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BW Businessworld

Small But Growing

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When I was managing editor of journals of an international publishing company a few years ago, not a day went without an editorial service provider knocking at my doors. Daily, I would receive introductions from Indian firms offering a range of services from typesetting, design, layout and to some extent copy-editing for various subjects. This, in spite of the fact that our publishing firm having good in-house teams. We would be bombarded with requests. There were occasions when we outsourced work to such vendors, but it required management at a micro-level. More importantly, it had to be in step with the business model of the firm. Tricky balance to achieve!

According to Runa Mookerjee, analyst at Value Notes, the $1.5 billion global publishing outsourcing industry is valued at $1.2 billion in India and employs 74,000 people in 2012. A report from Value Notes says India is the leader in publishing outsourcing services, followed closely by Phillippines, which is the preferred destination for the Asia-Pacific region and non-English speaking countries. India commands about 80 per cent of the pie, while the Philippines holds about 20 per cent of it. The preference of an outsourcing destination is highly dependent on the kind of work outsourced. There are a few clusters where these vendors can be found in India — Chennai, Pondicherry, Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Bangalore, Coimbatore and Mumbai.

For India, the largest number of clients is from the US and the UK. Some of the international publishing houses outsourcing to India include Elsevier, Springer, Kluwer, McGraw Hill, Palgrave Macmillan, John Wiley & Sons, Taylor & Francis, Pearson and many small publishers. The major publishing outsourcers in India are Aptara, Office Tiger (RR Donnelley), Integra Software, Macmillan (its print set-up was sold to Repro India, but this remains an in-house activity), Datamatics and KGL. According to Bimal Mehta of e-publishing firm Vakils Premedia (a subsidiary of Vakil & Sons), India is "increasingly becoming 'not a low cost destination. "Expectations of working with India need to improve, as there is this preconception of a lack of reliability, especially high-end work. The biggest obstacle is having people believe we can do the job."

A Niche Industry
Publishing outsourcing consists of content development, editing, putting the content in a format that makes it print ready or "readable" (illustration, design, page layout, indexing), typesetting, and printing. Of all these services, content layout constitutes about 70-80 per cent of all offshore outsourcing. But in India, the definition excludes printing as most of it is pre-press work. China is the leader in "printing publishing". Traditionally, it is STM (science, technology and medical) publishers who have relied on vendors. Surprisingly, editing (textual and formatting) is a very small proportion.

Pramod Khera of Repro India, which bought Macmillan India's printing operations in March 2011, says: "Macmillan is one of the largest publishers for educational books in India and Repro India has focused on servicing education publishers. Hence, the fit between the two companies is perfect." As far as Macmillan's printing unit is concerned, more than the machinery or the facility itself, the business model that Repro is entering into with them is important, says Khera. "We believe this will become a trend in publishing. Printing is not the core activity of many publishers. At Repro, we are trying to relieve the publishers of their pain areas related to production and fulfillment." According to K. Venkatesh, Virtual Paper, a freelance copy editing firm, there are many smaller players and "encouraged by the boom after publishers started providing project management work in early 2000, many players have jumped into the fray, making it very fragmented market. "It is a niche industry," he says.

Challenges to this form of business are fine-tuning services to digital publishing; understanding the clients request and expectations by the vendors (in most cases language is a hurdle) and increasing overheads for vendors especially in terms of delivering e-pub format and apps. "Another key issue is quality," says James Hill, vice-president of sales and marketing for publishing in the US for the BPO, Firstsource Solutions. "Much of the true cost-advantage of outsourcing is often eroded by unexpected project management expenses in the US especially," he says. Now there is quite a significant political backlash to offshoring work due to the economic crises and severe unemployment. There is a growing interest in what many call "on-shoring" or "rural sourcing", which moves work out of major and expensive cities in the US to rural areas. That said, many service providers have carved a niche for themselves technologically in India. For instance, TnQ collaborates with Elsevier technologically, while Aptara has developed manuscript-submission software for Kluwer.

Unique Opportunity
Yet, the news for India is positive. The biggest emerging trend is digital and e-publishing, where publishing outsourcing can reap lucrative gains. According to Samir Lukka, online editor at PrintWeek India, "the content landscape today has opened an array of opportunities right from project management services in scientific, technical and medical publishing to author relationship management, content development services, legal process outsourcing, pre-media services, with the most obvious trend being editorial process outsourcing, or EPO." He says this space, in particular, represents the unique challenges posed by time constraints in a typical publishing environment, with limited time window to edit, compose and publish editorial and advertising content. That's good hope.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing and literary consultant
She can be contacted on [email protected] Follow Jaya on Twitter @JBhattacharji