Stay home and read with e-books in the time of COVID-19

Publishers are rolling out new reading lists during lockdown thanks to e-books

e-books-pixabay Representational Image | Pixabay

New books are the perfect prescription to lift even the deepest blue indigo cloud. The thrill of buying a book, turning its crisp pages to inhaling the scent of a fresh book is still a long way off,  but publishers have a new reading list to offer. Courtesy, the e-book.

“We’re living through times like we’ve never known before,” said Udayan Mitra, publisher, Literary, HarperCollins India, according to a press release. “Many things that we would take for granted have changed in the recent past. But reading, and writing, can never stop. The pleasure of reading a new book is like no other. Our newest books, their stories, ideas and emotions, will continue to reach you: for as a reader, you are never isolated from the human community.”

Harper Collins India has released three books to help readers glued to the page, even if it is only a virtual one. Taslima Nasreen’s Shameless, written in 2007 when she was under house arrest in Kolkata; read now at a time when the world is forced to remain like Nasreen indoors. The book is available on Amazon Kindle. For those looking for calmness in this age of uncertainty, there is Om Swami’s The Big Questions of Life. And then, a dose of fast with Shuttling to the Top: The Story of The Story of P.V. Sindhu by V. Krishnaswamy.

It has been a difficult month for publishers across the world. Bookstores are closed and warehouses inaccessible. The economic slowdown had already started to impact purchase of books. The COVID-19 lockdown extension is likely to only worsen the situation. Sales of e-books in India still have a long way to go. A miniscule fraction of the sales, the physical book in India is still king. Juggernaut, which has provided free access of content through its app, still publishes print versions of some of its books too.

“I believe there is opportunity even in adversity,” says Milee Ashwarya, publisher, Ebury Publishing and Vintage Publishing, Penguin Random House India. “It is better to be positive and find ways to make our books accessible to our readers. So although the supply chains have been disrupted during the lockdown and bookstores are shut, we are continuing our outreach with our e-book publishing programme.”

There has also been an attempt to tailor content in the time of COVID-19. “It is the job of publishers to keep changing content according to the situation,” says Managing Director of Rupa Publications Kapish Mehra. “Like there is a Diwali Special, there is also a lockdown special.”

Mehra, who likes to adapt to situations quickly, has rolled out 18 lockdown specials, including how not to get depressed and how to exercise. The need to go beyond the usual to predict the book that people will want to turn to is what publishers are now trying to do. With e-books, this is simpler. Ashwarya, has worked feverishly, pun unintended, to get The Coronavirus written by Dr Swapneil Parikh, Maherra Desai and Dr Rajesh Parikh. The book, which took a month to put together, has already met with some success. There is more for May. Building a Happy Family by Raageshwari Loomba, Reviving Jobs: Rethinking India with various contributors, and a racy The Princess and the Political Agent by Binodini, which has been translated by Somi Roy. In June, Penguin hopes to push out even more.

It is still early days, but the preliminary trends thrown up by Penguin Random House India shows that readers want to escape. Mythology, romance, well-being, spirituality and cookery are what people are turning to. History and autobiographies also popular topic. During the first few days of the lockdown, people wanted to read everything they could on COVID-19. However, as the lockdown continues, interest in cricket, politics and movies are turning. For now, stay home, stay calm and read.


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