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Coronavirus opens Nepali publishing industry to immense possibilities of e-books

KATHMANDU

The three months of lockdown had given most Nepalis ample time to do things that they like, reading being one. However, the Nepali publishing industry that has been promoting Nepali literature as well as Nepali writers has been facing backlog as well as financial crisis with the lockdown in place.

Printing presses were shut. No new books hit the market, and with bookstores remaining shut there was practically no distribution or sales of books.

“The three-month lockdown has brought all publishing work to standstill, though editorial and illustration work are being carried out. Printing, promoting and releasing of books have been halted,” shares Ajit Baral, Co-founder of FinePrint.

They had a few books including the Nepali translation of actor Manisha Koirala’s Healed ready for release when the lockdown was clamped.

Nepalaya too faced a similar situation — three books were ready for release at the time of the lockdown out of which two were in the godown and one in the press.

“This lockdown has created a backlog,” shares Nepalaya’s Kiran Shrestha. Moreover, he fears that they might not be able to cover the backlog this year.

“Let’s see” — is his stance for now.

For writers as well as publishers to make a profit “you need to sell books every day” as per Shrestha, but that has not been the case during the lockdown with markets closed and no distribution of books or sales.

“Nepal has small publishing houses — if revenue is not generated, there will be deep financial crisis. And there was no revenue in the last three months,” Baral explains.

With the publishing industry and market grinding to a stop, the royalty for writers has also stopped.

“It means the regular royalty for authors that came in about one to three months has stopped for full-time writers like me,” shares author Amar Nyaupane.

With no certainty as to when things will get back to normal and running, Baral opines it is going to be difficult to run the business. As such “we might have to adopt cost-cutting measures,” he shares.

Impending impacts

The effects of lockdown on Nepal’s publishing industry will not only be immediate but may have ripple effects in the long run. This might be evident in the works the publishing houses will put out in the future.

“We will invest in fewer books, we will sign less writers, and there will be less initial prints of a title,”

Baral shares about how the lockdown is going to affect them in the immediate future.

“If we were printing 25 books a year, the number of titles will be 20 or 15. If the initial prints were 5,000, it will go down to 3,000 or 2,000.”

This move will have to be undertaken because publishers might not have money to invest, Baral cites.

It might be the same with readers.

They might not have surplus money to buy books due to the economic recession.

“For people who buy books after fulfilling all other needs it will be difficult. Our books will be sold less. The revenue will be less for writers,” Baral divulges.

Suresh Shrestha, Acting Director of Ratna Books, shares that the whole cycle of production, distribution and sales of books was halted during the lockdown.

And so was the capital. This will affect the completion of the committed and future projects, he adds citing financial restrain.

He however believes that they will slowly pick up.

The Nepali publishing industry was thriving and one could survive through writing. However, the current situation has pushed it few years back, according to Baral.

Towards e-books

The lockdown has thrown a curveball, but Kiran Shrestha has tried to “find a solution within the problem and that environment”.

Nepalaya has used the lockdown as an opportunity to take the Nepali publishing industry to a new horizon of e-commerce and e-platforms with online bookseller Thuprai that launched their e-book solution on April 23.

“When the market was closed and there was no activity, our books were selling every day.

It was quite an interesting observation,” he adds.

According to him, they had tested various platforms developed locally in the past which couldn’t be continued due to technical glitches.

There was a demand for an e-platform of Nepali literature using Nepali payment gateway, shares Thuprai’s co-founder Dipesh Acharya. So, they came up with the Nepali e-book solution earlier than they had planned, when physical bookstores were closed and books were not being home-delivered.

Nepalaya was convinced of their new e-book solution and now all of their titles are available on the app. Kiran Shrestha shares, they saw more than 1,000 copies of their books being bought as e-books on Thuprai during the past month of the lockdown.

There are books from other Nepali publishing houses available on Thuprai as well.

With the commencement of the e-book trend, Kiran Shrestha believes Nepali publication has entered the e-commerce space which is a “positive gesture”.

Baral observes that people had time to read books during the lockdown, “but book stores were closed. This led people to read online and look for e-books to read,” he says.

The lockdown inspired people to read online, and his lockdown experience made him realise the need for e-books. He felt that “if we had gone for e-books in the past, we could have sold them during the lockdown”.

So, he plans to start making e-books of their physical books at full speed in the near future. “The majority of publishers in Nepal have not gone for e-books, but the lockdown has directed us to it. One advantage of e-books is that we will be able to cater and reach the larger populace of Non-Resident Nepalis.”

After reading 16 books from his bookshelf, 25-year-old Nishant Khanal was directed to online and electronic mode of reading on his cellphone and laptop as he sought to read more during the lockdown.

“I had no choice,” shares Khanal who reads books ranging from Nepali fiction to politics and economics. As such he read PDF versions of books or e-books on Kindle when the books he wanted to read were not available in hard copy.

The resident of Gyaneshwore enjoyed his new reading method and believes one should get used to the e-reading to get a hang of it.

And people like Khanal look for alternatives in times of crisis like this, opined author Nyaupane, who also sees immense possibility in e-books as well as audiobooks at times like this. “These will be added to the whole reading picture, but traditional books won’t go away because it is like meeting people in person,” the Seto Dharti writer shares.

Content for writers

If you look at e-platforms created abroad, there have been many authors who publish themselves on Kindle without help from publishers.

This might replicate here in Nepal for writers, believes Kiran Shrestha with Thuprai offering a self-publishing platform.

“This will open up the horizons for new writers to democratically publish their books, and for readers too. I am looking at it in a positive way,” he adds.

Any tragedy like an earthquake or war or disease add stories to people’s life and this is usually evident in literary works.

“Coronavirus too has been added to people’s life. The same way 10 years of civil war added stories to people’s life, it will also add stories to theirs and bring a climax,” opines Nyaupane.

As such coronavirus will be seen as a supporting story or reference or main story in the literature to come, as per him. “If this (coronavirus) is left out, a time period in the world will be left out. A part of life will be left out.”


A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 26, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.


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