Chacha chaudhuri , Naagraj and Supercommando Dhruv are what came to my mind when I came to know about leisure reading. Interesting thing about them was that they were invincible, intelligent and easy to comprehend. Or sometimes it could be Champak, Nandan and Chandamama. And reading English for leisure was the remotest possibility. How could someone read english for fun? Then I met some people who used to read Laurel Hardy, Famous Five and Archies comics. I found out that leisure had other languages as well.
Indians’ boast of immense literature which is kept in silos in libraries across India. It is now that these works of literature are getting visibility. Up till now they were to be mentioned only by politicians or academicians while delivering speeches/lectures. Or should we say , now it is that these are being read by more number of people?
‘Wear and old coat and buy a new book’. A saying, which emphasizes the worth of books. However, we could not follow what is said. Indians had an old coat but no money to buy a new/old book. In fact they were not in a state of mind to want a book. If we go back to the pre-liberalization era(1991-92) we find that majority of Indians were earning to survive which reflected in every sphere of their lives. Government jobs were the major contributor to employment. The reputed profiles like IAS/IFS/IPS/IES were all examination based wherein candidates had no option but to slog for hours with books to realize their dreams of being driven in a red-light ambassador apart from enjoying the frills and perks which Administrative bureaucrats are showered upon. Books were a need then. Post 1991, gradual changes occurred. Indians started meeting people from other cultures and psyche. They started working in cubicles and having coffee/tea through vending machines. Mc Donald’s and pizza corner caught the attention. All this was new to us. We started relishing the wealth. And of course, we were in a better position to appreciate the fine arts. No wonder, ‘Art Cinema’ became ‘Multiplex Cinema’ ; ‘vacations at Nani’s place’ turned into ‘expedition to Leh’ and ‘needing a book’ became ‘wanting a book’.
Unlike earlier, today majority of people read and discuss books. We are not referring to people who belong/ed to the educated strata which has/had a culture of reading books and literature. We are referring to the section which was oblivious of the fact that they can read books for leisure and self-improvement as well.
Although, we have been quite virtuous in the literary sense we could never have a monetary perspective about the Book business. For instance, Rabindranath Tagore always remained a matter of General Knowledge. How many people actually read his works apart from the chapters included in the school syllabus? The renowned writers had an elite stature but they lagged a fan following; like film actors had among masses. One of the major reasons which can also be cited is that Books and literature do not sell by mere advertisement through hoardings and pamphlets. It’s done only through word-of-mouth publicity. The book cover can only convince a reader more. It cannot make the reader ‘pay’ for the book, unless you have a fetish for books. So how to get the ‘mouth’ advertise for you? Either you write an extremely good book or you make the media/promotions work for you or else, do a mix. Lights on to the Storybook of India! The trend was initiated when Salman Rushdie was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children in ’81. A name from Indian Subcontinent receives a prestigious award has to be a news. But it was still a coffee table chat for the affluent. No market, no advertisement. Post Rushdie, there was a lull before the storm. And it broke when Arundhati Roy was recognized next with the same award in ’97. This time India was in a much better position than the last time i.e. ’81. Media got some new stuff to write about, very similar to what happened in ’94 when Susmita Sen became the first Indian to Miss Universe. For newspapers it was like an opportunity to ride on the recent ‘explore more-spend more’ wave emanated from the western philosophy. So they told us more about Arundhati Roy. And of course the publishers IndiaInk left no stone unturned to promote the lady with the book. Arundhati Roy was projected more like the new women liberator rather than an author. A new market discovered , significant level of advertisement. The books kept selling in India. The book stalls at the railway stations (one of the few places where Books/magazines are sold in large numbers ; but of course next to the ‘Chai’) suddenly started adorning names like Jeffrey Archer, Sydney Sheldon, etc. Not that these books were not being read earlier but they were definitely not being sold on railway stations. The reader who burnt the mid night oil in old libraries, schools, colleges had taken a casual approach towards reading. It was reading in trains, ‘locals’ and buses. And then came the ultimate change.
Five Point Someone: Engineering/Hostel life/Booze/Cigarettes/professor’s daughter/low grader but intelligent. A story around these was sure to be a success. But Chetan Bhagat made it even a bigger success with his diligent observations, one liners and a storyline which everyone wants to live. The book broke several records and was a must read for an engineering student. Later it was translated in other languages like Hindi, Gujarati,etc. The craze for the book was phenomenal and hence a huge potential market to milk. Chetan Bhagat and publishers left no stone unturned to use his MBA skills. He travelled across India; held events in malls where people could buy the autographed book and get a picture clicked with the author. Crossword, Flipkart and landmark all joined the chorus. In fact it was a huge opportunity for the air-conditioned bookstores to attract crowds from road side pirated books seller. More so, because the MRP of the book(95 INR) was uncongenial for pirates. The costing for piracy would not leave any margins for street vendors. And the 95 isn’t too much for a book which everyone’s reading. It’s an opportunity to join the bandwagon and Indians love doing that!
Meanwhile, several other authors too were getting into the mainstream of the book writing business. Apart from the forthcoming books by Chetan Bhagat, others like Rashmi Bansal(connecting the dots), Kaavya Vishwanathan(How Opel Mehta plagiarized a book) also were promoted to the front shelves of the bookstores. Some of the books which had already been a success got their sales in the aroused reading spree prevalent among Indians. For eg. Monk who sold his Ferrari ( Robin S Sharma) & Alchemist(Paulo Cohelo). For promotions Robin S Sharma’s India visits were reported in newspapers and magazines. MBA entrances exams too were contributing. Otherwise, people can’t read a descriptive and philosophical book like Atlas Shrugged or Fountain Head for no reason. A clear indicator of a growing demand is always the Piracy Industry. Pirates deal in Films, Music and softwares/computer gaming; all three are highly prone to piracy only because of the demand for them. No wonder, you find books being sold on traffic signals. A clear indicator of the grown demand. And its good for the books’ industry. Like what piracy did for Microsoft , the same will happen for books. Piracy might seem to eat into the shares of publishing houses but it’s doing more good than damage. Let people get addicted to reading. Await a day when people read a book over the long weekend. And then the books will sell with much better margins than ever. So finally, the stage is set for writers. Growing levels of education and awareness in India is the first Promotion for books. As we get more educated, the bestsellers will be included in the school curriculum as well. Upcoming bookstores are the second promotion enablers. We have a place to put posters for the forthcoming editions/novels. Bookstores that are placed in Malls and shopping complexes having high footfall. And let the piracy play its role. It’s a blessing in disguise. As a footnote, one thing is to be mentioned. *Watch out for ebooks. If ipads and kindle have their way, the struggle to success story for hard bounds will end here. (Article contributed by Shwetank : He is pursuing MBA from NMIMS, Mumbai. The article was written while struggling to read financial accounting (read: Read) for end trim preparation. While preparing for the forthcoming professional life , Shwetank enjoys travelling, music and eating.)