‘Challenging business environment’ — Why academic publisher SAGE is closing India book operations

New Delhi: It’s a big blow to academic publishing in India, is how a shocked and saddened academic community has reacted to the decision of SAGE Publications to shut its India book operations.

Following it announcement last week that it would stop publishing books but continue to bring out journals, the company is now sending emails to its published authors, assuring them of support in the future.

While authors remain unsure of what might have prompted this move, insiders say the decision was driven purely by commercial motives.

Responding to ThePrint’s query over email, Smrithi Sudhakaran, senior manager-marketing, SAGE Publications India, said the publication had experienced a “particularly challenging business environment for book publishing in India due to the pandemic and other economic factors”.

Sudhakaran also clarified that the “decision is very specific to books and does not impact the journals publishing programme, as well as our [SAGE’s] strong imported books sales in India”.

“We are actively looking for a new home for our book titles and will make an announcement as soon as we are able. Meanwhile, our book publishing operation is active until the point we transition it. We are continuing to support our authors and keeping in contact with them through this process,” she said in her response.

Sudhakaran further said that the decision was inevitably resulting in the exit of some of the company’s employees.

“Our aim is to carry out the transition with utmost respect and care to our people and we are helping them with extra ex gratia payments for easier transition as well as enabling access to outplacement services to assist them in finding placements,” she said.

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‘Academic books are not cheap’

Speaking to ThePrint, an author who has published with SAGE said, “I hope the reason is purely commercial and not political. It’s a big blow to the publishing industry if an academic publisher operating since 1981 decides to stop publishing books.”

Sources attribute SAGE’s decision to halt its India operation to the drastic dip in the sale of its academic books, adding that it was becoming difficult for the publication to sustain its operations.

“A large volume of academic book purchasing is done by institutions and libraries, primarily that — and not individual purchases like students and researchers buying — and that has gone down a lot. The reason is that course material these days is in the form of a course pack, which is a mix of journals and chapters from books, instead of a complete book,” said a source who did not wish to be named.

“While the journals are still thriving and will continue to, books are not being purchased,” the source added.

However, university professors told ThePrint that, apart from course packs, there’s another factor that has contributed to the decline in book sales — non-availability of library funds.

“For the last three-four years, we have not been able to buy any new books for our library because of lack of funds. Academic books are not cheap,” said Rajesh Jha, a faculty member at Delhi University.

A faculty member at Allahabad University shared the view that academic books are expensive and libraries often don’t have enough funds to buy them. “We mostly resort to giving Xerox copies of suggested readings to our students,” said the teacher, who wished to remain anonymous.

The drop in sales of academic books is also likely to affect other big academic publishers such as Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, said a source in the publishing industry.

ThePrint reached both publishers individually, to seek a response on what they think of the development and how it is likely to affect them in future, but they refused to comment on the issue.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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