It's a story worth retelling: the whole idea of developing editorial production efficiencies and managing content offshore caught fire in 1977—essentially the year Indian publishing BPO was born—when Macmillan (U.K.) started its editorial unit in India. It blazed the trail for Thomson Press, Techbooks and many others to follow.
Today, new market entrants are still treading down the path, playing catch-up. The attraction is undeniable: conservative estimates put the Indian publishing BPO (business process outsourcing) at $250 million, with a 30% annual growth and enjoying an average profit margin of 35%. Globally, the industry is valued at $2.5 billion and expected to double by 2007. As for the volume of work heading toward India, it's going to hit a whopping $1.1 billion by 2010.
And as the industry grows, so does the complexity of the services provided. A decade ago, the term content services didn't really exist, and the process simply meant typesetting, digital conversion and metatagging; now it encompasses all activities in creating, managing, publishing and delivering/distributing content. In short, content repurposing is now the buzzword, digitization the key and "create once, publish to many" the principle. For industry players, the question is: How far should one go?
In a way, the diversified publishing industry represents many production components that are modular. The result? We have low-end players offering keyboarding and conversion services in an intensely commoditized environment, while high-end ones are moving even further upstream to create higher value by providing one-stop services—inclusive of project management, copyediting, authoring and e-learning products—in return for higher margins. Generally speaking, STM projects, with their high production costs and lower unit sales, dominate the content services industry, as the complex yet repetitive formats lend themselves well to large-scale automated production. But of late, other segments like children's books and illustrated/coffee-table titles are making their appearance. Meanwhile, the Darwinian eat-or-be-eaten frenzy has started in earnest. Consider Macmillan India's recent acquisition of ICC or Infomedia's stake in Cepha. In an industry shaped by fast technologies, growth and changes are happening equally fast, hurtling toward maturity.
Publishers dealing with India-based content services providers are now familiar with the ways of doing business in the country and understand the capabilities that are available but were hitherto undiscovered or untested. Enter the printing industry and one finds that some publishers have started buying print, while a handful of content services providers have added print coordination, warehousing and even physical distribution services to their roster.
"The olden days of substandard printing quality were long gone, in part due to homogeneous printing equipment capable of delivering high-end quality for all, but mostly attributed to a concerted effort by Indian printers to debunk a long-held perception of cheap print production. The Indian printing industry has grown tremendously and is now focused on broadening its sales beyond the subcontinent," says Sukumar Das, chairman of CAPEXIL's Books, Publications and Printing Panel. "The statistics speak for themselves: In 1991, Indian printers exported just $2.7 million worth of print matter, but that figure climbed to $24 million in 2004." Adds Das, "We have the cost advantage, made more so by the strengthening currencies of printing hubs Hong Kong and Singapore. At the same time, our relaxed investment policy has many foreign publishing heavyweights expanding their Indian operations and now printing, reprinting and reexporting their titles from our shores."
To sum up, there has been a deluge of international news on India's thundering economy and technology-based competencies, which shows no sign of abating anytime soon. And with India as the guest nation at October's Frankfurt Book Fair, it is almost guaranteed that the global publishing spotlight will be on that country—and what it can offer in terms of content services and printing capabilities—for the foreseeable future.