Cries of booksellers, distributors go in void as govt turns deaf ear

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Hit severely by the first and second wave of the pandemic, the plight of Delhi’s booksellers and distributors continues to go unnoticed as their sales hit a low due to Covid-19, online competition, piracy and absence of any aid from the government.

Since the outbreak of pandemic in India, followed by the subsequent lockdown for 21 days that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, the Delhi State Booksellers and Publishers’ Association (DSBPA) has written several letters to the authorities, including Union State Minister of Culture and Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and former finance secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey to bring their attention to the core problems of the industry.

“Besides, we also wrote to the home minister and chief minister. Post those letters, bookstores in Delhi were allowed to open up. That step was a big help for the trade,” DSPBA vice president Himanshu Chawla told IANS.

In April, the association sought financial assistance for booksellers and publishers having an annual turnover of Rs 50 lakh or less for the period of second lockdown along with some kind of grant for books to be purchased in government schools and universities.

“The latter demand would help booksellers and distributors a great deal. However, nothing major is being done on a large scale for its implementation,” he added.

“Books do not come under essential commodities and at a time like this when people are cutting their expenses, where do they even stand. Obviously, the sales have fallen drastically. Moreover, we are not hugely profitable business in the first place,” Mithilesh Singh who worked at Khan Market’s Bahrisons Bookseller said, adding that there was a sudden decline of more than 60-70 per cent sales during the first lockdown.

Among those badly affected by the pandemic-induced lockdown, independent booksellers and small scale book distributors that are not owned by big corporations and usually survive on very finite resources are suffering the most, those from the industry told IANS.

The distributors, as the name suggests, act as intermediaries among the publishers, retailers and customers. Most of their business comes from libraries, especially, school libraries and when all the schools were closed abruptly due to coronavirus scare earlier this year, they were left in a state of confusion and uncertainty for what would future hold for them.

Sharing the plight of small-scale book distributors, Founder of Aakar Books — a publishing house and book distribution business, Anand Saxena said: “There is a cut-throat competition among the distributors for even a small order and while publishers still have a chance to sail through these difficult times, many distributors will not be able to make it.”

However, Vaishalik Jain who owns Jain Book Agency in Connaught Place opines that it is unfair to blame pandemic for the deteriorating state of the bookstores across India: “We have suffered a lot since the advent of e-commerce websites that sell books at or more than 50 per cent discount which is just not possible for us as we do not receive more than 40-45 per cent discount on our orders.”

“This is the reason why bookstores are dying in India… 80 to 100 years old bookstores have shut down in the capital. The only benefit book trade has received till now is that books are exempted from Goods and Services Tax (GST), but we get no rebate,” he says, adding that they are planning to continue JBA for another 25 years so as to complete a centenary.

After 2010, prominent bookstores like Galgotias, Bookworm and New Book Depot have shut down in Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR).

Although books are exempted from GST, it is applicable on different kinds of paper, paper pulp, carton boxes, glue and other products that are directly used for the production of books. Ultimately increasing the price of book by 12 to 18 per cent.

Sanjeev, who owns Royal Book House — a book distribution business in Paharganj since 2000, said: “Online businesses have grown since the first and second lockdown as more and more traders have now registered themselves on e-commerce websites like Amazon and Flipkart. Big Billion and Diwali sales affects the small-scale businesses like us the most. Due to this, the offline sales have declined by almost 40 per cent,” adding, “Nowadays even books are demanded and shown to customers via WhatsApp.”

“It is unfortunate that none of the government schemes directly benefits small and middle-level businesses like ours. The government can help us by putting a curb on online sales via controlling the discount structures and unwanted schemes as it disturbs the balance of the business. Such a check will also put a stop to piracy — one of our biggest headaches. Many people do not know but ‘n’ number of books sold online are pirated.”

“Earlier, the import duty on foreign books was not costly. Now it is. When we think of local, we should also be thinking about our bookstores,” he added.

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