Of the many changes enlisted by the speakers that the pandemic has brought about in their field of work, the very first ones included the delay that they had to face in payments. “The advances were coming in late. The payment schedule was also a bit lopsided for contracts. The publisher wasn’t willing to pay too much money,” said Kanishka. However, he believes the pandemic years to be the best years for him as a literary agent because he could find the time to read manuscripts in peace, in addition to the time that he could take out for his writing. While Swati appreciated this time for giving her a much needed repose from the deadline- to- deadline manner of work, allowing her and the like to step back and review their lists as publishers and actually reflect upon what they’re doing. “It pushed us into finding new ways to deal with things. We were suddenly searching for new ways, new ideas and we were asking questions like, ‘things have changed so much, what would people be reading,’ it was like guessing ahead.”
Pragya, who hails from a slightly different but related field of work, added that reading as a habit came to the forefront during the pandemic, especially for children. Children’s books, graphic novels and regional books were some genres that saw an exceptional increase in sales. However, the fact that she was able to provide a platform of sale to impacted businessmen was the principal source of her satisfaction.
While the definition of a good read wasn’t affected immediately by the dynamic circumstances and didn’t change contemporarily; a change in the latter of sales with regard to specific genres could hardly be missed. Pragya also highlighted how travel restrictions forced people to resort to travel reading to feed their wanderlust. Speaking about the downside of the pandemic for the publishing industry, Kanishka explained how new authors had to suffer. Elaborating further, Swati added the difficulty that they as editors faced in pushing new authors into the limelight and widen their reach to a greater, varied audience. The current generation can be defined by digitization. Everything from clothes to groceries can be availed at one’s doorstep with a single click. The ease with which books can be accessed in the form of audios and e books is remarkable. During times in which the world came to a halt and all of us were locked up inside our house, an obvious increase in the sales of these alternate forms of reading can intuitively be expected. It was however shockingly revealed that physical books continued to fare better than their digital contemporaries despite of lack of accessibility during the pandemic.
In addition to accessibility, discoverability is a major concern for online selling platforms like Amazon where presence of numerous titles precludes the creation listicles. To resolve this issue, the concept of book bazaars was brought to the internet. Pragya elaborated, “India has been home to these quaint book bazaars for years. They have spread across the by lanes of many cities but during the pandemic, we partnered with thousands of book sellers pan India for bringing their experience online.”
Partnerships and tie ups also became imperative for publishing houses in order to overcome the barriers that held new authors back. “We couldn’t clog our social media by promoting each and every book so we had to resort to tie ups and promotions,” told Swati.
The session concluded with the speakers addressing the wide gap that exists between the bestsellers in the space of foreign writers and the new Indian writers. “If the Literary Fiction doesn’t get any award or recognition or some sort of validation from the West it will not sell more than 500 or 1000 copies at best,” said Kanishka whose tone was a mixture of disappointment and sadness. Suggesting a viable solution to the problem, he added, “We need to have our home grown Stephen King and JK Rowling.” And we couldn’t agree more!
(Byline: Bhavya Sharma)