Promoting reading habits at New Delhi World Book Fair 2016

The annual New Delhi World Book Fair is doing all it can to promotes books in India. Dibyajyoti Sarma reports from the 24th edition of the event, which was held from 9-17 January 2016 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi

27 Jan 2016 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Talking about the annual New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF), we had written in these pages how it would be unfair to compare NDWBF to Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF), the world’s biggest book event. The difference is stark and simple. The FBF is essentially a marketplace for publishers whereas NDWBF is about celebrating books, in an effort to inculcate reading habits among the masses.

In this sense, NDWBF is important. Organised by the National Book Trust (NBT), India, the government-backed event is the country’s biggest book fair (where actual books are in focus, not the authors, unlike the Lit Fests we are seeing in every other city), with more than 1,800 stalls in around 36,000 sq/mt area, showcasing books from all over the world, in all languages, beside English and the Indian languages.

When it comes to the business of books, the country seems to be doing well. According to the India Book Market Report released by Nielsen during the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2015, the value of the print book market in India, including book imports, is USD 3.9 billion. This puts India in the position of being the second largest English-language book market in the world. Even local language markets are doing well, as is evident with the number of publishing houses coming up and their extensive catalogues.

The need of the hour, now, is to find readers/buyers for these books, beyond the online retail stores.

India is a country of young people. In the recent years, despite the rise of social media and smartphones, the young generation has shown a healthy interest in books. It’s time they got a platform where their interests can be sustained.

NBT seems to be working towards this goal. In a bid to attract young readers, especially school/college students, this year, NBT rescheduled the dates of the book fair from the usual February to January. The 24th edition of the Fair was held from 9-17 January 2016 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.

The Fair was inaugurated on 9 January by Union minister for human resource development Smriti Zubin Irani. “Today we not only celebrate the exponential growth of the publishing business both in India and China but also the human interest in it,” Irani said. She also appreciated the efforts of NBT in creating a platform for young writers to publish their works.

Popular Kannada author SL Bhyrappa was the guest of honour at the function.

This year, China was the Guest of Honour Country at NDWBF. On the occasion, Sun Shoushan, vice-minister of SAPPFRT, People’s Republic of China, said, “India is an amazing country with a profound and diversified culture. I am amazed by the rapid development of India, which seems to be at a colourful corridor that connects its glorious past with the present.”

For the public
On the first weekend of the show, when PrintWeek India visited the Fair, the ground was chockablock with visitors, giving it an air of an actual fair, so much so that we had to wait for half-an-hour at the entrance. There was seriousness, but there was also a sense of bonhomie with groups of youngsters, families with children in tow, dour older men looking for that specific book, schoolgirls looking for their Harry Potters, hopping from one stall to another.

There was something for everyone. From Hindi translation of foreign language books to designer hardbound editions of classic English works (It appears to be a new trend where publishers pick up classic texts which are in public domain and print them with enticing new designs. Look at how many different publishers have their own collections of Shakespeare’s works!), from specialised publishers like Motilal Banarsidass and Gita Press to stalls featuring antique books, to all the leading Indian publishers, especially in Hindi and English, to fledgling ventures offering self-publishing avenues to aspiring authors, like Chennai’s Notion Press. For the spiritual-minded, there was also a host of options.

As young readers are the special focus of the book fair and as NBT is one of the largest publishers of children's books in India, there was a special pavilion dedicated to children's books. The pavilion also hosted several activities for schoolchildren, like drawing competition, storytelling sessions, skits, besides showcasing books.

The theme of NDWBF 2016 was ‘Vividh Bharat’, showcasing the country’s cultural legacy. The theme pavilion featured a collection of Indian writing from the times of bhojpatra to the modern day. For those with less patience for the written word, there were also performances of several classic works, like Jaidev’s Geet Govinda, Bhavabhuti’s Malati Madhavam and the Sindhi classic Shah Jo Risalo.

Chinese books steal the show
This year, the most impressive aspect of the New Delhi World Book Fair was the pavilion featuring the Guest of Honour Country China. In the recent years, China has gone all way out to promote its books outside; the pavilion was the evidence how serious the country is in promotion. The sprawling and aesthetically designed pavilion had more than 5,000 titles in English, Chinese and Hindi. Also at hand were about 255 delegates from 81 publishing houses, including internally acclaimed authors such as Mai Jia (Decoded, In the Dark) and Lan Lan (Life with a Smile).  

When it comes to books and printing, China has a unique history. After all, it is the country where paper was invented. While the rest of the world picked up the tradition of printing post-Gutenberg’s invention and followed up with modern technology, China’s culture of print still has an indelible connection to the country’s indigenous print technologies. This is evident in how Chinese books are designed and printed. Business and literature aside, the Chinese showcase at NDWBF was a veritable masterclass in design and printing. Each of the books was an object of art in itself. As one visitor remarked, “I do not recognise the Chinese logographic script, but the books are so beautiful to look at.”

There was also a diorama representing the traditional Chinese printmaking and a photo exhibition celebrating China-India cultural contacts, from the times of Buddha to Dwarkanath Kotnis.

For publishers
Besides the regular Authors’ Corner events, where authors with new books interacted with the readers, the book fair also featured the two regular trade events, CEOSpeak and New Delhi Rights Table. The 4th edition of the New Delhi Rights Table, which gives Indian publishers an opportunity to sell translation rights of local language books to foreign publishers, saw 70 participants from countries like Egypt, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Nepal, the US, among others.

Meanwhile, at the fair-ground, German Book Office, New Delhi, the South Asia node of the Frankfurt Book Fair, hosted the third edition of Globalocal Talk, with its focus on the international book market. The session allowed for an insider’s view of publishing markets like France, China, Germany, and the UK, which was shared amongst a full house audience of publishers, distributors, agents and authors.