Updated: Mar 24, 2020
This is exhilarating news! Finally, the biggest stakeholder in the textbooks business is waking up and asserting her (used for both male and female genders) right to good quality publishing.
Publishers are often at the receiving end and I wouldn’t be surprised if students expressed anger with them. Publishers are perhaps the smallest cog in this the machinery of education. They are supposed to be content curators and not content creators. But content creators is what they are being pushed into being. I am not suggesting that publishers haven’t chosen to become content creators, the lure of easy adoptions isn’t easy to resist. There are two clear reasons for the sorry state of textbook publishing for Higher Education.
Incentive to write
Before the government intervened with NCERT textbook publishing was the sunrise sector within publishing. A textbook author received seven figure royalties for adopted texts. I heard of at least two who received eight figure royalties. In Higher Education there was just no incentive to write. Textbook writing is given next to no weightage in the Academic Performance Index evaluation. Publishing in peer reviewed journals is where all the attention is. Textbook writers don’t make enough money to sustain a decent living and even if they cross into six or seven figure royalties, they are a far cry from their cousins in schoolbook publishing. The result is very few good professors want to spend the time to write a textbook. I completely understand their frustrations when they calculate the ROI.
Clinging to our colonial heritage
It continues to sicken me to listen to how “American” or “European” textbooks are so much better. They could be in our system unrevised for a decade or more but will be the preferred choice for professors leading the course. I am constantly asked to get ‘rights to adaptations of foreign textbooks’ as they are ‘easier to sell’. Review the textbook recommendation of any institution and it will reveal a clear bias towards foreign authors. It isn’t in textbooks that this is evident. Look at any peer reviewed article and chances are very high that Indian authors are citing foreign articles and not Indian ones.
To be fair, there is still a lot to be done to ensure that the Indian Higher Education content generating eco-system is self-sustaining. We have been in the game for quality excellence for less than two decades, thanks largely to the IT industry. Our authors need to evolve, adopters need to evolve, publishing needs to be more conscious about the content they publish. And I agree that this is a clear chicken and egg situation. But we have to begin somewhere. I am grateful to the students from IIM A for their brave initiative. Perhaps this will now force professors and course leaders to evaluate the quality and relevance of the content rather than the author’s antecedents.