A publishing industry veteran, Mr Kailash Balani has been in the industry for 46 years now. He has served as the President of the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers Association in India.
Kailash Balani has worked with some of the biggest publishing houses in India, such as Tata McGraw-Hill, Wiley Eastern, Butterworths, UK and Asian Books. After acquiring some invaluable experience in his formative years in the industry, Mr Kailash Balani started his own company, Aditya Books in 1987. Now with his other companies like Infotech Pvt.Ltd., Lawman India Pvt.Ltd., iGroup Infotech India Pvt.Ltd. Mr Kailash Balani deals in both print and online products with subjects expertise in the areas like Management, Science & Technology, Social Sciences, Law and Pharmacy apart from K-12 to higher education.
A very culturally rooted person, Mr Kailash Balani has a passion for singing and frequently organizes community programs. He has represented India and Indian publishers on worldwide forums.
Following is an excerpt from the interview Wonderpublish conducted with Mr Kailash Balani recently:
Q 1: What do you think will become of the publishing industry once the normalcy sets in?
Ans- Well, the publishing industry has always delivered well whether in wars or otherwise or in good times. Even in COVID, publishers have been very generous. Most of the publishers made their content available digitally and created platforms where they could serve communities like universities or individual students.
They have been so generous that in the last few months they have opened up free access to their digital content to all the major institutions in India and in other parts of the world. So publishers have always helped during any such situations, and even now they are helping.
Q 2: What do you think what’s specific about India’s position? You think it is an advantageous position in any way.
Ans- I think India’s position is definitely advantageous. Even minus the COVID, because we have a large population that is under 25, hence education is the thrust area. And recently the government of India released the draft of the new education policy. Which talks a lot about the growth of education.
Now, publishers are looking at it to create mutual benefit out of this situation. Also with the COVID, publishers have learned a lot on how to deliver their existing content as well as how to create new content.
Q 3: Do you think the government is providing enough support to the publishing industry?
Ans- The initiation should come from the government. The government has to have a vision. Let’s say the governments says we will have growth of gross enrollment ratio from 25 percent to 50 percent. To achieve that, obviously we need more institutions of higher education. Further they will need universities, colleges libraries so obviously the funding is needed to take this forward.
So depending on the availability of the funds, publishers will produce the books. Now the government has also said that even engineering institute should have courses on social sciences. So obviously, there’ll be a lot of intermix of education let’s say at IITs or at Delhi University. And obviously they will need more teachers with diverse skill-sets so in a way it is very positive. But it’s too early right now because the policy has just come out. But the publishers have already started analyzing it and how they can deliver and support the government to fulfil its vision.
Q 4: We’ve also seen that the federation of publishers and booksellers association in India has written multiple letters addressing to the pm so how has been the response so far like?
Ans- We do approach PM because he’s the executive head of the country. But obviously he would not answer directly. He would you know forward it to the concerned ministry which he has been doing. And obviously the ministries have taken all the points into consideration. Some points are still lagging behind or they are maybe under consideration but we have not been informed of those.
GST was a major issue which the government introduced a year and a half ago. Where if somebody purchases ebooks or e-journals there will be a GST applicable for the university or for the end-user to pay to the publisher and then the publisher goes back to the government and pays back this money. Now that has increased the cost of operation for the publishers as they are collecting money from the government and giving it back to the government. And then in some cases, for example, some universities are exempt from paying GST to the publishers but the publisher is not exempt from paying GST to the government.
Now, in my view, that’s a very lopsided law. You are not collecting GST but you are supposed to pay GST so we have raised these questions with the GST authorities and with the concerned ministry. And I’m sure these things take time. It’s not that overnight they will just do it just because we’ve written a letter. I think they need to bring this up in parliament and then get an approval.
But yes, from our point of view to support our community the federation does help and write through concerned authorities and that’s our job, and we keep on pursuing it and things do happen.
Q 5: How do you see technology aiding Publishing in a post-COVID world?
Ans- Technology has been a boon for the publishing industry because as publishers we have content but not technology. Now, we can’t create technological tools ourselves and that’s why these tech companies have been very helpful in these last four-five years. Everything is getting into digital format and these tech companies have played a major role in helping publishers deliver their content.
Everybody is hooked to digital means. Everybody wants to see things on a mobile or a laptop. Even young kids who are just four-five years old are hooked onto mobile phones. Imagine if there were no tech support available during COVID. There would have been no education at all. At least now with EdTech, you’re able to reach students at home. And it’s only going to improve.
I think publishers will look more into this direction from now on. Because as I said earlier, we have content but we are not able to deliver it in such times. And some publishers are already on board with the idea. They are talking to tech companies to have their content available so that they are able to do business and sustain. Otherwise, they’ll vanish if they don’t adapt to technology.
Q 6: From where do you see the innovation coming in the publishing?
Ans- First of all, the content has to be in a presentable format for the new generation. When India became independent and needed content for school classrooms, higher education and for different sectors, it was individuals who started producing books. Some families had business in Pakistan so they just migrated and started doing that but because there was so much growth of the university education and the number of students, a lot of family-owned businesses mushroomed.
But now with the technology and the way things are, it is becoming difficult for the small and medium-sized publishers to really sustain. So maybe some publisher may sell off themselves to larger publishers. In some cases, the person who was actually running a publishing house has passed away and his family is not interested because he was only having maybe you know 50 books all his life that he could produce from his pocket money.
Also, the publishers now need to educate themselves on how to run this kind of business which is part digital in nature. Because if they don’t do this they will definitely vanish. Moreover, the ones who have already started going digital are doing excellent business you know there is a visibility of them and with the revenue that they generate they are able to create more books.
Q 7: What do you say to those publishers or content owners who are in the secondary markets?
Ans- The punch line there is also the same. They are scared that once they make their books digital it will be available on different platforms, it’s easy to email to somebody. But if you look at the print format, I buy one copy out of which I can make hundreds of copies without paying the royalty. So this is anyway happening. But once you have it on a digital platform you are able to actually gauge from which IP range this content was accessed. One can even track whereas in a print form it is difficult to track. There is so much piracy going on in India, especially when it comes to textbooks. Even when the textbooks are priced so low as 300 rupees, some students don’t want to pay. They would just photocopy 50-60 pages of their interest and then be done with it. So it is there you can’t avoid it. What these publishers don’t realize is that they are losing in a very big way.
Q 8: How do you see the relation between authors and publishers changing?
Ans- Well, I think there’s not much change in that except that there is a competition and the reader has become more aware and more quality conscious. If you see in the last 10-15 years a lot of foreign publishers have come to India and set up their offices here, like Taylor & Francis Group, Springer Nature, Sage, Wiley etc. Now if I’m an Indian publisher I have to match their standards and if I don’t then authors would not come to me.
Also, there is this trend that if I’m writing a book I want to get it published by a well-known publisher. Even the royalty becomes secondary as long as my book is being published by Wiley. Whereas, if I publish it through an Indian company they have only one office in Noida or Delhi and that’s it. So that has also helped foreign publishers because it’s about the brand. So the authors want these foreign publishers. Also, they publish the content in a good format, good paper. And then obviously the publicity is done in a more systematic manner and because they have offices abroad then copies are sold even in Australia, Germany or other countries. Whereas an Indian publisher is not able to do that, so any good author would not come to me but maybe an author from a small institute who has been perhaps rejected by a foreign publisher may come and you know talk to me or an author who’s not very well known may come to any Indian publisher and say okay you know I want to get this published so there is a divide in that definitely.
Q 9: How do you see a domestic publisher competing in such a divided marketplace?
Ans- The Indian publishers are comparatively small. Most of them have like 500 to 1000 running titles whereas if you look at foreign players they have 10000, 20000 or 30000 books. When you go to a university and say they want to buy books on mathematics, they just don’t want to buy one or two books they want to buy the entire collection. So the foreign publishers say, ‘If you buy 5000 books on a particular subject we give you at a lower price.’ So that has been going on for the last 10-15 years.
But things are changing now. Because you buy 5000 books but you are reading only maybe 1000 books. Yes, of course, you’re still paying a lower price but then the budgetary allocation has to be divided for many other subjects. So now the librarian will think, “Okay I have to satisfy all the departments so I need to break the budget into 12 departments or 20 departments. So let me keep every department happy with whatever little money.” So now they have decided to change the pattern.
The publishers are also changing themselves because initially when they came out with the ebooks it was like a craze, “Oh you know my university has 20000 books. My university has 100000 ebooks.” So based on that publishers were also creating packages and giving at an affordable price. But now things are changing. There are newer revenue models now. You pay-per-use which means a publisher will open access according to the needs. Also, the publishers are coming with different policies now and even the Indian publishers you talked about have now come up and are offering their ebooks. If they don’t have their own platform then they are offering their books to outside platforms. There are many aggregators available who would then digitize your books and sell it themselves and pay you the royalty you know that is also working out very well.
Q 10: As the pandemic rolls on, do you have anything to say to the publishers?
Ans- I’m always positive even if there’s are bad times. I’ve never believed the doomsday scenarios. I think there’s an ample opportunity to explore. We need to learn from this time and then come out of it with something new, something futuristic. Always be positive and find ways to sustain.
Q 11: Lastly, you are also a singer. One look at the Youtube search and one can see you are quite active in that area as well. And you also run a music school. Please tell us about that as well.
Ans- Well you know, first of all, my YouTube presence is very small. And I do it more socially, more of religious singing. But yes, I have two sons and both of them are musicians, Aditya Balani and Tarun Balani. They had a passion for music so they studied music at the Berkeley College of music, Boston. After that, they wanted to come back to India and set up an institute here. Because even today there are no such institutes in India where Indian students can go and learn contemporary music at affordable prices.
We have a really large campus at Greater Noida which is a residential global music institute, Global Music Institute. Both of my sons teach there. Every semester we invite teachers from all over the world. We are very happy to be in the education sector as well. So on the one hand, we are into publishing and on the other, we are in education and giving back to society.