By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi: Books have not lost their mystical pull in the throng of digital extravaganzas, cinema, television reality shows and harsh publishing realities.
Defying predictions, reading has seen a revival with a flood of new titles, proliferation of publishers, explosion of young readers, bustling vernacular markets and electronic reading aids, say experts and members of the fine print fraternity.
“Evidence is available to suggest that reading per se is increasing in children. We must encourage our children to read and open up to other people’s views,” Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist based in the capital, told IANS.
Parikh said the reasons for the resurgence are “peer group interaction on social networking sites where young people enquire about the latest books being read by their friends in the same age group”.
“And parents are more comfortable with their children reading books,” Parikh said.
It applied to adults as well because a gripping story enlivens the depressed mind and is often used indirectly in psychological therapy, Parikh said.
Vatsala Kaul Banerjee, the publishing director of Hachette, said in terms of numbers, children’s publishing has been growing by nearly 20 percent a year. “People are still reading but the big debate is about what they are reading. The way they are reading is changing with e-books. But the e-revolution in books depends on the kind of reading aides we have and how soon. You presume a certain affluence among e-readers,” Banerjee told IANS.
Technology makes reading more interesting, helping children experience books in different ways, she said.
Serious literary fictions that still cost around Rs.350 polled the maximum readers among older readers, pointed out Renu Kaul Verma, the publishing director of Vitasta Books.
“Indian mass fiction has a large market, but it did not work for me,” Verma confessed.
“I am sticking to the conventional print format because print is not going to go. People are still buying books and they want to read books; but we are not being able to reach them. E-books just complement the paperback,” she told IANS at the recent Gurgaon Book Festival hosted by the Fortis Memorial Research Institute.
The biggest area of growth in readership and business is the vernacular segment, said Anu Anand, publisher of the Wisdom Village Publication Ltd.
“We have a big span. We have been expanding in various languages like Hindi, Kannada, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali. English has a limited reach and the Hindi readership has shrunk lately. English language publishers in India have to compete with influx of second grade books from western markets which fill the retail stores,” Anand told IANS.
On the other hand, books in languages like Kannada and Gujarati are being pushed by their respective state governments, Anand said.
In the world of Islamic books, the trend is double-edged, said Dawood Ahmad, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Delhi. “While readership for Islamic religious and social books has dwindled over the years because of the Internet, young readers have been drawn to the Quran – still the highest selling tome – because of the awareness generated by Internet,” Ahmad told IANS.
The publishing unit of the sect boasts of translations of Quran in 72 international languages and the largest collection of Islamic books in English, Ahmad said.
The new writer has become more conscious of his rights, says leadership guru, motivational speaker and author Pavan Choudary.
“The copyright of the book has to be very clear. And if a writer is willing to fight the judicial process is always in favour of the writer in case of infringement. But the fight is tough,” Choudary told IANS.
In 2010, Choudary had won a legal suit against Salman Khan and the actor’s firm Eros Entertainment for alleged plagiarism from Choudary’s book.
“In the cyber age, readers have become more selective about what they read. Books have be condensed into capsules very soon for the Internet, but the reach of books has widened,” he said.
The emerging reader feels almost “pampered”. “The sheer variety and number of books in the market is mind-boggling. I don’t mind spending Rs.150 for a book, but the computer at home is a big help. I am downloading and reading more books than ever,” Paro Ghosal, a college-going nerd from NCR, told IANS.
And with 300 million plus English language users in India, one can only hope for a longer life for the book.