From Low Priced Editions to Fair Priced Editions
A major group of Indian publishers is up in arms against a proposed amendment to the copyright act of India. Put simply, the said amendment allows for the export of any edition of a title into India even if specific Indian editions are already available.
There are some genuine points both for and against the issue. However the debate has long since devolved into fear mongering and finger pointing. One of the interesting claim of the publishers is that the said amendment will also legalize the export of Low Prized Editions of text books and technical books back to USA and UK. As a result, publishers in those market are likely to stop giving licenses for LPEs.
I personally think that it is very far fetched. There is enough protection against such imports in USA/UK markets. Some short sighted foreign publishers might pull out but then that should not be the guiding factor of our policies anyway. However the reaction from publishers set me thinking in another direction.
Given its status as the outsourcing hub, a very young population and growing number of people comfortable with reading in English, India is a big market for Technical Books and Text Books. Why is it then that Indian publishers are happy to be the printers of LPEs rather then develop their own titles in this market? It is estimated that 70% of Indian book market is of Text Books. This includes everything from Primary to Higher Education. Most of the text book publishers of India seem to be focused on school segment. The titles that do come out in the Higher Education Segment are not up to the mark - bad quality of writing & bad production value. And I am yet to come across a solid technical book (IT and CS are the areas I can vouch for) by Indian authors, published by an Indian publisher. Most of the known names O'Reilly/Shroff, Pearson, Prentice Hall basically bring out LPEs of titles originally written and produced outside.
With the growing number of good techies in India, there should be no dearth of possible authors in India for technical subjects. Recently one of the startup founders wrote a book on SaaS. There is also an increasing number of open source contributors in India. However, due to the fast changing nature of technology, the technical publishing is also a very quick moving market. To survive it today requires adoption of technology, quick adaptability to market and out of the box thinking. The competition is intense, especially from the increasingly high quality free content available online. Indian authors will typically need more hand-holding as compared to their foreign counterparts. But the size of the opportunity seems to be large enough to be worth the risk.
We can either let someone else do all the hard work and be happy publishing LPEs or we can go out and carve out a piece for ourselves. Then we can throw away this tag of LPE and have our own Fair Priced Editions. Given the amount of changes happening in the publishing industry currently, I believe that there is a window of opportunity here. I just hope that there are people in Indian publishing industry who see the possible threat to LPEs as an opportunity!