Publishing industry still to overcome shock of demonetisation
New Delhi, Dec 6 (IANS) India’s otherwise booming publishing industry is now undergoing a crucial phase as sales have dropped by almost 30-60 per cent since November 8, after the government’s decision to invalidate the 500- and 1,000-rupee notes.
The Nielsen Book Report had estimated the Indian book market in 2015 to be worth $3.9 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) and growing by around 20 percent a year. This includes imports, which are particularly important in a market where 55 per cent of all sales (and about 90 per cent of all professional titles sold) are English language titles.
Thomas Abraham, of Hachette India, said that the drop in sales may be attributed to the fact that books are not regarded as a primary necessity.
“There have been varying reports of sales drops from 30 per cent to 60 per cent in book retail stores. And this despite most bookstores having a large chunk of credit card customers,” he told IANS, adding: “So this is more the shock effect of general confidence and a drop in people going out to shop. Books are not seen as a primary necessity; so secondary purchases are being deferred is what one can guess from this.”
“If so, one can expect the effect to last as long as the situation remains short-changed, which the trade collectively hopes will be just a week or so more,” added Abraham.
Ajay Mago, Publisher, Om Books International, also said that demonetisation has had a direct impact on the publishing industry.
“As citizens of India, we appreciate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to ban notes of certain denominations. Demonetisation, however, has had a direct impact on the publishing industry. Book sales have dropped by approximately 60 per cent.
“With limited money in hand, and unsure of when the situation is likely to stabilise, buyers are being cautious even about online purchases,” Mago told IANS.
The November-March period is generally good for the publishing industry, but the focus on essential commodities has completely changed the scenario this time.
“Essential commodities have taken priority over much else in what is otherwise peak sale season across the country. We all hope that the government shall take adequate measures and quickly to restore the balance,” Mago hoped.
Four weeks down the line, leading bookstores now have digital payment methods installed, but this has brought little relief in terms of sales.
Most bookstores in the capital refused to share their sales figures since demonetisation and also refrained from commenting at present.
A leading bookshop owner from one of Delhi’s upmarket locations, on condition of anonymity, told IANS: “The book business is completely destroyed.”
“If I were to talk in terms of figures, the number of books sold since demonetisation is actually less than what one sells in one day during the peak season. Parents are even cutting down on stationery at this point of time. You cannot blame it on digital payments alone. We were always accepting cards. The fact is that people do not have money in their hands and this will continue till the situation normalises,” he said.
Online platforms, Amazon, Flipkart and Snapdeal primarily, had witnessed a rising number of book buyers in the past few years, but the abrupt dip in sales has left many wondering. The customers, according to Amazon, are now fast adopting electronic payments.
“While we saw a limited short-term impact due to the recent currency change announcement, we have already tremendous customer response in adopting electronic payment methods at delivery with a tenfold growth in electronic payments,” an Amazon spokesperson told IANS.
The effect is worse for small-time booksellers at traffic signals and crowded city destinations, including the Daryaganj book market, on Sundays, the spokesperson said, adding that business there has “collapsed”.
Sundar Kumar, a migrant from Bihar, who sells bargain books in Connaught Place, said: “I used to easily make around 300 to 400 rupees every day, but now that nobody has money to buy even important things, there is no significant sale. I have not sold anything since morning.”
Sprawled across the isolated lanes of Old Delhi, in Daryaganj, the once bustling Sunday book market for the past two weeks wears a deserted look. The number of booksellers has dropped too, let alone the number of buyers.
“Nobody is coming here. People are not even going to buy vegetables and fruits. After two weeks of uncertain sales, half of the sellers did not turn up today. We sell books at a cheap price and even then there is a bargain on any normal Sunday. Now when there is no money at all in their pockets, how will they come,” asked Vijendar Singh, who has been selling books in Daryaganj for seven years.
On switching to electronic payments, he said: “The rich can do this but we will not be able to afford it. Our incomes are so low that it will not be affordable for us. If the government has a plan to help us out from this mess, then it is fine; otherwise our business will be over.”
India is the world’s seventh-largest book publishing country. There are more than 16,000 publishers in India, the majority of them small players and family-owned. India is also the world’s third-largest book market, with more than 80,000 new titles in 24 different languages published every year.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at email@example.com)