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.

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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