Regional language publications dominate Chennai Book Fair

43rd Chennai Book Fair

Tulika Publishers stand at Chennai Book Fair. Photo IPP
Tulika Publishers stand at Chennai Book Fair. Photo IPP

Organized by the Booksellers’ & Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI), the 43rd edition of Chennai Book Fair was held at YMCA Grounds, Nandanam from 9-21 January 2020. The 13-day long annual event attracts bibliophiles from various countries and from across the states in India, who make a beeline to get a copy of their favorite books at the fair. Spread across a sprawling 1.25 lakh square feet area, the Chennai Book Fair is the third-largest retail book fair in Asia. This year, the fair had around 800 stands showcasing over 15 lakh titles on wide-ranging subjects under a single roof.

For Sangeetha S, a regular visitor to the annual fair, it was a thrilling experience. “I have always found the charm of holding a physical book the most appealing. It’s a different feeling altogether to browse through rows of neatly stacked books than surfing for them online,” she said.

Apart from general public, there was also a visible presence of police personnel at the show, who were seen flocking the book stands for books mainly related to competitive exams. According to BAPASI association president RS Shanmugam, this year saw many women cops visiting the fair to buy books for themselves and their children.

Another visitor from Trichy, K Sathish, said, “I have been attending the fair for the past 12 years. This is one place where we can explore books from different genres. I believe this fair is a goldmine for book lovers who can grab possibly any title in the regional language apart from English titles.”

This year’s edition was dominated by regional language publishers, who made up 75% of the overall exhibitor list. The remaining constituted of English language publishers, book-sellers and distributors. “We also had some media agencies with their exhibits during the fair. There are many media houses who, apart from bringing out newspapers, also publish books, such as The Hindu, Vikatan group, and other local Tamil newspaper groups,” said WJ Surresh, executive committee member of BAPASI.

The popularity of the fair can be estimated by the fact that within 11 days, the fair had managed to make sales worth Rs. 15 crores. “We expect to cross the Rs. 20 crore mark by the end of the book fair. It is usually the last two days of the fair when the real buyers come to buy books,” said A Gomathinayagam, treasurer of BAPASI.

The fair was largely dominated by three categories of buyers: those who came with a handy list of books that they wanted to buy; those who browsed through the books at the fair and made a purchase; and those who bought whatever titles they could afford according to their budget. The books that made maximum business were children’s titles, competitive exams books, titles on history and religion, and language books.

“The language books were the fastest moving category at the fair. The quality of language books has also improved on a great scale. Around 10 years back, the quality of Tamil books was not that good; they couldn’t be at par with the quality offered by English printed books. However, Tamil book publishers have now understood the importance of good production. They are now using good paper, opting for the best binding mechanism and also choosing good subjects for titles. Translations, primarily, are doing great. Books that are fast moving in other languages are being translated into Tamil language. These, especially, have good takers,” shared Surresh.

A special feature of the fair this year was bringing in around 5000 students from various schools in and around Chennai for an event titled ‘Chennai Reads,’ where the children read books showcasing the goodness and necessity of reading. Another interesting part of the fair was visits by eminent writers, journalists, poets and scientists to embellish each day of the fair and make it a memorable one. A leading attraction at the fair was the ‘Keezhadi-Eeradi’ auditorium, which displayed artifacts excavated from Keezhadi in Sivaganga district. The Department of Archaeology allowed exhibiting the evidence to educate the public about ancient civilization.

Chennai Book Fair 2020 recorded heavy footfall, with around 1 lakh visitor count on weekends and 50,000 visitors on the weekdays.

2020 edition mired in controversy

At the Chennai Book Fair, renowned author Arumugam Tamilan was prevented from finishing his speech, which had references to the new Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). As his speech was cut short, the audience demanded an explanation from the book fair organizers.

According to BAPASI, organizers of the fair, Tamilan was requested to stop speaking as he had overshot his given time limit, 9 p.m. being the time for the fair activities to cease. “The police had given till 9 p.m. for the book fair activities. However, when Tamilan was speaking, it was already around 9:05 p.m. to 9:10 p.m., which is why he was asked to wrap up. There was no other problem,” said RS Shanmugham, president, BAPASI.

In yet another controversial move, a publisher and author was thrown out from his rented stand at the ongoing 43rd Chennai Book Fair by The Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI) for allegedly “violating rules and displaying for sale a controversial book against the government.” Action was taken against V Anbazhagan, the author of a book alleging corruption in the Chennai Corporation’s Smart City project, on 11 January 2020.

On 12 January 2020, the police were called to the book fair by the organizers who accused Anbazhagan ‘of criminally intimidating office-bearers of BAPASI on Saturday when the eviction notice was served on him.’ The police arrested Anbazhagan and booked him under Section 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) 294 B (utters any obscene words, in or near any public place) and section 506 IPC (criminal intimidation) of IPC.

L-R: R Manoharan, executive committee, BAPASI, WJ Surresh, executive committee, BAPASI and A Gomathinayagam, treasurer, BAPASI. Photo IPP
L-R: R Manoharan, executive committee, BAPASI, WJ Surresh, executive committee, BAPASI and A Gomathinayagam, treasurer, BAPASI. Photo IPP

According to the BAPASI secretary SK Murugan, allottees of stands at the book fair, including the 450 members of the association, have to abide by a set of 25 conditions. “This rule has been there since we started the Chennai Book Fair 42 years ago, which Mr Anbazhagan flouted,” he said. However, it is reliably reported that the rule only says that banned and pirated books and CDs should not be sold at the fair.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

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