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2019 - Roller coaster ride for publishers

New Delhi, Dec 31 : It was a roller-coaster ride for publishers in 2019, thanks mainly to the after-effects of demonistisation, GST, the import duty on books and the economic slowdown, but the stakeholders remained upbeat.

"Like every year, this year also had its fair share of opportunities as well as challenges. The economic slowdown and introduction of import duty on books were some of the new challenges we faced, but at the same time, our increased engagement on raising readers with key stakeholders is raising the opportunities for us," Neeraj Jain, MD, Scholastic India, one of the largest publishers of academic books for children, told IANS.

"While there were occasions to cheer, there were also occasions to be alarmed about. For example GST posed a major problem to the publishers, eating away at whatever limited profit margin publishers have," Trisha De Niyogi, Chief Operating Officer, Niyogi Books, told IANS.

The year was quite challenging, an Oxford University Press (OUP) spokesperson said, adding "However, we have done decent in terms of sales - a combination of academic and serious nonfiction titles."

"We can't say this was a blockbuster year but a good one with a significant number of prominent works and debuts by reputed scholars and researchers. Our import list has done well in the Indian market with remarkable titles such as 'Clients and Constituents' by Jennifer Bussel, 'The Absent Dialogue' by Anit Mukherjee, 'Resurgent Asia' by Deepak Nayar and 'Euro Tragedy' by Ashoka Mody. We are extremely happy with these books - in terms of both sales and reviews! Several of our titles have also gone into the short and long lists of important awards," the spokesperson added.

"It has been a successful year in terms of what we wanted to publish. There have been ups and downs in the business cycle. However, we have had some big authors publishing with us. We have received awards for some of our titles. Which always gives a sense of pride and achievement," Aarti David, Director (Publishing) at Sage, said.

The year ended on a great note with "lots of books appearing on good ranks at Nielsen and Amazon including 'Amit Shah and The March of BJP', 'Allahu Akbar', 'My Little Epiphanies', 'Kashmir's Untold Story', 'Dear People with Love and Care' and 'Relentless', a just to name a few." a Bloomberg spokesman said.

What were the trends noticed in 2019?

"The year saw a plethora of successful debut novels, most of them by women, continuing a trend that began last year. The health of translations also seems to be in the pink. As expected, there have been several political books that reflect current discourses, and excellent history and investigative writing as well," Teesta Guha-Sarkar of Pan Macmillan said.

Noting that Sage published in various genres targeting divergent audiences, David said "We have found that Indian language publishing has been more challenging than we anticipated and this has been across languages and markets. Another key learning is that our customer needs more personalised attention and business transparency. The future is exciting as we begin to slice the data pie thinner."

One of great things about children's books, Scholastic's Jain said, "is that there are so many genres to work with. The trends in books are like fashion, what was popular a decade ago comes back in a new form and starts trending again. Traditionally, children's books have leaned more towards non-fiction. But we're noticing an upsurge in fiction, of late".

A lot of bonhomie was visible beyond the English publishing scenario, especially in the case of Bengali, Marathi and Malayalam literature, Niyogi said.

"The phenomenon of the rise of a number of niche publishers is enriching the scenario. As far as the English market is concerned, available statistics suggest that export of Indian books has seen a sizeable rise. This fact is further corroborated by India being selected as the guest country in at least three major international book fairs - Abu Dhabi, Mexico iamp; Paris (forthcoming)," she added.

Pointing that there has been a return of illustrated books in the market, Niyogi said more and more publishers are now trying their hand in illustrated books on varied subjects like art, architecture, history, culture, cinema and more.

Niyogi also noted the rise of "speculative fiction, which encapsulates genres like cli-fi, sci-fi, dystopia and more. As a matter of fact, our science fiction, including the recently published 'The Butterfly Effect' by Rajat Chaudhuri, has seen a phenomenal rise in sales. Its literary merit is also being acknowledged all across the globe as well".

"This year was quite interesting. We noticed biographies, self-help, business and political/election related titles filled shelves in 2019. While the world marked Mahatma Gandhi's sesquicentennial year there were many books on Mahatma Gandhi and his ideologies as well," the OUP spokesperson said.

Non-fiction did well, as has been the case the past few years in the subcontinent, a spokesperson for Simon iamp; Schuster said.

The success of Tony Joseph's 'Early Indians' published by Juggernaut "was the biggest and most pleasant surprise, since that means that more people are interested now in reading about history, civilization and culture. Literary fiction has gained immense popularity in the recent past, and awards like the JCB Prize for Literature and DSC Prize for South Asian Literature have been immensely helpful in recognizing and rewarding these titles", the spokesperson added.

It was also the year of translations, with the popularity of writers like Permual Murugan, K.R. Meera and Manoranjan Byapari skyrocketing. Celestial Bodies written by Jokha Alharthi, the first Omani novel to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, was published by Simon iamp; Schuster India this year in the Indian subcontinent to great success, the spokesperson said.

It was the year of big non-fiction releases, especially political non-fiction, Bloomberg said.

"Non fiction continues to be popular amongst readers, as do spiritual, self help and business books. We've had some real success with 'The Steel Frame A History of the IAS' and more recently, 'Black Warrant Confessions of a Tihar Jailer' by Sunil Gupta and Sunetra Choudhury," Priya Kapoor of Roli Books said.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at vishnu.makhijani@ians.in)

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2019 - Roller coaster ride for publishers

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