Legacy publisher Navneet’s fight for digital survival

Most Indians, especially those who attended schools affiliated with state boards or even the Central Board of Secondary Education, would have studied Navneet’s science, math, English and social science textbooks. Education. At a time when ed-tech start-ups such as Byjus and Unaccademy have taken the education industry by storm, Sunil Gala, MD, Navneet Education, likes to believe that Navneet was the first mover in the world digital education. “We introduced animated e-books in 2010 in English, Gujarati and Marathi, with the belief that it would reduce teachers’ workload and help students better understand the concepts. We have also launched digital question banks.

The publishing and stationery major’s digital foray was ahead of its time and didn’t have too many takers. However, a decade later, the company is once again making aggressive investments in ed-tech – it plans to invest Rs 100 crore per year for the next three years. The plan includes the development of a B2B application for schools that would not only have digital teaching materials, but also features such as a learning management system, ERP and teacher training modules. A B2C application for children aged two to eight is also in the works. “Our platform will provide fun learning for students with many animated games in math, English, science and social studies,” says Gala. He is confident that digital adoption in the age of Covid will make it easier for Navneet to convince schools to adopt its B2B product.

Not going digital is no longer an option for older publishers. In fact, they have to do it quickly to make sure they don’t disappear. “Books won’t be purchased like they used to be. Publishers need to think about becoming more relevant to their consumers and they can only do that by embracing digital,” says Ankur Pahwa, Partner and Leader (e-commerce and consumer Internet), EY. Additionally, like new-age edtech companies, legacy companies also need to personalize content for students. “My needs as a student would be different from those of other students. A one-size-fits-all solution on digital won’t work, that’s where students drop out. While embracing digital, traditional businesses also need to personalize,” Pahwa says. .

There is an urgent need for publishing companies such as Navneet to overhaul their existing business model, agrees Anindiya Mallick, founder of strategic consultancy Mindcomb. “Even after the pandemic is over, education would be hybrid. Legacy companies not only need to create digital textbooks, they also need to make sure they are interactive. They also need to continuously update their content to ensure adherence. Students expect content providers to keep up with the times.”

The education company is also making inorganic investments in the edtech space. In July this year, it acquired a 46.84% stake in Carveniche Technologies, owner of the mathematics tutoring platform beGalileo. “They are currently only selling to overseas customers, but now that we are on board, we will be aggressively promoting it in India. We will also be doing regional content,” says Gala.

Navneet also took a 14.8% stake in Elation Edtech, owner of STEM learning platform Tinkerly. The company also plans to launch online platforms that will focus on consulting, teacher training and sports management. “Our goal is clear, wherever students benefit, whether physically, emotionally or academically, Navneet will be there. There will be physical interventions, but most of the revenue will be generated through the online platform,” explains Gala.

According to Mindcomb’s Mallick, the biggest challenge for legacy publishing companies is building their own platform as well as talent to build the platform. “Building a content platform is an expensive proposition. The skills required are also very different. As a result, we are increasingly going to see legacy companies merging with new era companies. New era companies have need alumni for their library of content. and also the connection with educational institutions.” He cites the example of Byjus’ acquisition of physical tutoring chain Aakash Educational Services for $950 million.

Digital contributes just 3% to Navneet’s revenue of Rs 817.49 crore, but by 2025 Gala expects at least 25% to come from ed-tech. The Covid pandemic has been particularly difficult for the education business. Company revenue fell from Rs 1,467.19 crore in FY20 to Rs 817.49 crore in FY21 as schools were closed. Gala is obviously pinning her hopes on ed-tech for the next level of growth. “All of our physical books will have a digital component. Initially, anyone who purchases our physical book will receive a free digital book to boost penetration. Once the use of e-books improves, physical infrastructure costs would decrease and this would be passed on to consumers. »

Giving away free e-books to increase penetration may not be enough. EY’s Pahwa emphasizes the need to make content engaging through gamification. “Content should be ambitious. Gamify and give rewards. They can either give stars to a student for solving an exercise correctly or mark it in stages or even reward bonuses. A student who manages 500 stars could probably be rewarded with a cap or a pen,” says Pahwa.

The mindset shift needed for a legacy company like Navneet to embrace digital was huge, admits Gala. “We have always focused on revenue as well as results. But with new-era companies brimming with capital and splurging, it’s hard for legacy companies like ours to think about those lines and spend so much. It took a few years to convince us if there will really be an alternative to physical books or if schools will benefit from these products.