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Fair crowds, well! books still need more readers city pulse

R. Sujatha and K. Lakshmi

More books published and sold but there are not as many enthused readers as there should be, publishers say

— Photo: V. Ganesan

KEEN LOOK: Visitors scan through the books on display at the book fair in Chennai recently.

CHENNAI: Though book reading has grown exponentially, lack of attention to improving the publishing industry’s infrastructure has had a telling effect on attracting more readers, publishers feel.

The just concluded book fair attracted an estimated eight to 10 lakh people in the last 10 days, and netted approximately at least Rs.7 crore for the publishers and distributors. But, members of Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI) feel the figures could have been much higher.

Some members think that the sales were low because many of the regional publishers and distributors are yet to adopt technological innovations.

Though the city presents an assorted readership base, writers and publishers have noticed that fiction sells faster than non-fiction. Reprints of popular detective novels and thrillers disappear more quickly from shelves than the works of lesser known authors. Since books that compete for international literary prizes are intensely promoted by distributors and publishers through reading sessions or meet-the-author events, they also sell well.

With more purchasing power over the years, more people are buying books, points out A. Avudaiappan, senior manager of New Century Book House. “Purchase of books is now regarded as an investment. In the last five years, the publication of books has increased from 100 to 1,000. We brought out 200 titles for the book fair alone. Of this, 50 per cent are new titles,” he says.

But aggressive marketing is lacking among regional language publishers, BAPASI members feel. In order to attract attention, Sahitya Akademi, a niche publisher that focusses on literary and scholarly work, now packages its authors’ works between attractive covers. Clarity in printing and glossy covers attract more readers, the distributors say.

M. Thirupathi, proprietor, Thirumagal Nilayam, has noticed that books that have been serialised in newspapers and magazines sell better. A good review of a book also boosts sales.

More books are being published and sold but there are not as many enthused readers as there should be, publishers say. For instance, getting children to the fair is a challenge as parents play a vital role in how a child chooses to spend his leisure. Writers and publishers cite many reasons, including the timing of the fair itself — it is held during Pongal, a major festival/holiday unlike in Madurai or Coimbatore. The turnout of children is much higher there, notes BAPASI Secretary R.S. Shanmugam.

“The State Education Department helps us, and matriculation school students do come to the fair. We have introduced more than 100 titles for children in Tamil. But, Chennai’s children prefer English language books and comics,” says Mr. Shanmugam, also a publisher.

Children’s writer and a retired headmaster A. G. Subramaninan finds that lack of magazines and lack of interest on the part of parents prevent children from picking up a book. “Publishers in Malaysia and Singapore want us to prepare projects for children. But here, even parents are not avidly cultivating the habit of reading in children,” he says.

Since upmarket book stores focus more on English, books brought out in other languages loose out. For many visitors the book fair remains perhaps the only opportunity and a unique experience.

The fair encouraged B. Jagannathan of Mandaveli to bring his seven-year-old son to the book fair to introduce him to book reading. “This way, he would spend some time reading good books during vacation. He will see a wide range of books on various subjects that is otherwise not possible.”

“We are lagging behind in book retailing infrastructure. We are not a pro-active body (as an association). To even take time off to come and meet is a fundamental problem,” points out Badri Seshadri of New Horizon Media.

Effective marketing, setting up of quality book shops in rural areas and towns and adopting new technology to improve visibility of books and thus increase sales are imperative, he says.

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