Best-sellers such as Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, First 90 Days by Michael Watkins and A Sense Of Urgency by John Kotter have been lapped up by B-school students and management executives in India and the rest of the world, making their publisher, Harvard Business School Publishing Corp., or HBP, a not-for-profit management publishing enterprise wholly owned by Harvard University, look at the Indian market with renewed interest.
David A Wan, Harvard Business School Publishing. Photograph: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
HBP president and chief executive officer David A. Wan was in India in March for the launch of Harvard Business Publishing India Pvt. Ltd, or HBP India, the company’s first subsidiary outside the US. The publishing company has also commissioned several books to Indian management leaders. Bullish on India, Wan sees a silver lining in the current market turmoil too. “I see the current slowdown more as an opportunity than a challenge for publishers to change the way they work and adapt to the changing needs of consumers in a rapidly changing business environment,” says Wan, who took over his current position in July 2002.
In an interview, Wan talks about the need to adapt to the changing needs of managers, the growing importance of India as a market and a hub of ideas, and HBP’s digital plans. Edited excerpts:
You recently announced an India publishing programme. How much does the market here contribute to global sales?
Yes, India is very strategic to our growth plans. Sales in the Indian market account for about 1.5% of our global sales, but it is one of the fastest growing markets for us. It is the key market in the Asia-Pacific region and that’s why our only subsidiary outside the US is in India. Although there is a growing business book publishing market in China, translation is a big challenge there.
Currently, we are in the process of consolidating our business here. Our immediate plans include publishing India editions of Harvard Business (HB) books, growing the reach of Harvard Business Review, or HBR, South Asia, and focusing on partnering with leading business schools and companies to deliver leadership and management development content and programmes.
A part of the India programme also includes adapting and customizing existing publications to local needs and making them more relevant to the local market. Also, we are looking at more content from India to serve research and education markets in the US, UK and Europe.
My dream is to have more editors, authors and contributors from India. Given the superlative quality of academics and business leaders you have, we see a lion’s share of HBP content coming from India in the coming years. Currently, we have commissioned a number of books to Indian thought leaders, including two books to Vikram Akula, chairman and founder of one of the world’s fastest growing microfinance institutions, SKS Microfinance Pvt. Ltd; Vineet Nayar, CEO of global IT services company HCL Technologies Ltd; and a special foreword written by Ashish Singh, managing director, Bain and Co., for the India edition of Darrell Rigby’s Winning In Turbulence.
Which are the most and the least affected publishing programmes in India and globally?
The sales of HBR and Harvard Business Press have seen a decline, but our website www.harvardbusiness.org is seeing increased traffic and the number of premium content (read paid) users has gone up. There are opportunities in adversity and we are trying to explore every such possibility. To reach out to newer audiences, we are creating learning experiences that can be delivered through the Web, desktop, mobile devices and learning management systems.
A big part of our business is educational products and solutions for MBA programmes, and this segment is growing because, as I mentioned earlier, many people facing company downsizing are taking the opportunity to go back to school. The fastest growing segment in India is the corporate learning business and here we offer an online collection of articles, videos and learning modules addressing four strategic issues —talent management, innovation, change and strategy.
New companies are signing up with us as many firms look for the best thinking on adapting strategy, managing fundamentals and engaging employees in a challenging period.
How is the downturn affecting HBP and the publishing industry?
We are a publishing company with a diversified portfolio of management books, business-related content and other products, and this variety is helping lessen the impact of slowing demand. Our publishing programme includes: HBR, the leading magazine of business thought and practice; Harvard Business Press, publisher of books on business and management; a growing digital platform via HarvardBusiness.org and HBR.org, where both seasoned leaders and emerging talent worldwide visit to gain insights into business topics and issues; a broad line of business case studies from Harvard and other institutions, as well as other printed and multimedia teaching materials; and e-learning and e-training applications for corporations and universities.
We have escaped the worst effects of recession because the education market is faring fairly well in this environment.
The other reason for the publishing industry not being drastically impacted is because it’s not a high-growth sector and publishers have been dealing with the twin challenges of reviving sales and laying (a) foundation for the future of their businesses for a couple of years now.
Having said that, like (other) publishers across the world, we are feeling the heat. HBR’s print advertising is down by approximately 10% compared with last year, though we are faring better than most of (the) US financial and business magazine titles. We are experiencing a flattening of subscription-based sales, which were at a year-on-year growth of 2-3%. Our HBR news-stand sales have softened, though our latest circulation number shows us holding steady over the last year.
What are the opportunities and challenges of selling books in a slowing economy?
While publishers have to deal with (the) challenges of shrinking demand, higher input and editorial costs, and customers are seeking greater value for their money, times like these offer opportunities to change the way we work and bring along the much needed transformation required for growth. There is a huge premium being placed on leadership development, especially at a time like this. This creates strong prospects for a management practice publisher like HBP as managers look for answers in a tough economic situation.
We have plenty of content that’s been created to help these managers and company leaders. In March, we launched Leading Through Uncertain Times, a centre developed in our corporate learning group that delivers practical action plans, resources, tools and content to help leaders handle the downside of business cycles.
We’re also publishing papers and books to meet the current demand, such as our forthcoming book Winning In Turbulence by Darrell Rigby, partner and head of Bain and Co.’s global retail and global innovation practices, and The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook For Uncertain Times by Scott Anthony, president of Innosight Llc., an innovation consulting and executive education company.
What are your digital plans?
The future belongs to media convergence—and publishers who are already moving in that direction are going to have a lead over others. The key thing is to reach new audiences and reduce editorial costs while improving quality. In 2000, we partnered with online retailer Amazon.com Inc.’s e-book store for digital versions of HB titles. HB Press is now releasing all front-list (newly published) titles on the Kindle (Amazon’s electronic book reader) and is partnering with Amazon to do several exclusives in this format.
Keeping in mind the changing needs of our consumers, we have adopted such new technologies in a big way. Leaders can access most relevant HBR articles, HB Press book chapters, blog posts and e-learning modules—all at the click of a mouse. We deliver a stream of the latest thinking, news and trends—critical for today’s managers—through related links and RSS (really simple syndication) feeds. Mobile downloads allow managers to have content on the go.