Considering the sale of 3,000 poetry books at the two-day Bengaluru Poetry Festival, one would assume that sales of poetry books, in general, are quite good. But poets, publishers and booksellers collectively lamented that poetry is often dubbed “unrealistic and dramatically intellectual” compared to prose.
Hence, poetry books are the least sold, say booksellers, and this chain reaction has most publishers throwing up their hands in total despair.
“We have often published books with poems — single author and collectives. We tried them in all combinations for six years with many titles. Nearly 500 books are now relegated to the godown,” said a New Delhi-based publisher and a bookseller.
Art for art’s sake is not financially viable, say bookstore owners. “There is no reason why we have to be answerable to questions on social responsibility. We have a few titles on our shelves, but with just about 16-10 books being sold in two years, it does not translate to money. We are not rich enough for rotations and trials,” said Janaki Vallabh, whose bookstore in Orissa got him nothing from poetry books.
This was also the echoing opinion during the panel discussion on “Who reads poetry and what is the market” on the second and concluding day of the poetry festival here on Sunday.
“If we do have poetry connoisseurs why are booksellers shy of stacking them? With poetry books not in the reckoning, bookstores and publishers don’t generally see a match in the publishing-sale-economics. In the history of poetry book sales it was Karthika Nair’s ‘Until The Lions,’ a reinterpretation of the Mahabharata that went into a re-print record. In all we have sold about 600 titles on poetry on an average. But we sure know that as a publisher with a literary list without having titles on poems, we would be incomplete,” said V.K. Karthika, Chief Editor, HarperCollins.
But does that make poetry less important? “Poetry is a cult, the fact that there are lesser readers don’t make it less important,” said poet Vivek Narayanan, who added that marketing goes flak when there is no demand.
Sometimes, even the small number of connoisseurs don’t find their pick. “Poetry books are inconspicuous at bookstores,” said Mumbai-based Marathi poet and publisher Hemant Divate, adding that what was available was what could be sold.