New Delhi: Publishing in India saw several challenges in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, focus on online sales and making best use of various digital platforms helped in promotion of books. It also helped keep authors in the public eye, publishers said. Book sales had dipped to zero in the first three months of the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Many had to trim their publishing list drastically.
However, publishers adapted and actively looked for trends to cater to the subjects their readers would find useful and engaging. New and innovative ways of marketing and selling books also became a part of the year gone by. It was a year where more and more people took to reading after their movements were restricted.
Milee Ashwarya is the publisher at Ebury Publishing and Vintage Groups, Penguin Random House India. She said 2020 was also the year when the power of digital transformation was felt in publishing like in other industries.
“While some bookshops shut down, some new ones opened and online sales saw a surge. All in all, 2020 was full of learning and got us more focused on our business,” Ashwarya said.
HarperCollins India CEO Ananth Padmanabhan said 2020 was unprecedented in every way – and specifically to the business of publishing.
“The entire value chain had zero sales for almost three months. This did teach us all many valuable lessons about the way we conduct our business. More importantly it taught us about the way readers will buy books in the future – formats, retail, genres and how often too,” Padmanabhan pointed out.
“We continued our publishing programme – beginning with digital first, E-books through April and May. By late June our new books in print had also started to go out – depending on how unlock rules impacted retail,” he added.
According to Padmanabhan, sales in 2020 were at higher double digit rates over 2019, both by value and volume. The single most impactful change has been innovative digital marketing, he said.
Chiki Sarkar, publisher at Juggernaut, said, “Our publishing list was cut drastically, so revenues fell. However, the books we did publish pretty much performed as they would on any year. A large number of our books have gone into reprint.”
Westland publisher Karthika VK too said there was a direct impact at every level. “We couldn’t publish at all for three months, apart from the sheer logistical difficulties of getting books to readers even after the lockdown had lifted, due to disruptions in the distribution and retail chain,” she said.
Hachette India editor-in-chief and publisher Poulomi Chatterjee said they had to reschedule many key new releases in the local list keeping in mind a slow and erratic market.
“Physical bookstores, when they reopened, saw low footfall so offline visibility of new books too was affected. Releases of the select list of books that were published in 2020 were meticulously planned so they would get adequate attention and visibility,” informed Chatterjee.
As publishing schedules were drawn up well in advance, editors continued working on books as planned even while lockdown impacted sales quite severely in the early months.
“The early months were particularly difficult for everyone as we were trying to get used to working from home amid much uncertainty regarding what lay ahead,” said Himanjali Sankar, editorial director at Simon and Schuster.
For Renuka Chatterjee, VP Publishing at Speaking Tiger, ‘overall sales may have gone down but we survived. We focused on online sales and made best use of the various digital platforms that opened up to market and promote our books and keep our authors in the public eye’.
The impact of the pandemic was also strongly felt by educators and the learning community, especially young learners who needed engagement and handholding in a remote learning environment.
“Responding with agility, we at OUP India added extensively to our vast repository of digital and online resources and combined them with our print books while constantly engaging with teachers on remote teaching methodologies,” said Oxford University Press India managing director Sivaramakrishnan Venkateswaran.
“Whether it was providing free access to resources on COVID-19 to researchers and medical professionals, offering free access to our education platforms, supporting professional development for teachers, or sharing guidance on home learning, we made our valuable content available to the widest audience during these challenging times,” he added.
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