Some elite schools may experiment with digital, but I dont think print is dying: Ranjan Kaul

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | Updated: Jun 16 2014, 10:34am hrs
Digital/online publishing in India is still at a nascent stage, but with steady proliferation of digital devices and improved online connectivity, it is expected to grow rapidly. In this interview, Ranjan Kaul, managing director, Oxford University Press India, shares with FEs Abhishek Chakraborty that nobody can guess the future of dictionaries and that piracy remains a perennial problem. Excerpts:

How do you choose new words that are to be included in your dictionaries

Oxford invests a lot in dictionaries. We use various programmes to decide on which words to include in the English dictionary. The selection depends on the frequency of usage (not only written usage but verbal too), where we scan a lot of published material, including books, journals, newspapers, social media, etc.

What is the future of dictionaries, especially in India

Whether the print edition of dictionaries will completely go out, nobody can guess. In India, we have seen that the sales of English dictionary have slowed down. But the sales of bilingual dictionaries are actually improving in the country. In fact, our bilingual dictionary programme has increased by 20%. Our bilingual dictionaries may not have a large vocabulary, but they have a lot of sentences and usage that explain how the word is actually used in everyday life.

How do you go about when you want to add a new language in your bilingual dictionary programme Is it wholly a business decision

Yes, partly it is a business decision because, at the end of the day, we have to make our programme commercially viable. As there is a fair amount of investment into the whole process, so we have to also see if the language is frequently used. But yes, you cant compare a new regional language dictionary with the English-Hindi ones, which are sold the most. We are slowly expanding the range of our languages. Apart from having Bengali, Tamil, Oriya, Gujarati and Marathi, we are now adding new languages such as Telugu, Malayalam, Urdu, etc.

Are all business decisions for the country taken by the OUP India office

Our publishing decisions are primarily taken here, but there is an active involvement of Oxford in terms of deciding the quality of material. We have delegates who review the materials being published. The decision of the delegates has no commercial purpose, it is about the quality; for instance, is such a decision furthering the universities objectives The reason we are different from any other publishing outfit is that whatever earnings we generate, we reinvest those into education and academic scholarships and dictionary making.

Oxford published low-priced edition dictionaries a few years ago. Do you still publish them

We still have such dictionaries, but we dont call them low-priced any more. Even though the entire content is produced in Oxford, we use Indian printers and Indian paper to keep the price low. One of the reasons we need to do this is to avoid piracy, which is one of the major problems we are facing today.

Is digital publishing a challenge or an opportunity

We have been publishing digital material, but we have not yet looked at monetising it. For example, last year we published a lot of digital material for schools, but it was more as a to support to our printed texts and was used to aid classroom teaching. We did so because a lot of schools came to us who were not much happy with the quality of content they were provided by other players. So, yes, it is an opportunity.

Are you focusing more on classroom-based education

We are keeping track of what the requirements and demands of the market are. We will continue to engage with teachers to find out what their real needs are. There are some elite schools, for example, who have started using tablets, so this year we will also be doing a pilot project where we will work with some technology companies and help the teacher decide how she wants to use the print or the tablet. Further, we will also provide teacher the required material to explain how teaching can be enhanced.

So, are we going to see schools powered by Oxford

Yes, we are looking at that concept, but not immediately. We are not going to buy schools like some publishers do. Essentially, we are content providers and developers, and that is our strength. The other thing that is becoming increasingly important is how do you evaluate teaching and learning. Is it just on the basis of marks Are the real skills really being learned Right now, we do not have any tool to access as to which school is better than the other. We would want to partner with some schools who are genuinely interested in education and who want to improve the quality of education.

With the advent of digital learning, do you think normal publishing will die out in the coming years

I dont think so, and I dont think there are any indications like that. Even if you see worldwide trends, I dont think print is dying soon, even though some elite schools might experiment in doing away with print altogether. But I do see increasing usage of digital towards improving concept building, and making it interesting and enjoyable. A lot of visual learning is going to happen in the coming days.