For the past six decades, Rajiv Gupta’s family has been selling school and college textbooks from their store in Delhi, Nai Sarak, one of the largest school book markets in the country. The store, which saw a never-ending stream of students before the outbreak of the pandonavirus pandemic (Covid-19), has hardly any customers these days.
“Few parents come to buy books for their children these days. My sales have dropped 70% this year, ”says Gupta.
The continued closure of schools and other educational institutions due to the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to the textbook industry. Booksellers and publishers saw an unprecedented decline in their business after decades of robust growth.
According to Nielsen’s India Book Market Report published in 2015, there were about 21,000 booksellers and about 9,000 publishers in India, of which 8,107 published books for schools, colleges and universities. Textbooks accounted for about 70% of the book market in India – the school and college book market was 18,600 crore and 5,600 crore, respectively, in 2013-14. According to the report, the K-12 book market is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 19.6% from 22,170 crore in 2014-15 to 54,190 crore in 2019-20.
But this otherwise exciting story of textbook publishing in India has taken a dire turn as sales for many well-known publishers are down as much as 50% year over year.
“Publishers sit on massive, unsold stocks. Last mile book sales have suffered since the coronavirus lockdown in March. Most publishers had shipped the books to dealers or bookstores, but they have not yet sold many of the stocks. Almost 30-40% of the stock could return in return, ”said Monica Malhotra Kandhari, Vice President of the Federation of Indian Publishers and General Manager of MBD Group, one of India’s oldest and largest publishers.
“Our sales were down 50% during this academic session,” said Ashwani Goyal, general manager of Goyal Publishers, one of the largest publishers of language learning books in the country.
Many in the industry say that one of the main reasons behind the drop in school book sales is also the fact that large numbers of migrant workers’ children in budget schools have returned to their villages and are unable to continue their education online. The point is approved by the owners of budget schools.
“Our schools had 400 children, most of them from low income migrant families, and we lost touch with 50% of them. We were only able to provide online education to about 30 children. Our fee is only Rs 700 for Grade 8 and Rs 400 for Kindergarten, still only 21 out of 400 children paid fees in the last month. Their families are struggling to survive; Education and books don’t seem to be their priority, ”says DP Sharma, who runs the Hastal Ved Pal Memorial School in Uttam Nagar, West Delhi, and has 150 budget schools, most of which have sprung up over the past two decades are. Most complain of thousands of “missing” students.
Bharat Arora, general secretary of the Unsupported Recognized Private Schools Action Committee, an association of private schools in Delhi, says that this year many private schools have also recommended digital books.
“Many private schools put the list of books on recommended websites and digital books in case the children couldn’t buy physical copies. The schools also posted chapters of various books online in April. There has never been such an online consumption of educational content, ”says Arora.
Ashwani Goyal said what also had an impact on sales was online piracy. “I’m surprised at the number of illegal PDFs of our printed books that are available online,” says Goyal, who has around 800 titles in circulation and is aimed at schoolchildren and students. In the last few months he has digitized most of his titles and made them available on e-reading platforms such as Bru.
Like many other publishers, Goyal believes that recycling old books during the April and May lockdown also affected sales. Aparajitha Gautam, president of the Delhi Parents Association, says the association aggressively promoted old book exchanges across the city through thousands of parent WhatsApp groups between March and May. “This helped children get books when all bookstores were closed and even e-commerce companies didn’t deliver books. After all, a large number of parents did not buy any new books at all, and many only bought a select few books other than notebooks, ”she says.
Ish Kapur, director of Dhanpat Rai Publications, says book sales have been affected differently in different parts of the country. “Textbook sales are particularly bad in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, both of which have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Sales of books for elementary school classes were particularly bad, ”says Kapur, whose publisher is known for its math books by RD Sharma. “Our sales have fallen by 25%. In our 70-year history, we have never seen such a decline in business. Sales of even our best-selling titles were affected, ”adds Kapur.
The school book industry has a sales and marketing strategy that is completely different from that of the specialist publishers in that it is oriented towards the school year.
Every October, representatives and vendors from various publishers visit schools across the country to meet principals and teachers and showcase their books.
“We contacted 70,000 schools last year. However, we are not sure we can do the same exercise this year as schools are still closed. Book production starts from August to September each year; But this year, with publishers sitting with inventory, it seems that only 10 to 20% of the production can take place, ”says Kandhari.
She talks about the future of printed textbooks in the post-Covid world and says that textbook publishers need to reinvent themselves. “A hybrid educational model with a mixture of online and one-to-one lessons will be the new normal. The textbooks will exist alongside digital learning content, ”says Kandhari.