With no guest country, the New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF) 2017 was a mixed affair. Publishers and booksellers generally make good profits at NDWBF, but there were some for whom sales realities did not meet with their expectations. The positive takeaway was that in 2018, European Union will be the guest country, as announced by representative at the inauguration by its Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Mahendranath Pandey. About 800 publishers took part this year. Tomasz Kozlowski, Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Union to India was the special guest on the occasion.

He said that publishing industry is flourishing in India. Indian industry is one of top six countries in the world. He also mentioned that Indian literature is widely read in Europe and literature in different Indian languages like Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil has been translated into European languages including Polish. Putting the reason for the fair being a tame affair down to demonetisation, Ravinder from Tulika Publishers said, ‘We haven’t yet been issued a POS machine from our bank, although it’s been more than two months since we applied for it, nor do we have Paytm facility. Some customers were unwilling to pay in cash, and we suffered this year because of that.’ Those armed with POS and other means of cashless transaction were the ones who profited somewhat. But cash crunch did impact and many complained the reluctance of banks in issuing POS terminals which resulted in a fall of their sales. However, a large number of Merchant Copy Transaction Slips of POS Terminals were seen piled up on the billing desks of various publishing houses. Speaking Tiger claimed that their overall sales was as usual in comparison to the last year, whereas Prakashan Sansthan, which largely publishes books in Hindi complained about the reluctance of PSU Banks in issuing POS terminals and said their loss exceeded rupees one lakh.

Referring to the stalls where low-priced books (3 for Rs 100 and its likes) are available, one of which was present right at the entrance to the Children’s Pavilion in Hall 14, Vipin Bajaj of Scholars Hub pointedly asked, ‘How come such kabadiwaalas get prime location every year when stalls are allotted through a lottery system? And what kind of an impression does it give having such stalls present at a world book fair?’ And this, in spite of NBT issuing regulations against publishers to not offer discounts higher than 10 per cent. But as one such stall owner puts it, ‘We don’t publish these books. They’re all from foreign publishers and we merely procure them at lower prices and then sell it here.’ Penguin India says as many as 5,000 books were stolen from their stall in 2016. They have this year, therefore, invested in electronic article surveillance

technology and their 55,000 books all had chips embedded. In the first few days of the fair they claimed to have caught 50 booklifters. On searching at the exit, these ‘educated thieves’ also gave up cellphones stolen at the fair.

Another area where NBT should focus on is getting the food arrangements right. ‘The food here is rubbish and costly, which makes no sense. The present options are nothing short of deplorable, and having such high-priced low-quality food is not what you want visitors to remember the book fair for,’ Dev Raj of Katha Publications said. Granted that people come to NDWBF not for food but books, however reading and eating aren’t always mutually exclusive. If you give space to vendors to set-up food stalls, at least make sure to hold it to international standards.

NBT should also pay more attention to serve the parking needs of publishers and stall owners. Exhibitors occupying a single stall weren’t issued any car parking space, whereas bigger publishers with a larger tent were allotted 4-5 car parking spaces, making the distribution a disproportionate one. In fact, there were some single stall exhibitors who had borrowed parking pass from other larger exhibitors because they had extra passes lying around. The New Delhi World Book Fair, which was organised from 7-15 January 2017, is one of the most iconic and awaited book fairs in the world, or so we tell ourselves. But since it’s an ‘international’ book fair, India should hold herself to higher standards and it was obvious NBT-ITPO have a long way to go before they can congratulate themselves on achieving something along the lines of Frankfurt Book Fair, or London Book Fair etc.

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