Publishers and distributors are exploring new ways to popularise non-educational and reference books among students in the face of inadequate funds being set aside by schools and colleges for such books.

Office-bearers of the Tamil Nadu Library Suppliers Association, which has 78 distributors in the State as its members, say a number of educational institutions are reluctant to increase their budget and collection of books every academic year. While government-run schools and colleges are dependent on a fixed amount as funds for the purpose, private institutions ask for heavy discounts eating substantially into the margins of the publishers and distributors, they say.

According to V. Shankar, president of the Association, the government provides about Rs.3,000 for every department of a government college for purchasing books in an academic year, but this amount has not been revised for over a decade now.

“Similarly the School Education Department procures 15,000 books to be distributed to as many as 250 schools in a year, making the other institutions wait for their turn next year. Of this, only 10 per cent are English books,” says Mr. Shankar. His company supplies to nearly 600 schools and colleges, with some of them spending between Rs.1,000 and Rs.5,000 on the books, he says.

Association members say while educational institutions are one of their biggest market, a majority of them ask for discount – some even up to 40 per cent.

Reaching out to students directly is increasingly becoming the marketing strategy of quite a number of publishers, who set shop on school campuses with an array of books in different price range and at discounted rates.

The publishers offer books to the school library in lieu of the rent for the space provided to them for the exhibition.

Since schools reopened earlier this month, publishing house Scholastic India conducted four book fairs. Coordinators marketing the books say the exhibitions serve as a platform to showcase new books, which the school does not have in its library.

“Initially, schools were hesitant as they thought it was the publisher who would be gaining. Now, many of them are opening up as the schools have also started realising the benefits that they will get round the year,” says Tahsin Chacko, Regional Manager (South India), Scholastic India.

Similarly New Horizon Media is also organising book fairs. It plans to connect with 1,000 schools this year.

There is some purchase happening at institutions, may be Rs.10,000 on an average, but that is very less for the range of non-educational and reference books available in the market. Attracting children is a better proposition when schools are reluctant to spend, says Badri Seshadri, publisher and managing director, New Horizon Media, which pre-dominantly sells Tamil titles.

According to officials of the School Education Department, funds are not a constraint to improve facilities in school libraries; rather it is how schools implement them. Under the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) scheme schools libraries would be strengthened, said an official.

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