note demonetisation

How demonetisation has hit book sales (and what might happen at next month’s book fairs)

Still, everyone is hoping that dedicated readers won’t stop reading permanently.

In this season of frenetic literary activity, featuring book launches, literature festivals and book fairs, demonetisation has stomped in as the grinch who stole Christmas. Everyone knows the effects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to scrap high value notes overnight. One of the lesser-known victims is the business of books.

Publishers, distributers and booksellers are all feeling the pinch after over a month of dealing with the cash crunch. A reading of the latest Nielsen Bookscan ratings is all you need to figure the scale of loss in publishing, a sales team executive from Penguin-Random House tells Scroll.in. “As per the analysis of last four weeks, the total consumer market is down by 35% year-on-year,” he said.

Other publishers are observing even steeper drops. “Distributors have reported a 50% decline in sales in the first four weeks after demonetisation, though things seem to be looking up a bit now,” said Yogesh Sharma, VP, Sales and Marketing, Bloomsbury India. “But our sales to distributors for books that sell regularly are down by 20% so far in December.” The impact is deeper in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns, where transactions by credit or debit cards and digital wallets are not popular, says Arup Bose, Publisher, Srishti Publishers & Distributors.

Books in regional languages, which depend more on cash transactions at every level of production, have been hit worse. Tridib Chatterjee, honorary general secretary, Publishers and Booksellers Guild, Kolkata, has said to news agencies that if the dismal turnout at smaller book fairs seen in the last couple of weeks is anything to go by, he is worried about the production of books, reprinting, and, more urgently, the mood and sales at the upcoming Kolkata Book Fair scheduled for late January. “Publishers are likely to bring out only one-fifth of their titles,” he said.

Books aren’t important now

Since November 9, buying a book has become what booksellers call “unnecessary” for many who have other pressing matters at hand, such as standing in endless queues at the bank in the hope of some cash. And often returning home with none. Doling out a couple of tenners for parking tickets has been causing much heartache, never mind a couple of hundreds for a book, which can easily be put off for a less tense time.

“Books are not a priority currently, and that has affected the mood in purchasing,” said Bose. “Of course, loyal readers will continue to buy their favourite authors’ new releases. But since most Indian fiction we publish is priced relatively low, between Rs 120 and Rs 200, it’s too small an amount for a customer to go through the whole process of paying with a card and entering bank details online.” This is why cash-on-delivery transactions are so popular with book-buyers, but at the moment those numbers have fallen for obvious reasons.

Online booksellers have tried to bounce back after freezing the COD option for a couple of days. “While we saw limited short-term impact due to the recent currency change announcement, we have already tremendous customer response in adopting electronic payment methods at delivery with 10x growth in electronic payments at the doorstep,” claimed an Amazon spokesperson on email. Perhaps. Still, Amazon reintroduced the COD option on November 11.

Even as book sales show some signs of limping back to earlier levels, booksellers are being cautious, expecting the recovery to take five or six months. “Though our customers are happy to pay with their cards, we are seeing fewer walk-ins, down by about 15%-20%,” said Mirza Afsar Baig of the popular bookstore Midlands in South Delhi. “Of those who are paying for books in cash, giving the balance back is an issue. Stock procurement has slowed. We are being more careful about how much and what we are acquiring.”

Some booksellers have even been considering buying smaller denominations of currency in the black market to keep business afloat. While bestsellers are continuing to do decent business, readers are being less experimental in picking books. “If regular readers were buying four books a month, now they are buying two, and telling themselves that they will save the rest for next month,” observed Arup Bose of Srishti.

At one of the largest second-hand bookstore in the country, Blossom Book House in Bangalore, a favourite with students and book-hounds, things are gradually turning around. “I saw more customers trickling in this week after the initial lull last month,” said owner Mayi Gowda. “If earlier we had 80%-85% customers paying for their purchases by card, now it’s climbed to 95%.”

The silver lining

Readers, say booksellers and publishers, are educated and better informed than the average citizen. So, they believe the impact of demonetisation won’t be long term. And as always in the world of business, resilience will probably pay off.

The publishing industry is gearing up to cope with a cash crunch at a number of book-centric events lined up for January 2017. “At the World Book Fair in Delhi from January 7-15, Srishti will be accepting e-wallet payments, which we haven’t done in the past,” said Bose. There is talk of installing mobile ATMs across various venues.

“This [policy] may be a short-term setback to the economy, publishing industry included, but as digital wallets and plastic money gain currency, not having enough cash in your pocket won’t be a factor in deciding about buying a book in the future,” noted Sharma of Bloomsbury. “Often one sees customers leaving without making a purchase as a lot of booksellers and publishers aren’t fully prepared to accept credit cards at book fairs. That’s set to change at the forthcoming fairs and lit fests.”

The biggest literary carnival of the year, the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017, will be a test of whether all the prepping is paying off. There are worries about connectivity for card payments at such events, which have often been seen in the past. As Christmas cheer mingles with tension and anxiety, some, like Sharma, are willing to see the glass half full. “A decline in the sales of pirated copies of books – at least for the next few months – will be a nice silver lining!”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Get ready for an 80-hour shopping marathon

Here are some tips that’ll help you take the lead.

Starting 16th July at 4:00pm, Flipkart will be hosting its Big Shopping Days sale over 3 days (till 19th July). This mega online shopping event is just what a sale should be, promising not just the best discounts but also buying options such as no cost EMIs, buyback guarantee and product exchanges. A shopping festival this big, packed with deals that you can’t get yourself to refuse, can get overwhelming. So don’t worry, we’re here to tell you why Big Shopping Days is the only sale you need, with these helpful hints and highlights.

Samsung Galaxy On Nxt (64 GB)

A host of entertainment options, latest security features and a 13 MP rear camera that has mastered light come packed in sleek metal unibody. The sale offers an almost 40% discount on the price. Moreover, there is a buyback guarantee which is part of the deal.

Original price: Rs. 17,900

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Samsung 32 inches HD Ready LED TV

Another blockbuster deal in the sale catalogue is this audio and visual delight. Apart from a discount of 41%, the deal promises no-cost EMIs up to 12 months.

Original price: Rs. 28,890

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 10,900

Intel Core I3 equipped laptops

These laptops will make a thoughtful college send-off gift or any gift for that matter. Since the festive season is around the corner, you might want to make use of this sale to bring your A-game to family festivities.

Original price: Rs. 25,590

Big Shopping Days price: Rs. 21,900

Fashion

If you’ve been planning a mid-year wardrobe refresh, Flipkart’s got you covered. The Big Shopping Days offer 50% to 80% discount on men’s clothing. You can pick from a host of top brands including Adidas and Wrangler.

With more sale hours, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days sale ensures we can spend more time perusing and purchasing these deals. Apart from the above-mentioned products, you can expect up to 80% discount across categories including mobiles, appliances, electronics, fashion, beauty, home and furniture.

Features like blockbuster deals that are refreshed every 8 hours along with a price crash, rush hour deals from 4-6 PM on the starting day and first-time product discounts makes this a shopping experience that will have you exclaiming “Sale ho to aisi! (warna na ho)”

Set your reminders and mark your calendar, Flipkart’s Big Shopping Days starts 16th July, 4 PM and end on 19th July. To participate in 80 hours of shopping madness, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Flipkart and not by the Scroll editorial team.