Strategically Speaking: India: World’s Largest Book Exporter?
Indian service providers for typesetting, e-book, copy-editing and other production services are an established fact and part of virtually every major publisher's workflow.
To be sure, the business process outsourcing (BPO) of publishing services is a growth business, forecast to reach $1.2 billion in 2012 (according to a report by research and intelligence organization ValueNotes, "Offshoring in the Publishing Vertical: 2009"), including outsourcing for book, magazine and newspaper publishing—with 60 percent of these revenues being directed to Indian providers.
That said, it appears that we may be on the verge of a new addition to the existing Indian business model—an initiative that the Indian book manufacturing community has named Book City—Vision 2017.
Nov. 17 and 18, 2011, saw the Indian book manufacturing community convening its first annual National Book Printers (NBP) conference in Kerala, India. The event was attended by 330 executives from India's leading book manufacturers as well as representatives from major Western publishers and equipment manufacturers.
India's book manufacturing industry traditionally has been focused on meeting internal demand rather than servicing export markets. Export-market expansion has been hampered by a variety of factors—including fragmented operations; trade regulations that encourage importation of books rather than stimulate exports; a transportation infrastructure that puts the industry at a competitive disadvantage to its Chinese neighbor; and little means to market the Indian book manufacturing industry's capabilities to European, North American and other Asian publishers—which collectively represent 90 percent of the world's book manufacturing market.
The NBP's Book City initiative is designed to change all of this, and leverage India's success in information technology and BPO for prepress activities—building on expanded manufacturing capabilities, planned economies of scale, and an end-to-end supply chain that competes favorably with China's well-established book industry. Book City's vision is ambitious to say the least: to put India's book-manufacturing industry on the path to becoming the world's largest book exporter.
Book City will be a complex undertaking, but if the conference documents I've seen are any indication of the end game, this could be an industry-changing initiative. The effort hinges on two key strategic principals: solution and scale.
Regarding solutions, Book City is designed to leverage India's well-established capabilities in the prepress area—including color management, image editing, traditional typesetting, page layout, content digitization and content conversion combined with geographically centralized book manufacturing. The vision quite literally has all of the critical elements—design and editorial services, prepress, short-run digital printing, sheetfed and web offset, binding of all types, fulfillment operations, either co-located or in regional hubs—sharing a common information technology infrastructure and, perhaps most important, with easy access to competitively priced air and ocean freight. The objective of this proximate location is to offer publishers across the globe an end-to-end solution rather than a single point of specialized service such as prepress or printing, an integrated solution versus a one-off.
Perhaps more important to the effort, though, is scale—unquestionably a critical success factor and essential to transforming the landscape from a geographically dispersed group of content management companies and book manufacturers to an industry with critical mass. The core manufacturing component consists of 10 of India's leading printers: Gopsons, International Print-o-Pac, Lovely Offset, Manipal Technologies, Multivista Global, Navneet Publications, Replika Press, Repro India, Srinivas Fine Arts and Thomson Press. The scale will be provided by a number of sources including:
- State Government: providing land, utilities, tax incentives and access to trained manpower and port facilities.
- Infrastructure Company: creating an independent legal and financial entity to establish the necessary infrastructure.
- Include a Special Economic Zone (with financial incentives).
- Content/Print Companies: service-specific organizations that are "citizens" of Book City.
- Financial Partners: funding sources for participating organizations.
- Strategic Alliances and Partnerships: including both Indian and international paper companies, equipment manufacturers, information technology providers and dedicated, publisher-specific facilities for key clients.
In addition, the Book City initiative has identified several core operating principles as fundamental to success:
- Worldwide Reach: the Book City vision is global, but leverages the critical mass provided by India's large population.
- Centralized Marketing: Creating the capability is one thing, selling it is another. If the publishing industry's slow adoption rate of digital-printing technology is any indication of how long the Book City program will need to be part of the fabric of the book business, a centralized effort targeted at C-Level publishing executives will be essential to expediting the pace of participation.
- Centralized Procurement: Access to centralized vendor management and bulk buying to provide the foundation for economically compelling pricing and a streamlined supply chain.
- Standardized Quality: The quality offered by Book City must be every bit as good as publishers have come to expect from their current sources—both domestic and international. Nothing will destroy a good idea faster than poor quality.
- Technology Access: The Book City vision includes a world-class Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system as the backbone for managing operations and communicating with publishing partners. Added to this is India's well-established information technology and prepress services.
- Publisher Education: Managing outsourced services is both art and science. Deciding to move some or all of an organization's book production overseas must be carefully considered and supported by the appropriate domestic infrastructure. While many vendor-management rules are the same, many are different, and understanding and adapting to the new rules is critical to success.
We are on the cusp of a new era that requires all publishers and their supply chain partners to take an unemotional look at their existing infrastructures and business processes—as well as their visions for the future.
Many years ago I attended a strategic planning meeting led by one of the book business's all-time greats, Jack Farnsworth. Farnsworth opened the meeting with a slide containing the first rule of strategic planning (something I've never forgotten): There's a fine line between vision and hallucination.
Well, if India's success as an outsourcing destination is any indication of what we might expect from Book City, I suggest that this is a vision with legs and something to which we should all be paying attention.
David Hetherington is director of major account sales for Baker & Taylor's Digital Service Group and an adjunct professor at the Pace University Graduate School of Book and Magazine Publishing. He was previously managing director for strategic business development for Integrated Book Technology, and has held senior positions in finance, operations and manufacturing with some of the industry's largest firms, including Simon & Schuster, Reader's Digest Association, BearingPoint Consulting, Wolters Kluwer Health and Columbia University Press.