New Delhi World Book Fair: Not so fair this time

Marred by unpreparedness; dusty, long and confusing approach and a decline in sales, the New Delhi World Book Fair left much to be desired in its 27th edition

Photo Courtesy: PTi
Photo Courtesy: PTi

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

Snaking across scores of roadside snack and beverage vendors and fashion tidbits sellers gathered at the entry gate, it is a long walk in biting cold to hall numbers 8-12 to enter the New Delhi World Book Fair. If you have a problem in your legs, God save you.

Its most disturbing aspect is the immensely dusty, rough and long walk till the pavillions, with barely any shuttle service for the old, women and kids. People, their hands loaded with books, were seen huffing and puffing to reach the main road.

The checkpoints with dirty curtains, zero information on regional language stalls, heavy barricading and closed roads, long U-turns due to heavy construction inside the Pragati Maidan, etc. have turned much of the fair into a nightmare. It has had many visitors going back in disgust. Only gate no 1 and 8 are open to the visitors. Deserted halls, less brands and confusing approach is not a mark of an international book fair.

The Bharatiya Jnanpith has been a casualty of the unruliness. Stall manager Dinesh Bhatnagar says, “The space is very less this time. It used to be so wide earlier. Many more stalls had to go back due to lack of space. Each year, our sales go down by ₹one lakh. This time it has been the worst.”

Mohit Jain, a distributor from Arihant, says, “Last year there was a great crowd. My sales have been 40 % less this year. I will have to make up for it through other fairs. Due to a tough approach road, people are not being to reach the pavillions.” Another young book distributor says, “National Book Trust used to promote the book fair on FM Radio a lot and by placing advertisements in newspapers. But this year, there was no or negligible promotion. People didn’t know about the fair. The number of stalls are also much less this time. This has taken a toll on my business. I took three stalls of ₹70,000 each and I am facing a huge loss.”

However for a publisher like Speaking Tiger, less brands and less space have worked. Kartik Jaitley, its representative, says, “Due to too many brands and huge space, visitors used to get confused earlier. This time it became easier for them to choose. As compared to last year, our sales have been very good. Non-fiction and controversial books sold most along with motivational books.”

One of Asia’s biggest book fairs is in its 27th edition now with 20 foreign participants including France, China, Pakistan, Poland, Italy, Canada and UAE. There are 1099 publishers in English, 286 in Hindi, 15 in Urdu, 11 in Punjabi and lesser numbers in other regional languages.

But the book fair has strengthened one’s belief that books are here to stay. They are no way on their way out. The onslaught of digital media and the Kindle has had an impact on book sales and reading. But that’s no more than 20%, most exhibitors will tell you.

International and English book stalls, as always, had more visitors. An increased inclination towards Indian mythology with a layered narrative, has drawn scores of buyers. The trend started with Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy. “Books like Ramayana and Mahabharata Secrets and Ashwathama’s Redemption are our bestsellers, apart from

perennial bestsellers which are children’s books like Jataka Tales, cook books, chick-lit, romance and self-help books,” says Dipa Chaudhuri, Chief Editor, Om Books International. Biographies like Priyanka Chopra’s The Dark Horse have also made their presence felt.

More and more people are reading, big publishers like Rajkamal Prakashan and Bodhi Books swear. “Youngsters are enthusiastic,” Shruti Maheshwari of Rajkamal says. “Young adults are buying books of authors like Shivani. It shows their maturity. School kids are buying books on Bhagat Singh,” she adds.

Bharatiya Jnanpith’s perennial bestseller remains Gunahon Ka Devta by Dharmveer Bharti, which is in its 74th edition, among 50 other titles they print every year. Prabhat Prakashan opines the trend of reading hasn't changed much. Still, APJ Abdul Kalam’s Wings of Fire and Ignited Minds sell most for the publishing house. Bodhi Books refutes that people don’t read poetry, “Among 36 titles we have printed, most are books of poems and they vanish from my stall as soon as they arrive.” He is seconded by Avdesh Nirmohi of Aadhar Prakashan. “Paash, the revolutionary poet of Punjab killed by terrorists, has the highest sales in our stall,” he says.

Many publishers believe that the digital onslaught has not impacted book reading and sales much. On the contrary, Kindle has promoted sales of physical books, they say. After reading on Kindle, a reader likes to buy a book often. As Venus Kesri of Anjuman Publications says, “New age publishers are very happy with the digital medium, as it has only helped sales of new books. People promote the books on Facebook and Instagram if they like it.” Sale of books at almost half the price on sites like Amazon has not impacted him. “In fact, it has saved us from the distributors’ autocratic attitude and the commissions are the same,” he adds.

Echoes Himanish Ganguly of S. Chand Publishing, “Digital platform has not impacted school students either. Education industry has different demands. You can’t allow students carry mobiles or tabs to schools, as they divert their attention.” As always, mathematics and science books sell most. Humanities are a distant second.

One of Asia’s biggest book fairs is in its 27th edition now with 20 foreign participants including France, China, Pakistan, Poland, Italy, Canada and UAE. There are 1099 publishers in English, 286 in Hindi, 15 in Urdu, 11 in Punjabi and lesser numbers in other regional languages. The fair has seen more than 3,000 book releases with average daily footfall of 60,000, a source in National Book Trust, the fair organiser, says.

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