When author Ira Mukhoty started writing her book, Akbar: The Great Mughal, she could have never imagined that there would be no hard copy launch of her book but instead an online one. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary steps! Covid-19 has forced publishers to switch to online mediums completely. Mukhoty reminds that her book was already printed and was ready for distribution but got stuck in a warehouse due to the lockdown.
“There was no book with us but the publicity had already started. The book was getting traction, so we decided to go ahead and launch it as an ebook,” reveals the author. With sales drying up, retailers and distributors are also cutting back on publishing books. The smaller publishers remain the worsthit. Renu Kaul Verma, MD, Vitasta Publishing, tells The Daily Guardian, “It’s been two months and we have had no sales and no production since January.
It will be six months of no work. E-book has never been on our agenda. We were on platforms like Kindle but there are no sales there as well. We have no revenue right now and have no reserves.” Many like Priya Kapoor, editorial director, Roli Books, says that this adversity should be seen as an opportunity. “The one thing this lockdown has done is made me sit back and made us all realize our role as publishers, as an industry.
The avenues at the moment to sell books are not there. How do we stay relevant and make our authors relevant is the task at hand? Before the lockdown we were all sitting and discussing the different avenues and how we could adapt more to the changing scenarios,” she tells, as she opens up about new avenues like “Roli Buzz”, which is a digital platform and an online initiative of Roli Books. “All our resources, enthusiasm, and time went on this (Roli Buzz) and we launched it.
We were quickly able to put out audiobooks, open a dialogue, podcasts, etc, for our subscribers and readers. We had to do all of this because we had no idea when the lockdown was going to be lifted,” says Kapoor. She, however, emphasizes that books will always stay at the core of things. “I don’t know why they (books) have not been tagged as essential items.
I know of so many people who have been reading and have picked up reading during this month of lockdown and they all yearn for more book.” With extra time in hand due to the lockdown and many shifting to e-books, several authors also feel that online reading could be the future of publishing. “These are difficult and uncertain times. Every industry is grappling with how to change and what to do. We are a ‘Third World’ country; before getting to problems of publishing we have to tackle other issues.
Publishing has always been a niche industry; it’s not an industry that has huge revenues. So, we are trying new things like ‘a midnight launch’ on ebook platforms to make things more interesting. I’ve been told that new things will pan out in the next few months,” says Himanjali Sankar, editorial director, Simon & Schuster India. Publishers, authors, and artists are bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Most of them don’t have easy access to bank loans and remain insecure.
Sanjay Roy, managing director, Teamwork Arts, told The Daily Guardian that more than $1 trillion worth festivals have been canceled. “Even though we have created a digital platform as a part of our plan, it’s not the same. We know coronavirus is going nowhere until there is a vaccine. We are not looking at any immediate solution as it will take time,” he added. Copy: Meenakshi Upreti.