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Books are essential is a hashtag doing rounds on the social media handles of those who love reading and those who are in the business of books. Reason is that publishing, more so the trade publishing is one of the many industries where the impact of the lockdown under the Covid-19 pandemic is a serious one with publishers not sure of what lies for them in the near future and how soon would they be able to bounce back.
While the government granted a slight relief to the school book publishers, the sales of trade books that is the general fiction and non-fiction books have taken a hit. April has been for most a month of zero billing.
An industry that was already competing against the changing habits of readers in the way they consume content and with the content creators providing instant gratification through the audio-visual content, is struggling to find ways to make ends meet in these grave times where there may be more important items of consumption on the minds of people across the world.
We would have thought that the lockdown would give a substantial boost to the e-book market but the often neglected version of books in e-format that made up for about 5-7 per cent of total business may have gone up only by 2-3 per cent which is not sufficient to cover up for the 95 per cent of business coming through print books. Many Indie homegrown publishers are contemplating shutting shops or giving up office space forming large part of their costs, to cut down costs to bare minimum.
Even with some bookstores opening recently and more planning to open post the lockdown, we don’t see footfalls and sales increasing substantially for the next several months to even breakeven for many publishers.
So how then do the publishers see a silver lining in these gloomy times? The industry would heavily need to depend on support from book-lovers and retaining existing customers for many of whom the consumption habit for content would have undergone a considerable change due to non-availability during last few weeks. It is essential to have them support the local brick and mortar stores solely dependent on selling books and the bookstores have already started to take positive steps in doing so by ensuring home deliveries. They have signed up with local delivery apps to have the books delivered at your doorstep. One store in Gurugram has, in fact, signed up with an organic vegetable delivery app to ensure the readers get their books.
What would be needed is a two-prong strategy to rebuild the confidence of readers on ordering for books and having them safely and hygienically delivered to their doorsteps efficiently post the lockdown and to ensure a full-fledged plan of marketing and growing the e-book category and reaching out to new-age readers aggressively.
We are in a different world from what we were until a few months ago and the change will be permanent with consumers continuing to being cautious and prioritising their needs. Quite like the media, where the print subscriptions have gone down drastically, a more impactful distribution strategy for e-version and focus on enhancing reader experience will be the need of the hour. Therefore, in this changed world, we may have to look at the following points to get the publishing market quickly back on track:
- Getting aggressive with innovative sales and distribution practices to infuse confidence on safe deliveries home for print books.
- Marketing budgets to be reworked more on focussing greater energies towards mass media and digital marketing.
- Building a stronger digital strategy to leverage upon the online brand following of publishers and that of the authors.
- Continuing to find ways to engage with customers using the digital medium and reworking on different content strategies for print and e-books to ensure relevance and continued interest.
- Cost-cutting on overheads and old techniques to move towards frugality and redirecting funds to develop changing forms of distribution, sales and marketing.
Lipika is an award-winning senior marketing and publicity professional and
heads MarketMyBook, a leading publicity and digital marketing agency for writers and publishers