As publishing is not considered an essential service, events like lockdowns will not be kind to the industry. And Needless to say, there is only one solution, i.e. digital publishing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a halt. Severe lockdowns have been imposed around the globe. While this on-going process of social distancing may prove to be successful for saving humanity, what would become of the world economy remains to be seen.
It’s a long pause
The world leaders have warned, and scientists have already predicted that its going to be a long fight. And in a system that thrives on constantly improving upong itself, the lockdown process will prove to be of enormous consequences. Where a halt of even a day or two results in losses worth of millions, this 21 day (or more) pause is like a test unheard of. And like all the other non-essential sectors, publishing industry watches the time go by with bated breath. Though technical advances have revolutionized the world, publishing, espicially in India remains a very slow-paced player when it comes to embracing the change. But as the uncertainties heap a heavy burden on the industry some questions need urgent answers.
The Big Question
To take or not to take the digital publishing plunge.
In the world of publishing, print books still carry the heft and attract the most number of suitors. Especially in trade books, where there is unsurmountable romanticism involved with the act of reading a print book. But even speaking of non-trade books, the industry remains largely traditional with its base covered with print editions of scholarly works and educational books.
Though, with Kindle in 2007 and an indie wave to bring out educational ebooks, the digital waters have been tested, the trend hasn’t really caught on. But like all the others, the publishing industry too faces this unprecendeted lockdown and the production of print books remains halted. And as the people remain indoors and find more time to read and prepare for their upcoming exams…
…who is going to meet the growing demands for books?
Publisher and founder of Juggernaut Books, Chiki Sarkar announced last week, that the entire catalogue of Juggernaut Books is going to be available for free to read on their digital app. Such decisions are being taken across the planet with Kobo Rakuten initially offering free ebooks to people in badly hit areas of Italy.
Now coming to the non-trade books that make up for the most of the market share. There remains huge gap between demand and supply with only a handful of publishers embracing digital publishing. While publishers have their subjects, i.e. customers in perfect condition to test out their strategies and future course, what’s missing is the resolve on publishers’ part to take the much needed digital plunge. It’s about time print books handed over the baton to ebooks, as it’s not a 100-meter dash but an infinte relay race where you hand out the baton to a team member who is sure to come full circle to meet you at the end of each successful run.
The Tipping Point?
Trip Adler, CEO of Scribd, in a recent interview with Publishers Weekly said, “This is a big moment for the industry—we’re seeing people around the world express interest in reading while staying close to home…” Scribd, World’s largest digital library which offers over a million e-books and audiobooks, has registered a huge spike in the number of users accessing the books on the platform in past couple of weeks. And like many others, they too are offering their services and products for free for the duration of the lockdown.
Typically, it takes close to a year from the conception of an idea to realization of a print book. And as the publishing houses sit on the forthcoming books, it seems like the best time to find their way about digital publishing and counter the ever-growing demand. Also, once the whole lockdown scenario changes, publishing houses are all set to get inundated with manuscripts as writers find more and more time to write. But would there be enough resources or personnel to entertain those request?
That Security Concern!
Most of the big publishing houses in India are in their second-third-or even fourth generation. Clearly, without taking any risks one can not survive for that long in a field as competitive as publishing. Also, this one is one of the most scattered industries in India. Without any clear pathways to navigate, one could only imagine how tough the journey let alone the survival must has been. That’s why when it comes to digital publishing, the biggest impediment has been the security of the content. The illegal photocopying has hampered the growth of these publishing houses to an extent that their number of titles are running at an all-time low. Another concern is that, most decision makers in the indusrty are still not sure about the newer frameworks of open access in publishing, and other similar models.
While the latter concern can only be addressed by a clear-headed decision on the part of the governments and other international agencies, the former seems more like hesitation to embrace the next step. Why not go digital and make your content secure yourself? Why rue over the fact that your content is being copied and being circulated illegaly over digital mediums when you can deliberately create your own platform and put all the secutiry measures in place?
The only way to counter circulation of content is through deliberate circualtion of content.
Sadly, with the Corona Pandemic setting in worldwide, the laying-off process has already started. The biggest bookstore chain in USA, Barnes & Noble head James Daunt has already sent a letter to staff warning them of potential layoffs in case the physical stores get closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. At a time, when the traditional ways are not working it is wise to look for the best option available, i.e. Digital Publishing. It would not just save jobs, but create many too, as engineers working from home would complement the efforts of the writers, editors and subsequently publishers.
To meet the persistently growing demand for books, publishers can finally look at ebooks and other digital means.