The digital channel has come to the rescue of the pandemic-battered book publishing industry. Publishing companies and booksellers such as Hachette India, Penguin Random House, Crossword Bookstores and Oxford Bookstore have made a beeline for the virtual medium to not only sell books but also promote them and their authors.
“The pandemic has had an impact on where we sell and what we sell – so the online marketplaces have now almost become the dominant sales channel as they gained ground when brick-and-mortar stores were struggling with reduced footfalls,” said Riti Jagoorie, head of product and marketing at Hachette India.
After a washed-out first quarter in FY21, when the lockdown was imposed, most sellers and publishers reported a recovery in the fourth quarter. However, this growth was derailed again by the second wave of COVID-19 that swamped the country.
Chiragh Oberoi, CEO of Crossword Bookstores in Mumbai, said things had started to look better and he was hopeful of a full revival in the first quarter of FY22 after business reached 75 percent of the pre-pandemic level in February.
“However, with the second lockdown and our stores not being operational, the offline business is stressed,” he said.
Of e-books and e-stores
Publishers and sellers that were largely dependent on online marketplaces such as Amazon and Flipkart for e-commerce sales in pre-pandemic times scrambled to upgrade their websites in a direct-to-consumer push.
Oxford Bookstores relaunched its website last year. Penguin Random House migrated to a new website, changing its interface to enable the discovery of new books.
Crossword is strengthening its portal in terms of product offerings, availability, and timely deliveries to customers.
Companies have also renewed their strategies for e-books. According to Nandan Jha, a senior vice president at Penguin Random House India, the publisher launched its first exclusive e-book store with Amazon Kindle last year.
“Readers could find over 400 bestselling titles all at one place available on Amazon India website at attractive discounted prices,” he said.
Hachette India curated two Kindle stores for children and for adults.
However, the publishers report that print books continue to reign supreme and demand for e-books has subsided after a spike for two-three months last year.
Although the supply of books has suffered due to the pandemic, a survey by Nielsen Book India conducted just after the lockdown was lifted last year showed consumers were spending more time reading books. Both reading and audiobook listening were up, increasing by a substantial seven hours weekly on average to as much as 16 hours per week, according to the survey report.
Non-fiction categories such as self-help books and inspirational works are the top sellers.
“Self-help, inspirational and popular psychology titles including classics such as Tuesdays with Morrie, The Last Lecture and Mindset to more recent hits like Deep Work, The One Thing, The Art of Thinking Clearly and Miracle Morning have been selling well, along with new bestsellers like Dr Sanjay Gupta’s Keep Sharp and Nicole LePera’s How to Do the Work,” said Jagoorie of Hachette India.
Children’s books have been flying off the shelves (figuratively).
“Young fiction titles from Roald Dahl, Rick Riordan and Jeff Kinney still lead sales in the children’s category,” said Oberoi of Crossword.
Book launch events, too, have moved to the virtual medium and publishers are taking top authors and celebrities online to promote new books.
Crossword recently hosted virtual book launches and discussions with authors such as Sudha Murty, Shobha De, Ruskin Bond, Amish, Rujuta Diwekar, Ravinder Singh, Raageshwari Loomba, Tahira Kashyap, Ravi Subramanian, Ananda Neelakantan and Krishna Uday Shankar.
The bookseller organised a live event for the launch of a self-help book by Sadguru – Karma.
“Sadguru’s event was a massive hit with over 2,500 customers attending the live event, which helped us sell over 3,000 copies during this hour,” said Oberoi.
The annual Jaipur Literature Festival went online this year. Penguin Random House was the partner for JLF’s first digital edition in January and showcased books and authors in a digital library, exclusively created for the festival.
Publishers also tap social media extensively for promotional events.