Since the beginning of November, a number of titles are being quickly reprinted at Manovikas Publication in Pune. Another publisher, Jyotsna Prakashan, is running out of its stock of art and craft books, while Rohan Prakashan has seen a surge in demand of its all-time best seller tome of biographies, Yanni Ghadavala Sahasrak.
These publishing houses are among the top ten of Maharashtra, and have come together to solve one of the less-discussed casualties of the pandemic –brick-and-mortar bookstores, where shutters have been down for the past eight months. The initiative, titled Wachan Jagar Mohotsav 2020, involves offering 250 titles – 25 by each publisher – to 35 booksellers in the interiors of Jalgaon, Solapur, Nagpur, a village in Beed, Sangli, Pune and Mumbai, among others, at a discount of 25 per cent.
“Whenever there is an environment of disturbance, such as a pandemic, people stop reading. We need peace of mind to be able to sit down with a work of literature. Due to coronavirus, the market for books has slowed down greatly. The aim of Wachan Jagar Mohotsav was to revive bookshops by encouraging people to come in and browse or buy books once again,” says Ashish Patkar, owner of Manovikas Publication. He added that an entire edition of the book RAW, and 500 copies each of Mahesh Elkunchar and Greta Thunberg’s biographies, have sold out.
In villages and towns in the state, an educated population finds it difficult to access titles that are readily available in big cities. Within days of the Wachan Jagar Mohotsav beginning, people flooded shops and emptied shelves. The booksellers have extended the exhibition by a week, to the end of November.
“What we see, generally, is that readers from places that have few bookshops create lists and, when there is an exhibition or literary festival, they come in to stock up. Due to the pandemic, such readers were cut off from all bookshops. Now that bookshops and libraries are open, people are coming back and we encouraged this. As a publisher, I feel books need to come into essential services and I have even made a request to the government…” says Rohan Champanerkar, proprietor of Rohan Prakashan.
During the lockdown, demand for books across the country rose significantly, with publishers reporting up to a 75 per cent increase. However, most of these were for e-books. Book stores were some of the worst-hit businesses in the pandemic. In Pune, Pagdandi Bookstore Cafe has been fighting its way back, even as landmarks in Delhi such as Full Circle and Café Turtle in Khan Market shut down. In the US, according to the American Booksellers Association, almost one store closed each week, and 20 per cent of indie bookstores are in danger of shutting down. The iconic Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris and The Strand in New York, have appealed for help to stay afloat.
Wachan Jagar Mohotsav 2020 is an effort to have a better outcome in Maharashtra. The first such initiative, at a smaller scale, was in 2017 after demonetisation created a dent in the market for books. “We choose the titles with care. Since people were locked in with gadgets over the past few months, we offered them titles that focused on creating art with their hands, such as drawing and origami. Kiran Purandare’s Birds of Our Neighbourhood has become very popula[object HTMLSpanElement]r. Reading habits have changed in the past few years and we are seeing its effects during the lockdown,” says Vikas Paranjape of Jyotsna Prakashan.
Adding to the attraction of new books is the discount of 25 per cent. “We never give discounts on titles such as Yanni Ghadavala Sahasrak because it is a best-seller. But this time, we made a difference to help attract people. We also have a new title – Love in the Time of Corona, a collection of stories – in which authors explore various relationships such as the one between parents and children, with migrants and with one’s self,” says Champanerkar.
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