India’s North East Book Fair sees heavy footfall but few buyers for local-language titles

The Northeast Book Fair, held under the aegis of the All Assam Publishers and Book Sellers Association, wound up its twelve day run yesterday.

No final figures yet (I’ll update with any further news) but at the half-way point AAPBSA general secretary Dhiraj Goswami had said visitor numbers had exceeded 80,000 and sales worth Rs. 60 lakhs ($84,000) had been made.

With 172 publishers participating there’s a fair range of titles available, but – in marked contrast to the trend in online sales – few takers for local-language content.

At least, that was the impression of the Publishers and Booksellers Guild (PBG) , which has been involved with the Northeast Book fair since its inception, although from reports it would seem the PBG was not offering Assamese titles, so that may not be a fair reflection.

Publishers from Bangladesh also found the Guwahati fair sluggish, saying that while they attend over a dozen Indian book fairs each year, the Northeast Book Fair looked unlikely to be worthwhile for them and they would focus elsewhere next year.

Regional language content is a huge opportunity for publishers selling online, where geographical boundaries evaporate, but more of a challenge at regional events.

But criticism was also made of the kind of content being published in regional languages, with one attendee suggesting authors and publishers had only themselves to blame. Dr Dhrubajyoti Bora, former president of Asom Sahitya Sabha, said in scathing tones,

It is seen in recent times that there is less recognition of Assamese writers and poets, it is also a factor attributing less creation in Assamese language. It is rather stupid to write for winning prizes and laurels. Compliments in form of awards and prizes will follow genuine works.

It’s a chicken and egg problem for local-language content. While authors can easily self-publish in India, reaching readers is more of a problem.

Amazon, for example, now lets authors publish ebooks, but not print, in a handful of local languages but most Indian languages are still a no-go area on Amazon, while Apple and Nook are not available as ebook platforms in India.

Getting books into print can be costly and distribution online challenging, and all the more so for authors and small publishers wanting to reach readers through bookstores.

While India’s myriad book fairs and festivals, the biggest of which can attract over 2 million visitors a time, are a great way to connect with readers, the costs (not just participation fees but associated logistics) can be prohibitive.

Most publishers and authors will be heading for the Big Two Indian book fairs – the Kolkata International Book Fair and the New Delhi World Book Fair, both happening in January.

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