Wednesday, January 30, 2013
STM in the Digital Age: Keynote address by P T Rajasekharan
Let me at the outset congratulate and thank German Book Office for organising such a wonderful meeting of like minded professionals at a place as beautiful as Jaipur.
Since this is an informal Round Table meeting I will keep my talk short, informal and hopefully more thought provoking and less provocative.
From the Indian point of view Scientific Technological Medical has mainly remained a text book publishing activity with occasional reference books thrown in, and most of the activities were and are about import of books from the US & Europe. Reprinting licensed editions is a serious publishing activity and business model here in India.
The advent of Internet offered an opportunity for the Indian subcontinent of being a major player in the 'outsourcing' industry. Today almost all the major global publishers have their presence in India and the debate has begun about China and many other countries like Philippines as contenders who could take away a sizeable share of India's 'outsourcing'. Global and STM publishing is predominantly in the English language and that has been the strength and case for India to be a service participant ever since the opportunity arose.
Publishing and the way content is delivered to the end user has in the meantime revolutionarily transformed in the past decade and especially in the last 5 years with the arrival of of tablets, apps, thousands of Android platforms, and now even touch-screen computers! Today the end user can choose the kind of content he or she wishes to use with a touch of their fingertips, and that is happening faster than we Publishers can blink.
CONTENT is really becoming the king today and the role and power of the Distributor is being marginalised. Yesterday I heard many voices defining the distribution scenario in India as "sad even with the entry of large conglomerates". There is the question of payment and equally important, the best sellers getting preferences at the cost of an opportunity at all for other books to be exhibited.
I have been in the publishing industry since 1978 and that makes me 35 years old, and I guess experienced enough to have an opinion and a points of view.
I am always puzzled when publishers talk only about the "printed" books and its derivatives when content is discussed. I think as publishers we take ourselves too seriously and are rather prescriptive about what we believe are our domains. We have to be careful not to be too inward looking and open ourselves to new ideas and technologies that we are not familiar with leave alone masters of.
Today's Digital world is not merely the transfer of formatted pages and layouts through the Internet.
Today's Digital world is also about delivering content compatible to the devices that the end users have.
Today's Digital world is NOT about e-books and e-content alone, but about Digital content that can move, that can speak, that can almost blow you a kiss!
It is this participative and interactive content that is asking for its place in publishing today and we can either close our eyes and pretend that it is not happening or be consumed.
The fear of technology, I believe, is part of the reason for this reluctance and I find it rather amusing. Technology has ALWAYS been part of publishing and has coexisted peacefully with content development and delivery. Even in my heydays in Print publishing, I had no idea about the printing machines, colour printing technologies and the array of back ups that went into converting content into the final book format. Production Managers managed the printers, Editors sweated on the content, marketing did their part and publishers (the prima Donna) waved the baton for the sound of music, sorry publishing!
I can assure you that it is the same thing in Digital Publishing, at least in STM publishing. Learn to think of authors as content providers, printers as developers and your colleagues as soft ware and hard ware techies, and have the patience and the wherewithal, and we are in Business in this brave new world of digital publishing. In print publishing we leave it to our authors, editors and colleagues to run the individual functions independently. That is the way it would work in digital publishing too.
Oh! I forgot - be also ready to invest!!
I am one of those who firmly believe that both print and digital are inevitable parallel lines that will coexist and both have their own place in the scheme of things. As publishers we have to learn to understand both and prepare ourselves to play both the tunes.
Technology is India's strength as much as the English language is, and in a border less world of Digital Publishing, especially in STM, we have an opportunity to be major players not merely as service partners, but also as content providers.
With Focus Medica which is the digital arm of our parental company Panther Publishers, we believe we have made a small beginning in this fantastic voyage and I am optimistic that there would be many more of you with us in this journey.