A virtual book nook

From last year’s book fair at YMCA grounds, Nandanam.  File Photo PICHUMANI K

From last year’s book fair at YMCA grounds, Nandanam. File Photo PICHUMANI K

The Chennai Book Fair might have missed its January date with the metro. But a group of publishers have come together to open a new chapter online.

People leading six book houses are driving this SaaS company, Virtual Book Fair (VBF), that opened its first book fest on January 14. They are Gandhi Kannadhasan of Kannadhasan Pathippagam; Pugalendi Subbiah of Sixthsense Publications; Kannan Sundaram of Kalachuvadu Pathippagam; Badri Seshadri of New Horizon Media, Murali Kannadhason of The Write Publishing and Karthikeyan Pugalendi of Vanavil Puthakalayam.

Faced with dipping sales due to the pandemic, the core team has been drawing up plans, conducting demos to show peers in the book industry why digital presence is important and why “VBF is more a survival” in the new normal.

Kannan Sundaram illustrates with some data points on the huge gap between the Tamil publishing industry and the global market. “The total number of Tamil book titles available in Amazon would be around 9,000. The corresponding number at the Chennai Book Fair would be way, way higher. Publishers who convert titles into ebooks are in the same boat; you will find that there would be less than 15 as against 200,” says Kannan.

VBF is trying to bridge this gap with a host of tech features that it is introducing in publishing, promotions and sales. And, this starts by helping standard readers to browse titles and offer information that saves their time.

Beyond book fairs

The start-up is not against physical book fairs. In fact, it is only going to replicate the features of a physical book fair in the virtual world but with added interactive features.

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Like a publisher can get a storefront and display books their way. One can get help in converting books into digital format.

Murali Kannadasan, who represents the third generation in the business, says the book fair is only 10 percent of VBFs core goals. “What we are trying to create is a business to business model as publishing a book in various languages will bring ten-fold income,” he says.

VBF will not run through the year; only two-three times a year. Rest of the time only information would be available. “Summer and monsoon are when our sales drop, that is when we would activate it,” says Murali.

“The platform will be listing out certified translators in various languages, bring young talent who designing books, provide proof readers and offer author portfolio,” says Murali, who comes from a marketing background.

Another tech feature it will be incorporating soon is to allow a browser to read 20-30% of the book and allow him/her to decide whether they want to buy the print copy or go with audio or ebook, says Murali.

Badri Seshadri says eCommerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart are successful but all do not give a fair chance to all. Most booksellers cannot stock a huge print order, with the net result that many good books in Tamil get little exposure. “We plan to get the publisher so that he/she plays a role in listing the titles, that is going to make a big difference between VBF and eCommerce sites,” says Seshadri.

Lessons to be learnt

For bibliophiles, the platform promises to be a forum for interaction with writers.

“Book previews and links to all formats of the book (eBook, audiobook and other adaptations) would be available. Currently, as we are in the process of onboarding publishers and we have unlocked only the shopping carts. Other features will open up as more people come in,” says Karthikeyan Pugalendi, who quit his corporate job to continue the family business.

Another aspect of VBF is that publishers can virtually participate in book fairs happening outside their city. “We are in talks with various book fair organisers and associations to give us a space in a physical fair,” says Karthikeyan.

The road ahead

The road to setting up this platform has not been easy. The team has faced a lot of resistance from some publishers who think digital will further take a toll on the printed word due to piracy and the RoI factor. “Some argued that they have their own ecommerce stores and taking a stall in VBF will sabotage their chances of selling but that is not the case. It is high time we adapted as this is the new normal,” says Karthikeyan.

For the platform to see some success, it needs patronage of various stakeholders. The fair so far has been made free for all the publishers coming on board. “We want them to experience and decide whether they feel digital is the future,” he says.

VBF is planned for a pan-India audience. It has started the ground work for onboarding publishers from other regional languages, they say.

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Printable version | May 26, 2022 8:34:27 pm |