Kochi: "India sells most number of books in the world...," BBC's reporter admitted very reluctantly in front of the Kolkata International Book Festival in February.
India with its 13 syllables and 22 languages outshining the London and Frankfurt book festivals in publishing and sales was reported with disbelief in European media.
Indian achieved 19% growth in publishing last year. In Kerala, book shops in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode confirm the trend of the youth buying more books.
Today, the Kolkata book festival sees the highest turnout of visitors among the book festivals across the world. This year, 20 lakh people visited the festival. Eight hundred publishes took part in the festival spread across 15 acres at Kolkata's Salt Lake.
Those exhibiting in the book festivals have their own sales theory. About 80% of visitors aim to buy a new book if they like it. About 50% would leave disappointed. About 40% of visitors buy books. Ten per cent visit just to collect details of new books. Those who spend the most amount of time in an exhibition are from this 10% group. They are very reluctant to buy books from festivals. Kothamangalam native K S Sriram is a representative of this group in Kochi. He reads both English and Malayalam books.
"Reading has shifted to e-reader. Why waste so much money on printed books when you get e-books for half the price. The new generation also thinks about sparing trees when ones buys e-books. Buy 30 books, and the discounts help offset the money spent on e-reader," says Sriram on why he doesn't buy books from festivals.
"Besides, Malayalam books that do not have their electronic versions yet are available from online stores at a better rate than book festivals.
"But book festivals have their own charm. The feel of a new book can only be felt in an exhibition. Besides, some books that nobody had heard about could be found at the festivals and they could be attractive due to the unusual topics they tackle. Such books may be brought out by unheard of publishers.
"It will be impossible to find such books once the festivals are over. You need to buy them there itself. But one has to spend hours to find that special book. If you like to indulge in such book hunting, then time flies inside a festival venue," he says.
Bashir's book shop
The most famous book seller in Kochi was one of Malayalam's greatest writers - Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. Basheer was also the only seller who used to give books for free to hardcore book lovers to read.
Today, Kochi has more than 100 book stores and malls. Though Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of academic books, books on literature and science fiction are sold more in Kochi.
Since Kochi is now a stopover destination for globally known writers, reading has acquired a new-found glamor.
These days it is easy to know how good a book is. If you spot a new title at a festival, you can find its review online. You can also visit online stores to check how popular is a book. The new generation also doesn't shy away from bargaining with book stall owners by showing the online price tags of books.
These days books festivals are not just sales points. There are several other attractions like getting to meet writers, cultural debates, speeches, film screenings and food courts, resulting in rising footfalls and longer stays within the venue.
A festival for libraries
The grant allocated to libraries these days is decent enough to be made public! Though many libraries have to stock useless books due to compulsions from various quarters, book festivals are a god-send for them to source some quality books.
Various government publishers are also embracing change to stay afloat in the business. Most of them publish books with cheaper price tags. Browse through the catalogue of the Kerala Bhasha Institute to know how rich and varied its titles are.