• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [+]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [—]India (11)
    • [+]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)


The digital age: challenges and proposals

Of course, not all Indian publishers show the same enthusiasm for new technologies. In fact a significant number of associated problems are mentioned repeatedly in the comments we have collected. Below we will give a brief description of these difficulties, as well as a number of proposals aimed at mitigating them.

1) To begin with, many publishers have still not digitized their backlists, partly for fear of piracy. It is worth pointing out that all the Indian publishers contacted in our survey highlighted the issue of piracy as one of the fundamental dangers of electronic publishing. In any case, although it is true that digitization might encourage unauthorized downloads of many materials, we must remember that in India piracy is also a problem for paper publishing, with some sources claiming that illegal copies of printed books exceed 25% of the country’s total production.[1] John Makinson, the CEO of Penguin Global, makes the following observation:

What distorts the market in India, in the physical book market, is the activity of pirates. Not only do they cannibalize our sales, but they act as a lid on pricing. That’s an issue that we’re always having to address.[2]

The issue of piracy will probably need to be tackled within a broader framework, while bearing in mind the gap that exists between the demand on the part of citizens and the supply that is actually within their reach. Ultimately, piracy is particularly harmful for economic models that don’t take into account the context in which they are introduced. Distributing e-books with DRM that cost 10 dollars in a region where paper books are sold at half that price is patently absurd, and if these texts end up circulating en masse in unauthorized form, it will mean two things: a) that the business model was ill-conceived; b) that the local public is eager to consume digital content, making it essential to continue exploring new marketing alternatives. In this light, Ajit Balakrishnan, the CEO of Rediff, has interesting things to say with regard to India’s digital future:

I keep telling my colleagues that there are two or three things to keep in your mind every day when you wake up, one is mobile, that is a big, big inflection that is about to happen. The second is (…) design products for mass marketing. You don’t want to design products for the elite; design products for a man driving a scooter with his wife and child on the back… keep him in mind. That’s the key. You don’t worry about anything else. The rest will follow.[3]

Within this framework, then, it would be worthwhile organizing workshops on the different economic issues linked to digital, such as business models, pricing strategies and distribution through existing platforms, among other topics that could prove fundamental in order for Indian entrepreneurs to take advantage of their gigantic domestic market, along with international markets for English language content – especially the US and the UK.

2) Many Indian publishers have also expressed the need to acquire knowledge on legal matters and a better understanding of what rights to transfer, how to do so, and what contracts to sign with big local and international aggregators. For this reason, it would be worth coordinating training seminars on topics related to contracts and authors’ rights in the digital age.

3) An additional aspect, and one closely related to the points above, has to do with the difficulty faced by numerous companies when it comes to brand building, as expressed in the aforementioned comments by Shinu Gupta and Pradeep Palazhi. India has extraordinarily thriving IT service companies, but this does not always result in the creation of solid brands as it does with US or European companies. Indeed, the brand image of an Indian IT service provider would appear to be strengthened by the mere fact of opening an office in the US. Without a brand, any company succumbs to the commoditization of its products and services, that is to say, it ends up competing on the basis of price alone – something that, as we have seen, is unsustainable. [4] In this light, it would be highly advantageous to arrange workshops on brand consolidation, using the case of other developing countries that can serve as an example.

4) With regard to the technical complexities involved in producing texts in regional languages, the native and open access tools already available will be enormously useful for those traditional publishers who decide to embark on a digital migration process. This is why it would be a good idea to extensively disseminate the achievements of the most dynamic actors – software companies, start-ups and digital publishing houses – and organize practical activities in which these findings can be applied to concrete cases.

5) Lastly, it will be necessary to put pressure on the public sector to continue investing in projects likely to reduce the digital gap. However, these initiatives must always be oriented towards nourishing native “ecosystems”, so that any financing of hardware for distributing written content is carried out according to the concrete needs and requirements of local readers – particularly with regard to their language. This will favour both users and content producers, who will be given an effective stimulus for migrating to digital.

  1. Cf. Mukherjee, Ritwik: “Book piracy reaches alarming levels in India”, Financial Chronicle, 3rd February, 2011.
  2. Cf. Sharma, Sanjukta: “John Makinson | Publishing in India is a step in the dark”, Livemint, 14th April, 2010.
  3. Cf. “Ajit Balakrishnan – Chairman Rediff.com On What Is Needed For Digital Media In India”, Youtube, 22nd January, 2011.
  4. Sameer Sharif, the CEO of Impelsys, an IT company of Indian origin based in Bangalore and New York, states this plainly: “The effort is to create our own IP (Intellectual Property), not just be a service provider”. Cf. Raghu, K.: “Bangalore firm gives digital life to cookie monster and friends”, Livemint, 7th December, 2009.

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