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What Is The Impact Of Covid 19 On The Indian Publishing Industry?

The saviour came in the form of eBooks and audio books – both of which, despite a comparatively low penetration in India, ensured that the rising demand for books was not unmet.

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As the nation went into a lockdown in March-end, there was a sudden rush in people to stock-in on essentials. Even I rushed to stock in on large quantities of food, household materials, coffee and books… you know, the essentials. But turns out books were not deemed as essential, given the circumstances, and hence were unavailable for me to stock up on. And there starts a tale of woe.

The pandemic forced people indoors, with limited means to entertain themselves. Thanks to that, reading acquired a premium space in everyone’s mind. However, their inability to buy books either from stores or online portals meant that this burgeoning demand was unmet.

Since bookstores were closed and online stores were delivering only essentials, the publishing industry all but came to a halt. It meant all major summer releases were either pushed back or postponed. It also meant that there was literally zero sale of physical copies of books during these times. In a country where physical books still constitute to around 85-90% of the total sales, the publishing industry was badly hit.

Most publishing houses, already quite leveraged in the market and with heavily extended cash-flows, were suddenly gasping for breath. After all, the new books, especially the big summer releases, are an important part of the cash-flow cycle. Without the cycle moving, the short and the long term diagnosis was all but terminal for the industry.

In these dark times, the saviour came in the form of eBooks and audio books – both of which, despite a comparatively low penetration in India, ensured that the rising demand for books was not unmet.

Almost all publishing houses saw a sharp increase and improvement in sale of eBooks during the days of lockdown. The industry also saw eBooks being published very aggressively in April and May. We as publishers released around fifty new eBooks under our digital imprint, Quickies in those months. These Quickies are quick and short reads, meant for fast snackable consumption digitally and straddle genres as varied as romance to thrillers and from finance to mental health.

However, publishers and digital platforms had to fight the rampant piracy of digital books by offering special prices and free subscriptions.

With the unlock process starting, the sales of print books have started soaring once again. But that in no way means the digital consumption of books has reduced. It has merely flattened.

While brick-mortar shops are still deeply affected and slowly re-starting their operations, online stores have been able to capitalise on this gap and slowly scale back up. Even now, sporadic cases of lockdown in different states are impacting the industry.

Readers, it seems, have rediscovered their taste for reading and are voraciously consuming books. Now what remains to be seen is if the industry will be able to fulfil the demand of the consumer and capitalise on the same. While the industry does face uncertain times ahead, they are certainly going to be interesting times.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Arup Bose

Publisher at Srishti Publishers & Distributor

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