education Posts

Teaching a tiddler how to read English

Last year Scholastic India published a marvellous collection of essays on reading. It is called Why I Love to Read: Real Stories about the Joy and Power of Reading. It is in keeping with the firm’s fundamental principle that reading opens up a world of possibilities. Reading is a lifelong skill. This anthology had a broad spectrum of contributors from across India. It included politicians, educationists, journalists, writers, publishers, poets, sociologists etc. I too contributed an essay. It was on how I managed to get my little girl to read modern English by introducing her to Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. The moment I introduced Sarah to medieval English where everything was spelt phonetically, the pennies dropped and she was able to make the relevant connections while reading modern English. So here is the essay that I am reproducing with the permission of the publisher.

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“They even have books in their bathroom!” exclaimed a friend to other classmates while describing our childhood home. Little has changed. Recently my daughter reported how her classmates describe our home as being full of books wherever you look! My nine-year-old is convinced that books are her birth right. She demands books she issues from the library and enjoys immensely to be bought for her personal collection as well.

My family loves books. We have done so for generations. We have inherited books that are now more than a century old. My childhood bedroom which I shared with my twin brother had an entire wall made of deep wooden bookshelves. I had rows of books three deep and more stacked on top.

I do not know what sparked my love for reading. It could have been my mother who decided to read out the texts she was teaching to her undergraduate students. Mum is a fantastic storyteller. So by the time we were six we knew our Shakespeare, Dracula along with breathless Piglet saying “Heff, Heff, Heffalump” from Winnie-the Pooh or she made up wonderfully imaginative tales. Or it could be my maternal grandfather who after lunch would tell us about the outrageous escapades about Laurel and Hardy traipsing through North East India – all totally made up of course! (My Nana as a senior civil servant had visited the region in the 1960s and 70s.) Or my paternal grandmother who would tell us stories about Shaikh-Chilli and other folktales at bed time. Or it could have been my bedridden great-grandmother who would tell us stories about Delhi and Dalhousie during British Raj including of C.F. Andrews or Charlie Dada as she referred to him fondly. He would arrive regularly at her home in Dalhousie with nothing except the clothes on his back. After every visit she would send him off on his travels once more with a bistar-band/ bedding holdall and clothes but he would inevitably distribute them to a more needy soul. My father is not much of a storyteller in words but as a photographer he is astounding. He brought home interesting guests, inevitably mountaineers and photographers, who would regale us with amazing tales of climbing some of the highest peaks in the world or taking photographs under extraordinary circumstances.

It was a short step from being surrounded by stories to reading the books lining our shelves. My mother too developed a neat trick of stocking our bookshelves with books just a little ahead of our biological years so we were never out of reading matter. Alternatively she would borrow huge piles of books from her college library and suggest books of all kinds – ranging from Georgette Heyer romances, Gerald Durrell’s animal stories, Homer, Malory, historical fiction to science fiction. We were well brought up kids. We even knew Asimov’s Three Robotic Laws fairly soon! Once mum realised I was getting frightfully bored by sixteenth century English Literature, she suggested a range of historical novels of the Elizabethean period. I developed a lifelong soft corner for it. As children we were encouraged to read anything that came our way. We spent most of our free time reading.

Initially I read what existed at home but slowly developed a passion for buying books and later even inherited personal libraries. I have an eclectic and vast collection of books. Now an entire floor in my parent’s home has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining the walls. In my marital home I have a study (and more) that is lined with bookshelves — anything to prevent my forming book towers! Even now my happiest moments are when I am surrounded by books and reading. It gives me peace. It is also as a parent I realise excellent role modelling. Children imitate their parent’s actions.

As a parent now I encourage my daughter to read anything she likes. Digital entertainment is rationed. When she was struggling to understand how English is written and spoken, I introduced her to my beautiful of Aubrey Beardsley’s Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. Very soon the kid was able to “read” the story as Middle English was written exactly as phonetics is practised. It made it even more fascinating that the stories were about her favourite trio – King Arthur, Merlin and Queen Guinevere. One of her favourite past times is to read the spines of my books. (She even began reading this essay and wanted to know why I was writing about reading? It puzzled her – why on something as basic as reading?) The best inheritance I can give my daughter is of reading as a valuable lifelong skill and not just for leisure.

For now she is a happy kid who said to me reading out aloud from Diary of a Wimpy Kid “This is so easy to read. It is like an early learners reading!”

Shhhhhhh! We have a reader in the making!  

17 April 2020

Interview with Debasmita Dasgupta on her debut graphic novel, “Nadya”

Nadya is a stunningly powerful graphic novel about thirteen-year-old Nadya who witnesses her parent’s marriage deteriorate. The story and the art work are devastating. The artist-cum-author Debasmita Dasgupta has created a very moving portrait of a family falling apart at the seams but also how the little girl, at the cusp of adulthood, is witness to a catastrophic set of circumstances. Her secure world crumbles and she feels helpless. Yet the staid portrait of the professional at her desk on the dust jacket belies the confused and anxious teenager portrayed on the hard cover — a fact that is revealed once the dust jacked is slipped off. It is an incredible play of images, a sleight of the hand creates a “flashback”, a movement, as well as a progress, that seemingly comes together in the calm and composed portrait of Nadya at her desk, tapping away at the computer, with her back to a wall on which are hung framed pictures. Many of these images are images of her past — pictures of her with her parents in happier times as well as when the family broke apart. A sobering reminder and yet a reason to move on as exemplified in the narrative itself too with the peace that Nadya discovers, a renewal, a faith within herself to soar. Scroll sums it up well “Teenagers may read this story of a nuclear family living in the hills for relatability, but for everyone there is the poetry of the form that this graphic novel poignantly evokes.” Nadya is an impressive debut by Debasmita Dasgupta as a graphic novelist. Nadya, is releasing on 30 September 2019 by Scholastic India. 

Debasmita Dasgupta is a Singapore-based, internationally published Kirkus-Prize-nominated picture book illustrator and graphic novel artist. She enjoys drawing both fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Working closely with publishers across the world, she has illustrated over 10 picture books, comics and poems. Widely known as an art-for-change advocate, Debasmita tells stories of changemakers from around the world partnering with global non-profits. Her art is exhibited in Italy, Singapore, Thailand, Denmark and more than 40 international media outlets have featured it.

Here are excerpts of an interview conducted via email:

  1. How did the story of Nadya and its publication come about? Was it the story that came first or the illustrations? What is the backstory?

I am a visual thinker. Words don’t come to me naturally. The story of Nadya was with me in bits and pieces for a very long time. I needed some time and space to weave it all together. It happened exactly a year ago when I went for an illustrators residency near Burgos (in Spain). That’s when I completed the story and illustrated a few key frames, which finally expanded to become this 64-page graphic novel.

When I was in primary school, I had a very close friend (can’t disclose her name). I have faint memories of us spending time together and quite a vivid memory of her fading away from my life after her parents went through a divorce. I was too young to understand the significance of the word “divorce”. All I could understand, deeply, was that it changed the course of my friend’s life. She became more and more quiet and then one day never came back to school. There were rumours that perhaps she went to a different school or a different city. Years later, another very close friend of mine went through a divorce. She has a daughter and at that time she was eight. This time I realised the thing that bothered me the most in my childhood was that I couldn’t make an attempt to complement the loss in my friend’s life with my friendship. Simply because I didn’t know how to deal with it. Finally, I found an answer in my art and the story of Nadya began. 

2. While the story is about Nadya witnessing her parents marriage fall apart, it is interesting how you also focus on the relationships of the individuals with each other. Is that intentional? 

Absolutely! I don’t see Nadya as a story of separation. On the surface it is a story of a fractured family but underneath it is about our fractured emotions. In fact to me it is the story of finding your inner strength at the time of crisis. You just have to face your fear. Nothing and no one except you can do that for you. 

3. Nadya seems to collapse the boundaries between traditional artwork for comic frames and literary devices. For instance, while every picture frame is complete in itself as it should be in a comic book, there is also a reliance on imagery and metaphors such as Nadya being lost in the forest and finding the fawn at the bottom of a pit is akin to her being lost in reality too. Surprisingly these ellisions create a magical dimension to the story. Was the plot planned or did it happen spontaneously? [ There is just something else in this Debasmita that I find hard to believe is a pure methodical creation. It seems to well up from you from elsewhere.] 

Thank you Jaya!

You are right that it is not a pure methodical creation. In fact, what fascinates me is that you could feel that the borders are blurred. When I was creating the story of Nadya, I felt that there were many crossovers between borders. Like emotional borders (grief and renewal) and timeline borders (past and present, with a hint of future). And I think these crossovers resulted in the form of an amalgamation of narrative forms, textures and colour palettes. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I felt the story is set in the mountains where you cannot define the lines between two mountains or the distinctions between the trees in the forest when there is a mist. They all overlap each other like human emotions. It’s never all black and white. 

4. How important do you think is the role of a father in a daughter’s life?

Let me tell you the story behind “My Father illustrations” – It was on a Sunday afternoon when the idea came to me after I heard a TED talk by Shabana Basij from Afghanistan. It was a moving experience. I felt something had permanently changed inside me. Over the next few days, I watched that talk over and over. Her honesty, her simplicity and power of narration moved me. Shabana grew up in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. Despite all odds, her father never lost the courage to fight for her education. He used to say, “People can take away everything from you except your knowledge”. Shabana’s story gave me a strong impulse to do something but I didn’t know ‘what’ and ‘how’. That’s when my red sketchbook and pencil caught my eye. Before I’d even realized it, I had taken my first step. I illustrated Shabana’s story and posted it on Facebook. It was an impulsive reaction. I found Shabana’s contact and shared the illustration with her. Shabana was so touched that she forwarded it to her students, and then I started getting emails from a lot of other Afghan men! The emails were a note of thanks as they felt someone was trying to showcase Afghan men in a positive light. I realized that if there are so many positive father–daughter stories in Afghanistan, just imagine the positive stories across the world! My journey had started. I started looking for moving father-daughter stories from across the globe. Some I found, some found me. With every discovery, my desire to create art for people kept growing.

5. With Nadya you challenge many gender stereotypes such as the daughter’s relationship with her parents. It is not the standard portrayal seen in “traditional” literature. Here Nadya seems happier with her father rather than mother. The breaking down of Nadya’s relationship with her mother has been illustrated beautifully with the picture frames “echoing” Nadya’s loneliness and sadness. Even the colours used are mostly brown tints. This is an uneasy balance to achieve between text and illustration to create an evocative scene. How many iterations did it take before you hit a satisfactory note in your artwork? And were all these iterations in terms of art work or did it involve a lot of research to understand the nuances of a crumbling relationship?

I often say “Preparation is Power”. And I have always learnt from great creators in the world that there are no shortcuts to create any good art. However, the process of preparation varies from artist to artist. To me, this is not a process, it’s a journey. It starts with a seed of an idea and then it stays with me for a long, long time before I could finally express it my way. There is a lot of seeing, listening and spending time with my thoughts. Breaking of the stereotypes, whether they are gender stereotypes or stereotypical formats, were not intentional but I guess embedded in my thinking. It’s not that someone from outside is telling me to break those norms but it’s a voice, deep inside, constantly questioning. Not to find the right answers but to ask the right questions.

There were many versions of character sketches and colour palettes before the finals were decided for Nadya. Even though the initial characters and colours were similar to the finals, the textures and tones are distinctively different. Since the story runs in different timelines with varied emotional arcs, I wanted to integrate separate tonalities in the frames. In the end, a graphic novel is not just about telling a story with words. If my images can’t speak, if their colours don’t evoke any emotion then my storytelling is incomplete. 

6. Did you find it challenging to convey divorce, loneliness, relationships etc through a graphic novel? Why not create a heavily illustrated picture book, albeit for older readers?   

I am a bit of an unconventional thinker in this regard. I can’t follow the rules of length and structure when it comes to visual storytelling. That’s why many of my illustrated books are crossovers between picture books and graphic novels. To me, when I know the story I want to tell, it finds its form, naturally. 

7. As an established artist, what is your opinion of the popular phrase “art for art’s sake”? 

I am an advocate of “art for change”, more precisely a positive change. I strongly believe (which is also the genesis of ArtsPositive) that art (of any form) has the ability to create a climate in which change is possible to happen. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually it will.

8. Graphic novels have become popular worldwide. Mostly the trend seems to be tell personal stories or memoirs or a lot of fantasy. To create a novel for social activism is still unusual though it is happening more and more. What do you hope to achieve with Nadya

I admire those books (graphic novels) that I can read several times, because it’s not about the length of the book, instead it is the depth that intrigues me to re-visit it more and more. Books that help start a conversation. A conversation with yourself or with someone else. I want Nadya to be that conversation starter.

9. Although it is early days as yet, what has been the reception to Nadya, especially from adolescent readers?  

The book is releasing in India on 30th September and I can’t wait to see what young adults have to say. Before that we had a soft launch in Singapore during the 10th Asian Festival of Children’s Content, where Nadya received a very warm welcome. All festival copies were sold out but my biggest reward was when I met this young artist from Indonesia, who told me that he could see himself in little Nadya. His parents separated when he was very young. I also met a teacher, who said that he is going through a divorce and would appreciate if I could speak to his children with this book. His eyes moistened when he was speaking to me.

10. Who are the artists and graphic novelists you admire? 

That’s a long list! But surely the work of Marjane Satrapi, Paco Roca, Riad Sattouf, and Shaun Tan inspire me a lot. The way they present complex subjects with simplicity, is genius!

11. What motivated you to establish your NGO, ArtsPositive? What are the kind of projects you undertake and the impact you wish to make?

About a decade ago, when I started my journey as an artist / art-for-change advocate, there was not much awareness about this concept. It was a very lonely journey for me, helping people understand what I do and what I aspire to do. So when I had the opportunity to start an initiative, I decided to develop ArtsPositive to contribute to the art-for-change ecosystem by supporting artists who create art-for-change stories. 

At ArtsPositive, we create in-house art-for-change campaigns such as #MoreThanSkinDeep* (the most recent campaign). We have also launched a quarterly ArtsPositive digital magazine to showcase art-for-change projects and enablers from around the world, collaborate with artists, and share artistic opportunities.

* More Than Skin Deep is an illustrated poetry campaign by poet, Claire Rosslyn Wilson and artist, Debasmita Dasgupta, through which we are amplifying the voice of fifteen fearless acid attack survivors (from 13 countries), who are much more than their scars.

Amazon for Authors, KDP in Delhi, 30 November 2017

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Author Academy is hosting an event over lunch at Hotel Le Meredien, New Delhi . It is to introduce and discuss their self-publishing programme– Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP.  The panel will include Sanjeev Jha, Director for Kindle Content, India, Amazon. I will moderate the conversation.

Anyone who is interested in selfpublishing their book online is welcome to attend. It could be a book or a manual ranging from fiction, non-fiction, self-help, parenting, career advice, spirituality, horoscopes, philosophy, first aid manuals, medicine, science, gardening, cooking, collection of recipes, automobiles, sports, finance, memoir, biographies, histories, children’s literature, textbooks, science articles, on Nature, poetry, translations, drama, interviews, essays, travel, religion, hospitality, narrative non-fiction, reportage, short stories, education, teaching, yoga etc. Any form of text that is to be made available as an ebook using Amazon’s Kindle programme.

In December 2016 Amazon announced that Kindle books would be available in five regional languages in India — Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam. This is a game changing move as it enables writers in other languages apart from English to have access to a worldwide platform such as the Kindle. Best-selling author Ashwin Sanghi called it an “outstanding initiative by Amazon India. It’s about time that vernacular writing moved out from the confines of paperback. It will also enable out-of-print books to be made available now.” Another best-selling author, Amish Tripathi, said this will address the inadequate distribution and marketing of Indian language books, for the much larger market is the one in Indian languages. “I am personally committed to this and am very happy that of the 3.5 million copies that have been sold of my books, a good 500,000 of them are in Indian languages.” Others remarked upon the best global practices it would bring to local publishing.

Sanjeev Jha
Director for Kindle Content, India, Amazon

cordially invites you for a session on

Amazon for Authors:

Navigating the Road to Self-Publishing Success

Hear how Indian authors have used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to build and reach audiences across a variety of genres

Date: Thursday, 30 November 2017

Time: 12 -1pm (followed by lunch)

Venue: Hotel Le Meredien, Delhi

This event is free. Registration is mandatory. Please email to confirm participation: jayabhattacharjirose1@gmail.com .

 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
International publishing consultant

 

Literati – “Opportunities in Publishing” ( 1 March 2015)

 Jaya Bhattacharji RoseMy monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published in print ( 1 March 2015).  I am c&p the text below. 

Opportunities in Publishing

In 2003 when mobile phones were new, we conducted an experiment at the publishing firm I was part of. We converted a print story into an audio file, dramatized it using voice actors, recording at a studio. A phone company offered to make it available on landlines and mobile phones. The only cost to be incurred was the origination cost. After that, the consumer would pay a nominal fee to hear the story. We knew we had a new income generation stream with a revenue-sharing model. It seemed to be a win-win situation, except for a tiny hiccup – insufficient good content. It had to be easily available, origination cost at an affordable price point, transparency on copyright, with preferably multi-lingual options to cater to target audiences in different regions. Naturally, it remained an experiment in convergence that was ahead of its times.

Ironically in 2015, publishing engagements held to coincide with the World Book Fair, New Delhi were dominated by conversations regarding content, opportunities for publishing where mostly telecommunications company representatives spoke or IT experts expounded on the significance of mobile reading. Impressive statistics were reeled out. For instance, 4.5 b people have access to bathrooms, but 6 billion have access to phones. There are only 7 billion people on earth.

The close relationship between publishers, content and technology is discussed well in an article, “No profit left behind”, published in POLITICO Pro (10 Feb 2015, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026.html ). It is argued that Pearson wields enormous influence over American education and “makes money even when its results don’t measure up”. On 20 Feb 2015, an Indian newspaper report said, “Pearson Education is eyeing a larger share of the Indian education market through digital offerings. Chalking out its growth chart for the coming years, the learning and publishing company has identified India among the four biggest markets, the others being China, Brazil and South Africa.” (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/education/pearson-education-eyes-big-share-of-indian-education-market/articleshow/46297541.cms ) All though riddled with challenges such smart classes and modern libraries with Wi-Fi are not unheard of in India where the contracted vendor provides the hardware, software, content and even helps get broadband access to the institution.  Hence it is not surprising to have heard telecom representatives requesting for a Digital India Programme – creation of digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and advocating digital literacy. In theory a splendid idea since it gets to many. But when rumours about local broadband service providers seeking differential pricing for customers begin to become real, it is a worrying trend. These internet service providers are flouting the basic premise of net neutrality where all data exchanged on the net should be treated equally. With broadband connectivity expected to grow rapidly with 450 million users in 2017 putting India amongst the top two data markets globally and maximum internet growth is expected to happen with 69% of the population who have affordable smartphones, feature phones and low-cost feature phones operating on 2G and 3G spectrums, with another 9.8% of the population being able to afford higher end phones and tablets using wi-fi too, this is a lucrative business to be in.

Other conversations of note were an insistence on targeted marketing by leveraging technology; creating a classification of readers – casual, avid, niche, topical, educational and lapsed; taxation issues;  exploring new business models such as  Direct – to – Consumers (D2C) and opportunities to sync audio to text – bundle of e-book and audiobook with seamless switching; the conversion of passive online consumers to active “prosumers” [Producer-Consumers] driven by convergence; analysing targetted audience interactions like browsing / buying behavior, and impact of augmented reality in book promotions as it simulates to some extent the real world not necessarily recreating it exactly in detail. Significantly there was an interest to explore translations in Indian languages but the more animated conversations took place at the Food Court at Pragati Maidan than at Rights Table conclave. The increasing presence of overcrowded remaindered bookstalls presented a paradox with their low-priced books –a bane for publishers, a boon for readers. Finally the stress on how digital publishing was a great opportunity for the Indian publishing sector and must be explored for content creation, distribution and consumption dominated.

The reality is digital penetration is still at a nascent stage in the sub-continent, definitely in a sector estimated to be valued at $2.2 billion. It will require active participation of all stakeholders to ensure the delivery of quality material, at the right price point (for e-readers, ISP, price of content), plus taking into account multi-lingual, gendered and cultural characteristics of consumers.

1 March 2015

“Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century” Eric Hobsbawm

“Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century” Eric Hobsbawm

Fractured Times

Fractured Times is a series of lectures delivered by Eric Hobsbawm at the annual Salzburg Festival. Those published in this book, were written between 1964-2012. (He died on 1 Oct 2012.) This is a book of reflections, thoughts and comments about what happened to culture and society, especially after 1914, a society and a time that was never to return. These lectures document the tectonic shifts that occurred in the cultural fabric of society. The devastating impact that the two world wars had on society was fundamental. Hobsbawm’s basic premise is that the art and cultural fabric of a society are inextricably linked to politics. It is impossible to dissociate one from the other. ( “For enjoyment of art is not purely a private experience, but a social one, sometimes even a political one, especially in the case of planned public performances i purpose-built settings and theatres.”) So post-1914 the society (at least in Europe and UK) was transformed in that the women’s movements flourished ( ironically a country that had two powerful women on its throne, did not give its women citizen’s even the basic rights. The suffragettes had to demand it), the publishing of books developed into an industry with the establishment of some of the biggest trade publishers such as Allen Lane’s Penguin Books, the first oral history societies were founded in the late 1960s ( “Studies of historical memory are essentially not about the past, but about the retrospect to it of some subsequent present.”) and education. His views on the publishing industry are fascinating — “The book, revolutionised in the 1930s by Penguin and Gollancz, was almost certainly the most effective form of intellectual diffusion: not to the mass of the manual working class for whom the word ‘book’ still meant ‘magazine’, but to the old educated and the rapidly growing body of the aspiring and politically conscious self-educated.”. Or earlier in the book, he says “Even a good deal of literature, especially the classics, remains in print, and much good new writing is published that would never pass the profit threshold set by the accountants, because of non-market decisions.”

There are plenty of nuggets of wisdom that have been distilled and delivered in these lectures. Here is a man who thought, analysed and presented with confidence. Every single book of his is a treasure trove. The ease with which he presents history, complex ideas without their seeming to be so, and his analysis is always a delight to read. For instance his reflection upon how the fashion industry more or less predicts the trends for the following season accurately, but the book trade bumbles its way through. And yet both are heavily dependent upon markets that formed by subjectivity and at times irrational sensibilities. So why does one industry get it right over and over again and not the other? Hobsbawm’s comments on the relationship between the market and culture are sharp and precise. “From the point of view of the market, the only interesting culture is the product or service that makes money.” In his opinion, post-1970s the wealth available for nurturing the arts has grown explosively, all though it does come with a lot of provisos. But he also cautions the rapid transformation that the cyber-age has wrought. It is “so fast, so dramatic, and so unforseeable”. The chapter on “Why hold festivals in the twenty-first century?” has to be read. Hobsbawm is convinced that festivals are multiplying like rabbits. According to him, “festivals have become a firm component of the economically ever more important complex of the entertainment industry, and particularly of cultural tourism, which is rapidly expanding, at least in the prosperous societies of the so-called ‘developed’ world…there is a great deal of money to be made these days in the culture business.” For him “the genealogy of today’s festivals begins with the discovery of the stage as the cultural-political and social expression of a new elite that is self-assured and bourgeois, or rather recruited according to education and ability instead of birth.”

In a similar fashion “in the post-industrial age of information, the school — that is, secondary an tertiary education and beyond — is more decisive than every before, and forms, both nationally and worldwide, a unifying element, not only in technology, but also in the formation of classes….What is needed is a usable educational programme aimed at the community of educable youth, not only within a country or a cultural circle, but also worldwide. This guarantees, at least within a particular area of intellectual cultures, a certain universalism both of information and of cultural values, a sort of basic stock of things that an ‘educated person’ should know.”

Eric Hobsbawm was a thinker. As Julia Hobsbawm says about her father in the FT — “Food he could do without; ideas not.” ( Financial Times, April 2013. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/0dbd14de-a7c0-11e2-9fbe-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2VL2W2xf6 ) A man like him will be sorely missed. Fractured Times, his last book to be published is like the others before it, worth reading over and over again. Every time there is something new to be discovered in the lectures.

Eric Hobsbawm Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century Little, Brown, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Hachette India, 2013. Hb. pg 320. Rs. 699

The Economics Of Electronic Content: If the e-content falters or is under-par, it will not translate into a sustainable business model

The Economics Of Electronic Content: If the e-content falters or is under-par, it will not translate into a sustainable business model


( “PubSpeak” My column on publishing in BusinessWorld online. 22 March 2013)

few weeks ago educational researcher and professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, UK, Dr Sugata Mitra won the $1 million TED grant for his ‘Hole-In-The-Wall’ project. It basically promotes the concept of school in the cloud (web) relying on the premise that in the absence of supervision or formal teaching students will discover good content, share, discuss and teach others too. It is based on his experiments conducted in 1999 at Kalkaji, an urban slum in New Delhi. Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering the slum, installed an internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other. Such is the nature of technology that children relatively unexposed to the internet and computers were able to operate and learn to work with the technology.

The outcome of the experiment points towards one direction – the need for availability of reliable and relevant content. The importance and demand of good and reliable content in education is evident in the alacrity with which SmartClasses were adopted in India. The vendors, who were keen to sell computer hardware and claim they have “content for KG till 12 Std”, had a strong USP -– make the information electronically available would help their students in learning. According to a proposal letter from a Delhi-based vendor says they offer to set up SmartClasses and a Knowledge Centre and they have done so in over 10,000 schools across India. Recently there has been some information circulating that this large firm responsible for introducing smart classes is floundering since the veracity and quality of the content it offers is questionable. Schools are getting out of these alliances after 2-3 years of getting into the partnerships.

The ‘E’ Landscape
Sure, the market for e-content is growing. However, to get a definite figure for the size of the edu-content market is difficult. Perhaps these numbers and facts will help us imagine the landscape and possibilities in the ‘E’ economics. The literacy rate for the Indian population is 74.02 per cent (2011), up by 9 per cent from the previous decade. Of this 40 per cent of the population is below the age of 30, where 200 million children are under the age of 18 and 69 million of them reside in urban areas. The book market is estimated to be between Rs 10,000-12,000 crore in value with over 18,000 publishers doing business in the country. and you will perhaps even plan on setting up shop for e-content. Moreover, the publishing industry is growing at a rate of 30 per cent as per recent Ficci estimates.

Now, let’s go over the statistics on the electronic part of the content. The O’Reilly Global eBook Market’s (Feb 2013) says the ebook market in India is expected to be less than 1 per cent of the total book market, though this too is expected to grow by 20-25 per cent in the next 2-3 years.

Almost all of the online educational content and digital books are currently in English. According to PrintWeek India “In the last five years, digital printing industry has grown by approximately 21.6 per cent and over the next five years it is expected to expand by 23.6 per cent. There is a growth of 73 per cent in textbook printing in the last five years in India.”

The government of India is leading several initiatives to promote digital literacy and provide access to digital content at school and college levels. National-level missions such as the Rs 4612 crore ($859 million) National Mission on Education through ICT (NME-ICT) have been introduced. The NME-ICT is working in collaboration with other related missions and schemes—National Knowledge Network, Scheme of ICT in Schools, National Translation Mission, and the Vocational Education Mission. The idea behind the initiative, according to a report published in The Hindu (7 January 2009,http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/holnus/001200901021501.htm), is to work towards creating personalised and interactive knowledge module for students.

India’s education sector, moreover, is set to increase to Rs 602,410 crore ($109.84 billion) by FY15 due to the expected strong demand for quality education going by a recent report issued by India Ratings, a Fitch Group Company. Indian education sector’s market size in FY12 is estimated to be Rs 341,180 crore and the market for content forms a key chunk of this pie. The sector grew at a compounded annual growth rate of 16.5 per cent during FY05-FY12. The higher education (HE) segment was at 34.04 per cent ($17.02billion) of the total size in FY10 and grew by a CAGR of 18.13 per cent during FY04-FY10.

The Fitch report also said that it has a stable outlook on the Indian education sector which includes both school and higher education. Hence it is not surprising that content service providers and publishers future strategies are based on how to capitalise this sector. For instance, in Jan 2013 it was announced that HarperCollins India would be launching a new educational division in India. Collins India in a press note said the English-language schools textbook market in India currently stood at more that £150m, more than the market size in the UK, and is expected to grow further. Similarly Wiley India launched its Authorship Development Roadshow to get quality content in Bangalore and Chennai.

Now link all this to the demand from thousands of schools for e-content in India, and perhaps you will immediately think of registering a company and learning the ropes of the business to supply content. And competition already exists in the form of the education sector (K-12, higher education and academic) who were the early adopters of e-learning and e-content have company — the trade publishers too have joined the ‘E’ game.

But it’s not just competition that could prove a bugbear to your prospective firm. The vendor should find out if the content he is providing to schools is legitimate and importantly if it is suitable to the recipients.

With the tablet and smartphones boom in India, convergence is inevitable. However offering good content then becomes a prerequisite. As Thomas Abraham, managing director with Gurgaon-based Hachette India says, “Where trade (non academic books, literary fiction, self help, mind, body and spirit lists) books are concerned, 90 per cent of revenues come from the straight text flows of narrative fiction or non-fiction — the printed page moving on to the screen.”

Content Is Still King
One of the five publishing predictions for 2013 made at international publishing conferences at the start of the year is reiteration of the fact that content will be king. This is the future of publishing. If content falters or is under-par, it will not translate into a sustainable business model. It does not matter if the service provider is a trade publisher for fiction and non-fiction books or an education publisher for creating textbooks, everyone has to focus on creating good, reliable and authentic content.

Today there are slight shifts noticed in the nomenclature being used to offer content. Well-established publishing firms whose focus is education prefer to no longer be identified as publishers instead as educational service providers. Others will prefer to use terms like “content management” and “curriculum development”. Trade publishers, whose prime focus in their children’s list is to create fiction and non-fiction, recognising the need for offering reliable and branded content in educational institutions are now expanding their lists to include grammar books, elocution speeches and quiz books written by “branded” names or those who are willing to lend names. Everyone recognises the market and its potential, so it does make strategic sense to tweak existing lists and offer it in any format: print, digital or audio. Or as was said at the ‘If Book Then’ conference, Milan (19 March 2013) “data is the new oil of xxi century”.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist