World Book Day: Books in the times of social media
Whoever thought printed books will disappear, was clearly not acquainted with the magic of the printed word. And, there is no other day better than World Book Day to bring home the realisation to the cynic that books’ “sales is only rising”. “It is widely feared that, owing to our shrinking attention span, the love for printed books is shrinking, too. Add to that the fact that social media is leaving little time for lengthy reads. That might not be true. Despite e-books, and Facebook, physical copies of books have stayed popular,” observes Poonam Sharma, who teaches Sociology to post graduates in the Capital.
Books won’t die
Sharma’s observation is supported by publishing houses. “In India we enjoy a special relationship with the printed word,” says publisher Ajay Mago of Om Books. “The numbers will tell you that book sales are only rising,” says Avanija Sundaramurti, head of marketing and consumer Insight, at publishing house Hachette, India.
Another widely believed notion is that social media is killing books. Contrariwise, it’s helping sell more books. Kapish Mehra, managing director, Rupa Publications, says that printed books are a “rewarding” alternative when “digital fatigue” sets in.
How’s social media helping?
“It is helping publishers and readers reach out to specific interest groups... and discover content which would otherwise have been inaccessible traditionally,” says Rajdeep Mujherjee, managing director, Pan Macmillan India. Agrees Resh Susan, who runs the popular Instagram account @thebooksatchel, dedicated to books.
Besides “finding similar-minded readers”, one “can tweet” to an “author and “the author might respond”, and one also has access to “behind-the-scene publishing processes” which adds an appeal, and motivates readers to value books. “For example if we love thrillers, there is very little probability that we have real life friends who love thrillers. [They might have interest in other genres]. But social media helps bridge that gap in time and region and brings together like-minded people,” says Susan, adding that posts about “book tours , cover design process, et cetera, further romanticize” it all.
The reach that social media wields is yet another factor. “Social media has certainly helped reach a wider audience. It has proved to be an extremely valuable method of communication for me,” says author Sudeep Chakravarti. “It is also allowing micro-influencers to access niche audiences,” says Sundaramurti.
However, author Durjoy Datta says it is just one more platform to market the book, but, asks, “Does it help sell more movie tickets just because an actor is on social media?” Author Sumana Roy echoes the sentiment, “Posts about books on social media fill me with two unrelated emotions.They remind me of a moment in cultural history – such as the series of paintings of 200 years, of the ‘Woman Reading’ – and what it might say about us. These photos are all part of a growing archive of the ‘Common Reader’ – but they’re empty in that we have no sense of how the reader is reading. I watch a lot of food programmes on YouTube – I don’t cook any of the things I watch being cooked. These book-related posts sometimes remind me of that.”
However author Anuj Tiwari, says it’s about “how good you are not just at writing but also creative” when it comes to harnessing the power of social media to sell books. “I sold more than 3,000 copies in the streets of Mumbai when my first book was released in 2012, which is just five per cent of what I sell today through social media,” he illustrates.
“I think social media can be used more effectively by authors but it’s early days yet,” says Sundaramurti. Mago says an ideal scenario is when social media’s “sales strategies are not detrimental to the philosophy of ‘our favourite corner bookstore’”. “The ideal situation that all book retailers in India look forward to is parity in the discount structure offered on multiple platforms. That would provide level playing field for all, and has already happened, for example, in France,” says Mago.
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