P Sajith: The trade books story – facts not fiction

On World Book Day, P Sajith of Impel-Welbound says, no society can exist without reading a book

23 Apr 2020 | By PrintWeek Team

P Sajith of Impel-Welbound

The adult literacy level in India is 74 percent. It is projected to hit 90 percent in 2020, and this is expected to continue feeding demand for the humble book. Additionally, the government’s expenditure on education and educational resources shall boost the demand for books even further. Five hundred million young people and children constitute a strong readership base.

Margaret Atwood says, “I have been reading the Inspector Maigret mysteries by George Simenon... so many lovely bistros from the Paris in mid-20th Century. After some time the corpses are incidental, it's the food that counts.”

I suppose that’s what makes books special.

I have listed eight trajectories.

1. The lock-down globally has led to more demand for reading books. However the supply situation is a huff-and-a-puff with most book shops shut down and Amazon not interested in delivering low margin books vs other items

2. This has led to more downloads of Ebooks. In India Ebook sales (non-academic category) has doubled. But please note: This is growth is from a smaller base. (Even today, E-books are a mere 3% of total trade book sales in India. Even the double digit numbers in the Global North is tapering)

3. Globally the audio book downloads are on the rise – though the numbers are not available. The point is, the audio listening landscape is continually changing as audience habits, literary tastes, lec-dems. It may affect the ways we consume books. One useful option for printer families brothers with children or grandchildren at home is to select Indian children books from Chennai-based publishing firm Karadi Tales. There are delightful story telling sessions every day at 5:30 PM on Facebook

4. Generally increase in Ebooks and a-books will lead to a phased increase in printed books. Consider: Instagram features 25 million posts with the hashtag #poetry. Insta-poets are deploying social media intelligently, bringing poetry to a broader, mainstream audience. This removes barriers to access, and also converts very well into book sales. I see a lot of activity on FB and Insta in India. This is a huge opportunity for poetry books, especially in the Indian languages. In Scandinavian nations poetry book sales have seen a 66% increase in the past five years, which saw over a million poetry books sold at a value of Euros 15 mn.       
5. The pressure to make sales back (once the immediate coronavirus crisis is over) is going to be immense. A book store friend shared that "online space is becoming increasingly saturated" and monetisation difficult because of free content. However bookstores like Kitab Khana in Mumbai have been creating book events which are virtual. Some literary groups are using different social media platforms, including Facebook Live, online book clubs and YouTube during the pandemic.   

6. With more work from home, less meetings, travel, reading books may go the right way. As many sources of entertainment – like movie theaters, restaurants , shopping mall become less visited plus increase viewing of TV and other digital devices – people may find reading a book, whether Ebook, audio or physical as a refreshing alternate.

7.  The time that most of us have had – away from busy work schedules or travel, would be the case with many authors – successful, popular, as well as aspiring ones. And sitting at home, imaginations can take wings unless you are troubled by someone, constantly. Post COVID should see a huge number of manuscripts being ready for reading, editing and publishing. Some of them could be best sellers too

8. And finally, as a wise man has said, we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to books: to find words for what we already know.   


But at night, when the library lamps are lit, the outside world disappears and nothing but the space of books remains in existence.

Some of you may have heard of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places published in 1980. The book was penned by Alberto Manguel and began as a project between friends and soon became much more. It is standardised to feel and look like a dictionary, this book is essential for fans of literature who always wanted to have an atlas, dictionary, and almanac all in one regarding their favourite fictional places. With over 1,200 realms from Alice in Wonderland to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, this book is the perfect reading companion to any fantastical tale.

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is one reason I read books. As a reader I know, a reader’s ambition knows no bounds.

I have compiled a few more …

Reading fiction can help you be more open-minded and creative

According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, participants who read short-story fiction experienced far less need for "cognitive closure", as compared with counterparts who read nonfiction essays. (Source: Harvard Business Review)  … Lesser this need, lesser the stress 

People who read books live longer

That's according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. (Source: Social Science and Medicine).

People who read can remember better: As you need to remember characters and their relationships, backgrounds, history, and so on. My 86 year old mother devours fiction-books be it the Malayalam greats or English pop fiction – and links the names of all characters and their relationships, the same way she remembers  the name of my sister-in-law’s maid’s daughter’s mother in law. She is a big believer that books help fight dementia.

Books Improve analytical skills: Try reading a mystery. When was the last time you did not try to analyse “who did it”.  A friend of mine has set a target to read all 75 novels and 28 short stories of the Maigret series by George Simenon. That is a bit much. But you know what I mean.

Increases focus: when you read a book, you don’t jump from news to news or video to video – you are immersed in reading, and traveling in a path where the pages take you.

Successful people are readers: All above factors lead to success. Books increase knowledge, vocabulary and imagination, while reducing stress. Reading increases social intelligence, responsibility and a sharper understating of people. Hundreds of successful executives have shared with the world the books that have helped them get where they are today.

Books as a pillar of our civilisation: Many of my printer friends are big fans of Rumi. Like many exiled Persians, Rumi lived his life at Konya in Antalya. Now this is a story about how Rumi’s father, the great Balkh and fugitives were reduced to great poverty on the road to exile. And so, they used the precious and rare books they had they had save from the Mongols as pillows. The books that we see in the book museums are the pillows that have survived. These “pillows” are worth a fortune. So we can see that all the great civilisations ask themselves the same questions, what to do with the culture under threat, how to save it and what to save. Every time you see a book, do remember this book is preserve a little bit of civilisation, tomorrow.

Final footnote

Some firms have been operating through the lockdown, albeit behind locked doors. This is because they produce multilanguage leaflets for medical devices, plus information guides for medical centres and duplicate books for the agricultural sector. When you’re standing in the middle of a field, you want a piece of paper, not an iPad.