45th Kolkata Book Fair likely to be held despite Covid upsurge

2022 Book Fair calendar begins on a pessimistic note

Kolkata Book Fair
Kolkata Book Fair 2010. Photo Wikimedia Commons

5 January 2022 – West Bengal has become the state with the second-highest number of infections with the recent spike in fresh Covid-19 cases across India. The Omicron variant is creating great concern among the general public and has forced the state government to impose fresh restrictions to control the upsurge. The Indian 2022 book fair calendar began on a pessimistic note with the postponement of the Chennai Book Fair and the Centre likely to take a final decision with respect to the upcoming 50th edition of the New Delhi World Book Fair.

In the last 24 hours, Kolkata’s Covid-19 positivity rate has risen to 23% as the fresh cases crossed the 6,000 threshold on 4 January. This resulted in fresh curbs by the state government including shutting down schools and the restriction of flights from Mumbai and Delhi, the two other metros with the highest and third highest new Covid-19 infections, respectively. However, the recent spike in the City of Joy hasn’t dampened the persistence of book publishers who are still optimistic of holding the Kolkata Book Fair, scheduled to be held from 31 January to 13 February 2022. The annual event was not held in 2021 due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The Kolkata Book Fair is held annually in Central Park in Salt Lake City and is organized by the Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Guild. As per the organization, the cancellation of last year’s event has seriously affected the revenues of the booksellers and this is the primary reason that it is still carrying on with the preparation for the book exhibition despite the Covid-19 curbs. The organizers have planned to enforce strict Covid-19 measures during the 14-day event which include the requirement of double vaccination, mandatory mask use, sanitizer dispersion, and appropriate social distancing. The area of the book stalls at the venue will be altered to ensure social distancing. Online ePasses will be issued to ensure touch-free check-in to the KBF. The 2022 edition of the event will also be a hybrid edition, streamed on the  Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Guild’s website and social media accounts.

Bangladesh is the theme country for the 45th edition of the event as it celebrated the golden jubilee of its independence in 2021, which was also celebrated as Swarnim Vijay Varsh in India for the 50th year of the 1971 war victory against Pakistan. This year’s show will commemorate other events such as 75 years of Indian freedom, the birth centenary of renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray, and the 125th birth anniversary of Indian nationalist Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Preparations are also on to honor accomplished personalities from West Bengal who have passed away in recent years such as Pranab Mukherjee, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Soumitra Chatterjee, and Subrata Mukherjee, among others. 

The last held edition of the fair in 2020 is said to have recorded close to 22 lakh visitors resulting in B2C sales close to Rs 24 crore (US$ 3 million plus). The Kolkata Book Fair has simultaneously held a 3-day Kolkata Literature Festival since 2014, likely to be held this year as well. This will be the 8th edition of the much-awaited literary event in east India.

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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