This is Chennai Book Fair season and as usual we are seeing on social media discussions on where books are going, what can the publishers and BAPASI (the publishers association in Tamil Nadu) can do.

Over the years in this same blog, I have written on this topic many times – The End of local book stores (2014), Impact of E-Books (2017) and Library closing down (2018).

Till the last century, books were the only (or the major) source of human knowledge, faith (religion) and even entertainment (primarily fiction) for many, before that was verbal hand me downs from one generation to another. In the 21th century every we are bombarded every single day with content across the spectrum of fiction, non fiction, science and more through the Internet and Social Media. As a result, the free time people used to fill by reading books are coming down – an individuals attention span in the era of WhatsApp messages are low, some studies say it has become as low as that of a Goldfish.

I am NOT saying BOOKS are going away. I love BOOKS, but they have lost their throne to be the sole custodian of knowledge dissemination. The Book industry including Book Fairs have to find additional (or alternate) methods and products to reach their clients better. This is not going to be easy, it took Music industry well over 20 years to figure something that looks sustainable for now.

To address the changing reality, many publishers and startups around the world are experimenting with newer formats, including micro articles that are not TLDR; to hold the attention of their newer readers. Many are experimenting with storytelling formats even for conventionally dry subjects like Non-Fiction, Science and others. Personally, I feel a lot of value is still left with the traditional book fairs (Chennai Book Fair or Frankfurt Book Fair or the New Delhi Book Fair) for years to come – it exposes on the face to people lot of books, especially first time readers and in rural areas where digital and ecommerce are scarce.

At the same time, for example in UK and USA books sales have rebounded after years of decline. There is a belief amongst certain stakeholders in the book industry that convenience of discovering books and buying them online (ecommerce or Amazon), on-demand printing, self publishing and ebooks with the affordability they have brought in, are making more people buy (more) books – whether they are reading them is a different question.

Tsundoku (Japanese: 積ん読) is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.

Continuing on this topic, I found these two interesting materials online.

  1. A gem of a video on YouTube about Books. If you love books, bookstores, and the act of reading books, then check out this video. It takes you around the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and, tries to find answers on why we should read, how to read a book and the purpose of reading, all in one video. Not surprisingly it has been viewed Millions of times and with 100s of thousand likes.

  2. Listen to a podcast hosted by Recode Kara Swisher (who was formerly with The Wall Street Journal) who was talking with Serial Box (a startup) CEO Molly Barton about how they are trying to change the way people read. Molly Barton having worked in the publishing department of major book publishers has got a ringside view of the industry and the current trends.

Recode Kara Swisher talking with Serial Box (a startup) CEO Molly Barton

Two ideas here that caught my attention – one was to give books in instalments (serialised like in a TV series episodes format) and the other was to having a team of writers put-together to co-author a book (again borrowing from the Hollywood TV show model).

I am not sure whether any of these will become successful, but it is imperative the book industry experiments with newer ideas and formats to save itself and to serve the readers better.

Books (Reading) are the only format where the reader co-creates
with the writer – imagining the characters and happenings with their own life experiences. Compared to that, in a Movie or a TV Show or YouTube, the viewer is passively consuming the content exactly as created by the Director. ~Venkatarangan

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