Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Well, someone's optimistic about the future of book publishing

This is an interesting view of publishing outsourcing from an Indian perspective. While some of us in North America are wondering if book publishing as we know it can survive in any recognizable form at all, these Indian outsourcees see all optimism.

"Ranjit Singh expects another booming year for the publishing industry. 'We expect to grow by at least 25-30 per cent this year,' he says. Worldwide, the publishing outsourcing market is expected to grow to about $4.5 billion by early 2007 from the current $2.6 billion."

I wonder if that includes work that is outsourced to North American suppliers -- like my company. If so, that's really good news for me. I'm not holding my breath.

I had my first exposure to a book that had been outsourced to India last year. It was a textbook from a major Canadian publisher. The Indian supplier had done terrific work on it. The proofs were far cleaner than we are used to seeing. Sure, there were some typos and non-idiomatic word usages. Nobody's perfect. These guys were pretty impressive.

Am I worried? Not really, or, more accurately, not by this. Most of my company's book publishing work these days consists of books we have initiated. Those projects aren't going to be outsourced to anyone else. And only a small percentage of our work comes from book publishers.

Would I be worried if I owned one of the big book design and layout companies in Canada or the US? You bet I would!

If I owned one of those companies in India, how optimistic would I be? Not as optimistic the people interviewed are. I can see problems for every sector of the book biz. Trade publishing seems to have lost the ability to produce mid-list books, which should be one of the most profitable parts of the business. Textbook publishers are more and more often hitting price resistance. Most reference books are dead in the water. Academic publishing in many ways makes more sense as an Internet activity. The Internet, of course, has changed things for everyone, and will continue to do so. We simply haven't seen how, yet.

My guess is that the most profitable outsourcing work will be in content provision, rather than editing, design, layout, printing and distribution.