Tamil publishers launch Virtual Book Fair

A storefront for the Indian book industry

Chennai Book Fair
Tulika Publishers stand at Chennai Book Fair 2020. Photo IPP

The 2022 edition of the Chennai Book Fair was scheduled to be held from 6 January onwards but the third wave of the Coronavirus pandemic disrupted these plans. Many of the Tamil publishers had been experiencing decreasing sales due to the pandemic and decided to take the virtual route with the Virtual Book Fair (VBF) – a platform for the survival of the Indian book publishing industry at Covid crossroads.

Six regional publishers are behind the Virtual Book Fair initiative – New Horizon Media, Kannadhasan Pathippagam, The Write Publishing, Sixthsense Publications, Vanavil Puthakalayam, and Kalachuvadu Pathippagam. The first virtual edition which started from 14 January, brings over 5,000 titles from 25 publishers to readers from Tamil Nadu. The project has been designed to build an all-India initiative where every publisher can showcase their titles without the fear of losing their distinctiveness in a cut-throat and chaotic digital world. The Virtual Book Fair website was formally launched by the Department of Information and Public Relations on the 73rd Republic Day on 26 January 2022.

With multiple interactive features, the Virtual Book Fair project strives to duplicate the features of a traditional on-ground book fair. The B2B model will run two to three times in a year, especially during dry spells in book publishing during the summer and monsoons. The VBF will also list the traditional professional services of book translators in various languages, cover designers, illustrators, and proofreaders, besides an author portfolio. 

B2C means books to browse

The B2C angle of the fair is also interesting with readers being allowed to browse through 30% of the books online to enhance buying decisions. The Virtual Book Fair website will be updated soon to allow maximum exposure to regional Tamil titles, which eCommerce giants such as Amazon and Flipkart fail to provide. The platform is looking at increased interaction between authors and readers. Audiobook, eBook, and adaptations of titles will be available to the readers on the VBF website in the upcoming months.

Participating publishers will be able to customize their digital storefront with banners and 2D displays akin to a physical book fair. Readers and literary enthusiasts will be able to engage in literary activities such as book readings, reviews, book discussions, and quizzes with the assistance of social media plug-ins. The responses from users have, so far, been positive and encouraging.

The digital initiative intends to bridge the gap between the Tamil publishing market and the national and global book publishing industry. With many regional publishers enthusiastic to convert their books into eBooks to tide over the tough times, there have been several detailed discussions between the publishers on going virtual. Other publishers were initiated into the project through demos depicting the significance of a strong virtual presence. Many publishing houses, however, have resisted the virtual route with fears of piracy and lowered ROIs.

The VBF project aims to have more than 70% of the regional and Indian language book publishers join the initiative by April 2022, with approximately 20,000 titles on the website. The brains behind the initiative are planning to host their maiden literary festival once these targets have been achieved. Plans of building an app-based book management system are also underway.

This splendid literary initiative is currently in the process of roping in publishers from across the state. The Virtual Book Fair is free for the time being for all publishers who have joined the project. The VBF plans to have a pan-India presence in the near future and has already started talks with publishers from other regional languages as well.

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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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