In times of COVID: How the pandemic has impacted the publishing industry - Times of India


The Coronavirus pandemic has affected all spheres of our lives—be it the way we lived, travelled, cooked and even read, not so long back in the “normal” days. While people may seem to have more time to read now, which is a good sign for the publishing industry, the pandemic has surely hit the publishing industry just like it has affected almost every business badly. Like everyone else, publishers too have adapted themselves to the demands of a changing world.

New trends in publishing industry

Not so long ago, people generally preferred reading physical books over eBooks or audio books, but now considering hygiene issues there has been a significant shift in their choice in the last few months. Sharing industry insights on the changes brought due to lockdown and pandemic, Akriti Tyagi, Head- Marketing, HarperCollins Publishers India told us, “There has been a significant jump in the ebook & audio book sales and we’re glad to see that people are buying more in these formats, to combat the absence of a physical printed copy. The sales in these formats have almost doubled in quantity. Book sales are back to about a 60% level, in comparison to before the nationwide lockdown. However, unfortunately, books can still not be delivered in a large part of the country, due to restrictions in movement.”

But there are pros and cons to every situation. While people purchased more ebooks especially during lockdown, there are some setbacks to it too. “(During lockdown) With rampant piracy of eBooks, publishers and digital platforms had to fight by offering special prices and free subscriptions. The sale of eBooks was mainly driven by the discounts offered. While this ensured that people bought more books, it made the model a bit unfeasible in the long term as it devalued the copyright content,” Arup Bose, Publisher at Srishti Publishers & Distributors, told us in an email interview.

Talking of the rise of digital formats, another significant change brought by the pandemic is the trend of e-books releasing first followed by the print editions. “This was the first time in the history of the publishing industry in India that books were published first as eBooks and the print release was delayed. Also contactless sales, from both online and offline shops, is on the rise. People are ordering books online via email, website, WhatsApp or simply calling a store… Another trend is the rise in sale of short form content or short reads. These are quick and short reads, meant for fast snackable consumption digitally and straddle genres as varied as romance to thrillers and from finance to mental health,” Arup said. For instance, international bestselling author JK Rowling kept her fans and readers from across the world hooked to her new children’s story ‘Ickabog’ for many days. The idea was to release one chapter each weekday starting from May 26 till July 10, 2020. Now, ‘Ickabog’ is expected to be released in a physical book format in November 2020. In India, author-journalist-social commentator Shobhaa De recently wrote 24 short stories which were all set in the backdrop of the lockdown. De released a set of short stories as novellas each week for one-and-a-half-month and at the end they were compiled into a book titled ‘Lockdown Liasions’ published by Simon and Schuster India. Similarly, books by authors Taslima Nasreen, Om Swami among others were first released as e-books by HarperCollins India. Srishti Publishers, who also have an eBook dedicated imprint – Quickies, “released almost 50 new books in April and May 2020.”

Considering a rise in consumption some books were also released earlier than their expected release date. Take bestselling author Darren Shan for instance—the horror writer’s new book series which was scheduled to release in September 2020 was released online in April 2020 itself, and he also made the first book ‘Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between World’ free for readers! King of Horror writing, Stephen King also pre-poned the release date of his book ‘If He Bleeds’ by a few weeks, in wake of the Coronavirus outbreak.

What are people reading these days?

Publishers have noticed that Coronavirus pandemic has also brought a significant shift in what people are reading these days. It’s noticed that when the pandemic started readers were quick to compare the “new normal” to other pandemic or dystopian novels; some even called it similar to “living in a Stephen King world”. In such unprecedented and trying times while readers are trying to find some solace in books, it’s seen that they are now reading more self-help books than before. Explaining this Akriti said, “While, most of the same books are still in demand – like Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’, Jeff Keller’s ‘Attitude Is Everything’ and more, there has been a spike in the genres of Mind, Body, Spirit / Wellness / Commercial Fiction and Non-Fiction. There has also been an increase in demand for Cookbooks. A lot of people are also interested in Children’s Activity and Home Learning.”

Changing times call for changes in the norm

Looking at the past few months, it seems that Coronavirus is here to stay for quite some time and we’ll have to adjust living life the “new normal” way. And changing times call for changes in the norm. Just like people prefer cashless transactions these days, they also prefer books with contact-less handling—be it home delivery or digital formats. Times and circumstances might change but writing (be it diary writing or stories) and storytelling is something people innately find comfort in. And so despite the situation, reading and writing seem to never fade away even though the formats or genres would change.



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