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Indian publishers innovate in times of caronavirus lockdown

New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) The world will never be the same again and it might take till the end of the year for the situation to “normalise” to the pre-coronavirus pandemic days, leading Indian publishers opine, saying they are adapting in myriad ways to stay connected with readers while balancing their own operations to cope with the lockdown that has now been extended to May 3.

Sales, printing and production has completely stopped but editorial activities have continued at a steady pace. Marketing activities have proliferated but have only been directed to social media and online promotions.

Digital delivery is the new name of the game even as publishers await the reopening of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

“Lockdown has affected parts of the publishing business, such as, new title releases, promotions, launches, etc. We are hoping that the lockdown will be lifted in a staggered manner which will allow

bookstores to open for business soon, for example, the government in Kerala has decided to allow bookshops to open twice a week with certain restrictions in place. We are hoping such positive news

inspires other territories to be open to such arrangements, of course, depending on the ground situation,” Nandan Jha, SVP Sales & Product, Penguin Random House India, told IANS in an email interview.

Penguin is also taking this time to “reacquaint people to the joy of reading and ensuring that they know of the available formats they can continue reading,” Niti Kumar, SVP marketing, digital and

communications, Penguin Random House India, said.

“Through creative collaborations with authors and communities, we are giving people access to content such as read alouds on social media channels, DIY activities, lifestyle hacks from experts, and much more.

“We are innovatively using our own social media platform to continue engaging with readers,” Kumar added.

Recently, Penguin TV on Instagram launched a “spin a yarn” with over a dozen authors completing each other’s cliff-hanger endings to make one complete story, the idea being to “keep the conversation going, bring positivity and inspire people to invest their time in reading”, Kumar

pointed out.

With the lockdown disrupting the supply chain and with this control on people’s movement, retail has been adversely affected. “Under these circumstances, we are also focussing on ebook and audiobook formats which are easily accessible, safe and convenient. From acquisition of a title, to its publicity, we are working out the best ways to get this content to the people,” Kumar said.

On its part, Oxford University Press (OUP) said the Covid-19 outbreak has become a major challenge across a spectrum of businesses not only in India but all over the world.

Noting that the entire book industry is going through a tough time and affected by this badly “but on the other hand we as a publishers are seeing this as opportunity and trying to cope up with this in the best possible manner”, an OUP spokesperson said, adding: “We have made content from online resources and leading journals freely accessible to assist researchers, medical professionals, policy makers, and others who are working to address this health crisis.”

OUP ia also providing free access to its learning resources, for both schools and higher education streams through its Online Teacher Training modules and webinars.

“The Continue Learning @home initiative is aimed at creating a home learning environment and ensuring that the delivery of education is not disrupted and we have noticed the increase of sales in e books and digital products,” the spokesperson added.

In the long-term, said Westland CEO Gautam Padmanabhan, publishers will have to rethink their marketing strategies and perhaps push the release dates of key titles.

“Also, the impact of post-lockdown measures, consumer behaviour toward books will also need to be factored in. What we do know is that this is still an evolving situation and there are no clear solutions in sight,” Padmanabhan added.

Contending that the “world will not be the same anymore”, Trisha De Niyogi, COO of Nego Book said these were interesting times “and we are trying our best to innovate, experiment and update ourselves with the changing times. As of now, I think it will take around 5-6 months for the situation to normalize, but I envisage a significant shift towards ebooks and audiobooks in the future, despite the lifting of the lockdown after May 3.

For Simon and Schuster India, too, the challenge has been to ensure that the content it puts out is both engaging as well as uplifting.

“A fair amount of our activities were digitally focused in the past as well. However, now we have gone completely digital. The challenge has been to ensure that the content that we put out is both engaging as well as uplifting,” Marketing and Publicity Manager Shobhita Narayan said.

Pointing to its campaigns such as the #padhonavirus and book challenges online “which have been very well received”, she said the idea was to “encourage people to read more books and to avoid boredom by doing tasks which are related to books and reading in general”.

“We are also doing a small series of author videos with features such as creative writing tips, taking care of your health during the lockdown,” among others, Narayan added.

Editorially, there is “uncertainty of course” but as far as the work and planning goes “we are continuing as before – editorial schedules are drawn up fairly in advance and the work that editors do is solitary so with minor revisions it can go on in Covid times and the adjustments and changes that will be required will possibly kick in post-lockdown,” Himanjali Sankar, Editorial Director, Simon and Schuster India, said.

“Marketing has gone completely digital and possibly witnessing the most interesting innovations in the industry so far – from digital book launches to interviews and discussions happening in new formats,” Sankar added.

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

–IANS

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