Print books versus eBooks

The 25th Delhi Book fair

The 25th annual Delhi Book Fair at Pragati Maidan

The 25th annual Delhi Book Fair at Pragati Maidan, organized by the India Trade Promotion Organization, began on 11 September and continued till 15 September 2019. The 21st Stationery Fair and the 5th Office Automation and Corporate gift fair ran concurrently with the book fair at the same venue. Visitor entry to the Delhi Book Fair was free of charge and was organized by the India Trade Promotion Organization in association with the Federation of Indian Publishers.

Despite being organized at a small scale in Hall 7, the event attracted good footfall by readers, publishers, authors, booksellers students, teachers, intellectuals and book hoarders. The theme for this year, ‘150 years of Mahatma Gandhi’ attempted to inspire the visitors with Gandhi’s philosophy of honesty and intellect. With more than 100 exhibitors, Delhi Book Fair aimed to encourage literacy and reading among the youth of the city, region and country.

Day out from school

School students during the Delhi Book Fair at Pragati Maidan. Photo IPP
School students during the Delhi Book Fair at Pragati Maidan. Photo IPP

The book fair was a good day out for local school students. Accompanied by their teachers, young students were seen engaging in art and craft activities in the exhibition halls and exploring the variety and volume of books on exhibitor stands. Their elder counterparts, high school and college students, held visitors spellbound with dance and drama performances.

A drama performance during the book fair by students. Photo IPP
A drama performance during the book fair by students. Photo IPP

The main attraction of the Delhi Book Fair, however, was the used books. Scholars and readers alike were seen crowding the stands of the local retail book sellers selling used books for prices as low as Rs. 50. The books varied from competitive books to classic literature. The new book sellers had fewer visitors. Readers didn’t seem to be interested in investing in a new book and seem to prefer a tested product and weathered copies.

With the readers’ inclination towards buying used books and eBooks, the book sellers report that the book industry is stagnant. DK Kapoor, regional manager, Jaico Publishing House, said, “The demand for books has decreased because of the ease of information available on the internet. Our publishing business has suffered a loss of 10% while our distribution business saw a decline of 40%. But books are still being published. We release approximately 10 books every month and 2,000 titles every year. While academic books are not being sold as much, there is still a healthy demand for competitive exams books.”

Oswal Printers and Publishers publishes academic books for schools and books for competitive exams. Darpan Sharma, its regional manager, said, “The book industry is going through hard times. There is free academic material available online and students today prefer reading online instead of carrying a book around. In my time, we would carry multiple notebooks with us, but now students carry a single notebook. Students are shifting away from bulky books to more convenient means. We are also active in the digital space. . . and we don’t face difficulty in terms of digital sales. We have an online book store where we sell books and eBooks and so we are doing well in the market. We provide books to schools across India.”

Darpan Sharma, regional manager, Oswal Printers and Publishers. Photo IPP
Darpan Sharma (left), regional manager, Oswal Printers and Publishers. Photo IPP

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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