues facing us.
  • What the virus has done fast-track many existing trends for online learning, online selling, technology and access, power of research, and a variety of content that doesn’t mirror printed books and articles. How we’re able to understand, track and respond will determine the future for both publishers and users.
  • The fault lines have also been sharpened by the hardship and there will sadly be collateral damage both for the supply chain and for publishers. But revival and resilience have always been themes in Indian publishing.

PP: And how about predictions for the future?

ND: We need to take control of our fortunes and respond to the trends I’ve outlined by exploring:

  • Format and forms of publishing: not just print and ebooks but also short-form data, video, audio, digital-first, blended and/or immersive and/or interactive
  • That will require partnerships: public and private; technology and content; authors and publishers and end-users
  • More innovation and entrepreneurship: letting go of a lot of holy cows and responding to felt needs
  • That also means more diversity: in all its hues and an effort to be inclusive
  • Building sustainable publishing models: including copyright and intellectual property protection as an explicit part of the government’s policy on research and development

And in India, we’ll celebrate 75 years of Indian publishing in 2022. It will be about both resilience and adaptability.

Applicants for para-medical staff positions in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Image – iStockphoto: Kalpit Bhachech

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Indian market is hereAnd more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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.