Pandemic drives publishers to adopt newer formats, diverse themes

Pandemic


By Vishnu Makhijani New Delhi, Dec 25 : New publishing models and strategies are emerging; the publishing industry is pushing the boundaries; its heartening to see the brick-and-mortar model steadily return to the sales' mix. The pandemic was a wake-up call, for publishing is an intensive, immersive business. The worst effect of the two waves of the pandemic is tentatively behind us, and the publishing industry is upbeat as the world marches into 2022. "Disruptions are creative in that they clear up new spaces, though they can also pile up debris and blockages," Namita Gokhale, writer, literary activist and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is described as the "greatest literary show on earth" for the sheer depth of its participation, told IANS. "We find new publishing models and strategies emerging in the course of the pandemic and the continuing endemic," Gokhale said. "We encounter innovative ways of telling and sharing our stories, on different platforms, in different voices. The publishing industry is evolving in so many directions, though it's still work in progress. The pandemic and the two years of social retreat also gave many authors the impetus to write some outstanding books. The human race needs stories to make sense of our world," she added. Gokhale's just-published 19th book, 'The Blind Matriarch', is a poignant tale on the complex inner life of an extended family during the pandemic. For people around the world, the pandemic "was a time to take stock of their lifestyles," Mita Kapur, founder and CEO of leading literary consultancy Siyahi, told IANS. "The publishing industry is pushing the boundaries in the kind of stories they are choosing to tell, the kind of innovation they are looking for in narrative styles. Translations from Indian languages to English have spotlighted authors and translators and given the Indian reader access to exquisite stories from all over the country. The coming years can only take us to higher readership and more exciting writing," Kapur added. "The times of uncertainty and isolation that the pandemic brought upon us reinforced once again that books and reading were an important part of our lives -- and also prepared the industry for change," HarperCollins Executive Publisher Udayan Mitra said. "The pandemic years were a time of change, and the entire publishing industry -- from authors to editors to production teams to the book retail and marketing -- adjusted remarkably well to the new normal, which often involved embracing a digital model for key operations and activities, right from reading proofs on screen, to online launch events," Mitra told IANS. "I think this has prepared us for a more efficient, hybrid model of engagements and operations in the future." He added: "And, more importantly, many of us had more time on our hands, and the urge to write. We've had a remarkable number of manuscripts completed and readied for publication during the pandemic years, and many more are in the making. There is a wonderful list of books lined up for publication in 2022 and beyond. This is great news for booklovers." In terms of trends, there have been some excellent works of imaginative fiction being written and published, alongside incisively analytical works of non-fiction. There has been a focus on children's literature, on speculative and fantasy fiction, and on biographies, Mitra said, adding: "It is certainly on our minds to celebrate the lives of remarkable individuals, during a time when we have sadly lost so many fellow human beings." Mitra concluded by observing that both ebooks and audiobooks are now options available for readers to engage with a book alongside the more traditional print edition, and dramatised interpretations of books are also on the rise. "Multi-platform avatars of creative content are going to be a significant trend for the future," he maintained. "Despite the second wave (of the pandemic) interrupting sales for over a month, 2021 closed well with overall sales numbers up," Hachette India MD Thomas Abraham told IANS. "And while online continued to be the dominant strand, it was heartening to see brick-and-mortar steadily return to the mix, and one hopes that next year will see a full return to normal patterns where they are concerned. The big concern remains the lack of traction for new releases that are not superbrands -- not a healthy sign for readership," Abraham added. The pandemic and the lockdown that followed was like a "shuddering stop", as demonetisation was, "an incredible experience in a country of the size and energy of India," Bloomsbury Editor-in-Chief Krishan Chopra said. "To the credit of all, the industry was remarkably nimble in tackling it. Sales and turnovers were badly hit, but the books and the work continued. There were many good books produced, as one can see in the awards lists and the publishing programmes," Chopra said. He added: "The pandemic was also a wake-up call. Publishing is an intensive, immersive business, and suddenly, away from long commutes and with fewer meetings, in the office or with the author, and the disaster unfolding all around, it was an opportunity to rethink what one was publishing. "It wasn't just that people with more time on their hands could dig out great cookery ideas for people to try out while they were stuck at home. There was this whole new perspective on how we live and what really counts. It was like you were midstream in a powerful river and suddenly carried by a wave to a quiet spot on the side, floating peacefully among eddies," Chopra told IANS. "After any traumatic experience such as this, it takes time to evaluate and come to terms with it. One hopes this is not one that will be, as is often the case, lost in the tide of new events. We have some books coming up that look at facets of the pandemic," Chopra said, adding: "Revival has been slow and is gathering pace. If future crises abate, we could be looking at a year of fresh and superb new books." The process of reviving is still on but "I agree that the worst effect of the two waves of the pandemic is tentatively over. I'm using the word tentative because a third wave is always looming large, especially after the discovery of omicron," said Trisha De Niyogi, Director and COO, Niyogi Books, which has carved a niche for itself by producing illustrated books on a variety of subjects connected with culture and heritage. The abiding trend noticed during the process of revival is perhaps the sudden escalation in the interest in non-fiction, De Niyogi said, adding: "Perhaps, because of the long lay-off during the pandemic, people have generally become more introspective, hence, we are now observing an interest in books on mental health and behavioural problems, along with gender issues, environmental issues, ecology and heritage preservation." She concluded by noting: "I believe that just like masks, certain trends will sustain themselves throughout 2022. I foresee more inclusive literature, with more fiction as well as non-fiction on mental health, people with disability, environmental sustainability, subaltern or suppressed voices, and so on." There was considerable damage at every level during the pandemic, and publishing, too, has had its share of ups and downs. But reading and book buying also increased during the period despite many impediments in the supply chain, Aarti David, Director, Publishing, SAGE India, observed. "The only channels that seemed to be working best were digital sales and online sales. Physical stores have been the worst impacted and many smaller players have shut down their businesses as there have been minimal or no sales," David told IANS. The issue of returns has become even more complex as a result of the pandemic; in addition, schools and colleges have remained shut almost throughout this period and have only restarted in a hybrid model -- that too very recently. "Academic publishing has been impacted as a result of these developments. Libraries are not releasing funds for book purchases and neither are textbook adoptions being done at the scale at which they previously were," David added. (Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in) /IANS




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