On 25 June 2021, the Publishers’ Exchange hosted a session with the Indian Virtual Book Fair team via Zoom. Publishers from across India participated to understand the concept. The Publishers’ Exchange, is an informal organisation of publishers in the Indian languages that was formed during the pandemic. We have been putting our heads together for the last year in an effort to share knowledge and resources via Zoom.
On the occasion, the dynamic duo of Murali Kannadhason and Karthikeyan Pugalendi, walked us through their proposed Virtual Book Fair to be held in 2021 and possibly in the coming months.
Kannan Sundaram from Kalachuvadu Publications, who is one of the promoters, introduced the concept of a virtual book fair with these words, “The Indian Virtual Book Fair was started as an attempt to cope with the crisis that hit the publishing ecosystem as India went into lockdown in March 2020. One major aspect of the discussions was how to publish, promote and deliver books to the reader, looking beyond the traditional, limited book supply chain. #VBF is the answer. Though this came from four major Tamil publishing houses, our focus was the national stage right from day one. We do not believe in the idea of ‘Down South.’
“Murali and Karthik, both third generation publishers, who between them brought in expertise in technology, finance, business management and impeccable instincts, have planned, developed and designed #VBF. This is in short the story of a new generation of publishers finding answers to the biggest challenges of our times.”
For an industry that has survived two world wars, countless calamities and economic crises, the kind of changes that have taken place in the last few months have been radical. While it is too early to predict where these changes will lead us, it is quite clear that the possibility of revamping physical book fairs — which have been the mainstay for language publishers — are ruled out for the present.
The Virtual Book Fair is actually similar to the physical book fair with each publisher getting their own individual stalls. VBF works in multiple phases with four book fairs a year. So when you commit to a stall at this virtual book fair, you are looking at a model that is sustainable throughout the year.
The site has different categories like award winning books, new launches, a children corner (categorized age-wise), recently reviewed books, and a separate corner for books recommended by popular personalities. Publishers can get their books reviewed by bloggers which will then appear on the bottom of the listed books. Publishers are given an option to permanently feature a particular book in a particular month.
The books can be sorted by price, popularity, author as well as the category of the book. People also have the option to ‘show interest’ in a particular book, so publishers can make it available for them on the VBF website. It the publisher have eBooks available on any other website then they can provide the hyperlink to redirect readers to that website. There are other products in the pipeline like rights pavilion, literary festivals, master classes with writers, illustrators, editors, speakers, protection against piracy and plagiarism, VBF awards, publishing industry classifieds and meet the author sessions.
When asked how their platform is different from Amazon or other book selling websites the two developers responded by saying that Amazon is a middle man, whereas #VBF is a connecting bridge between publisher and reader, no commission is involved. There will be no undue advantages to aggregators and the subscription fees are very nominal and features like literary fest, regional flavour and a book fair experience which no other website can provide.
At the entry level based on a limited number of titles there is a flat fee of Rs 3,000 which essentially covers the data upload costs for the web based ecosystem. The subscription model is available for one year with varying charges according to the number of titles. The membership or subscription charges will vary according to the number of titles that a publisher would like to post or make available for sale.
For the present, the Indian Virtual Book Fair team is focusing only on Indian publishers but they are planning to expand by taking Indian publishers abroad as well as bringing international publishers to India. You can read more about the #VBF at this link.