On the surface, it appears to be business as usual at the 37th Chennai Book Fair organised at YMCA grounds, Nandanam.

The past weekend has seen good turnout, and as the curtains get ready to come down this Wednesday, it is bound to be celebrated as another successfully-conducted edition of the calendar event.

But the newly appointed office-bearers of Bapasi (Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India) know the publishing fraternity has little time to bask in such small victories.

The threats and opportunities arising out of e-commerce have the vernacular publishing industry on tenterhooks. “The Tamil publishing industry has so far resisted the push to e-commerce but we can’t be like this forever,” says K.S. Pugazhendi, general secretary, Bapasi. “Some publishers don’t even have email addresses.”

In what are important first steps towards embracing the digital, Bapasi has started with conducting the current Chennai Book Fair a little differently: for starters, the stall allocation for the floor was done by an automated software process rather than the more laborious draw of lots; a software was developed to issue computerised tickets that would also create a database of visitors and also generate a pattern of footfalls through the day, but this was discontinued within the first two days as the tickets were not being issued quickly and led to unrest in the queues; and for the first time Bapasi also had mobile applications in both Android and iOS platforms for the book fair that listed all the publishers, their stall numbers and where to find them on the floor plan.

But there is still a long way to go, and more importantly there is a huge opportunity within striking distance, say Bapasi office-bearers.

Badri Seshadri, executive committee member of Bapasi and publisher of New Horizon Media, says the immediate target can be creating a digital database of all the books of all Tamil publishers and also sensitise them on how a simple technology like QR Code can be published in all Tamil books to lead the customers right back to online portals and e-commerce websites that feature their entire catalogues.

A few e-commerce portals like Panuval.com are already attempting to take Tamil publishers beyond brick and mortal sales.

One of Panuval’s managers, K. Mukundan, says though there is an initial enthusiasm about online business, some Tamil publishers do not even have ISBN (international standard book number), which is an essential basic for online business, assigned to their books.

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