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!”

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.