Indian publishers plan for a post-pandemic world

The pandemic has presented many challenges to India’s literary landscape, reports VISHNU MAKHIJANI

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Indian publishers plan for a post-pandemic world

In a post-pandemic world, some of the challenges that Indian publishing houses are considering include the discoverability of new books, sustaining reading as a habit, and the emergence of a new genre of writing.

“The lockdown has affected the entire value chain from retailers to publishers,” explained Yogesh Sharma, Senior VP, Sales & Marketing at Bloomsbury India. “With hardly any print books getting published for almost two months, it has affected the business and damage is irreparable for some. Consequently, it has hampered the margins and cash-flows to the distributors and the publishers.”

Noting how healthy cash-flows are the key to investing in new content and authors, he added that publishers will be forced to look at their investments cautiously should the industry not improve quickly. With no sign of bookshops in malls opening soon, and lower footfalls expected in stores, online sales are likely to garner a much larger share of the market. Thus, “the overall discoverability of new books, which was already a challenge with limited bookshops, will suffer even more,” Sharma pointed out.

To prepare for the post-pandemic world, “it is advisable to fortify our faculties to face any new exigencies that may come up,” said Niti Kumar, Senior VP Marketing at Penguin Random House India. She notes how key challenges like “how to sustain reading as a habit with every generation, discovering and publishing new talent, and widening readership” remain relevant irrespective of the times.

According to Udayan Mitra, Publisher – Literary, at HarperCollins Publishers India, one of the difficult challenges post-pandemic is a cash-strapped economy which will affect “any consumer-facing industry, including publishing.”

Trisha Niyogi, CEO of Niyogi Books, pointed out that the world has seen any number of disasters including pandemics, wars, and recessions, “and yet human civilisation has always bounced back.” “The present predicament being over, whenever that happens, our publishing activities, along with many other business and commercial enterprises, will bounce back to normal. It may take a little time, a few months at best, but the business of books is not going to be dented seriously,” she noted.

A new genre of writing is also likely to emerge in a post-pandemic world.

Contending that it is “the imperative of literature” to engage with the world around it, Meru Gokhale, Publisher, Penguin Random House India, said: “I have no doubt that the writers of today will engage with this pandemic in the years to come.” For some, it will be fiction, and many have said that these times are not too far from some of the dystopias that have been written about. Outside of dystopian and speculative fiction, Gokhale believes there is scope for sub-genres like “lockdown romance, lockdown drama and lockdown crime.”

“I am sure there will also be no dearth of non-fiction that will reflect this age, and perhaps not always directly or exclusively. For example, books on business, politics, economy, healthcare and infrastructure will certainly have to update themselves for the post-pandemic world,” she said. “But we may need the benefit of hindsight, which will take a few years. When that happens, I look forward very much to reading some comprehensive, nuanced and detailed works of narrative nonfiction that may help us at long last to come to terms with this.” And yet, there will be continuity. In a post-pandemic world, more people might turn to literature to make sense of the world around them, believes Himanjali Sankar, Editorial Director at Simon and Schuster.

“Books that help us understand ourselves a little better might be what we prefer going forward – self-help and healing, medicine and healthcare. Or if it all seems too overwhelming, one might turn to fiction that takes us completely away from our present reality – thrillers, fantasy, romance,” Sankar added.

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