The ‘holy’ book!

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Will paper books remain as ‘alive’ and ‘holy’ tomorrow in the big wheel of digital media, finds out Sahil Gupta, director, V&S Publishers. Indian publishers need to realize that it is not a question of ‘Print’ vs. ‘Digital’. It is in fact a question of the survival of the ‘book’ as a concept, as a bundle of knowledge, as an expertly edited masterpiece. The Indian book publishing industry, valued at nearly Rupees 11,000 crore, is witnessing a healthy 15 percent annual growth despite the slump in the worldwide market and threat from digital media, says a recent Frankfurt Book Fair study. The India growth story presents a unique scenario much like its culture that allows both the old and the new to co-exist. Digital publishing here complements conventional publishing unlike western nations where ebooks have edged out printed ones or are close to doing it. With the widespread use of computers and computer-assisted book production, publishers have truly entered the ‘electronic age’. With print runs for each title getting smaller and fixed printing cost remaining unchanged, the cost of production goes up proportionally, making books expensive for consumers. Besides, small printing that doesn’t allow for economies of scale means higher unit prices and lower sales – thus falling into a vicious cycle.

Innovation has blurred the boundaries of books and digital media so much so that a question arises as to what constitutes a book in the digital age. Right from the time of early hand written books to Gutenberg’s printing press to this day, a book continues to be a compilation of bound pages, holding content that is expertly written, correctly edited containing some valuable information or insight. That’s the concept we have grown up with. However, with the advancement of technology and its ever-increasing adoption (especially in the publishing industry), the concept of the ‘Book’ has changed completely both from the point of view of the consumer and the publisher. And as has happened with other media forms, digital technology has started altering the image of books we are used to. By facilitating navigation to digital media through CDs, even Indian publishers are trying to adjust to the shape of things to come.

Are printed books becoming a part of the whole gamut of reading sources available on different formats? With various options becoming available in the market, has the time come to debate if printed books moving to a higher degree of convenient reading? Or are losing their touch and feel charm among technology-driven reading platforms?

Technology is a boon for any industry. However, it must be adapted with caution so as not to sacrifice the human touch or the human expertise from the whole process. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in the Indian publishing industry. They are adopting the latest technology in their publishing processes and have shifted the focus from publishing a ‘book’ to creation of a ‘project’. Now how to distinguish between the two? Simply, a book forms a small part of the whole project. Yes, the project, with its various multimedia and interactive elements, might prove to be a better experience to the consumer. However, the basic idea of a book and its sanctity is lost. The book has been in existence since long solely because it became a tool for delivering knowledge. Shifting the focus to delivering more of ‘junk’ and less of expert content is a controversial choice.

Would a person a few decades down the line consider the appearance, aroma, feel and weight of a book the way we do today or visualize it as one of the many options available among reading entities?

Media formats likewise are switching to other frontiers for fast, easy and improved access. Digital publishers are utilizing new tools to create a variety of formats to dazzle readers with novel outlook. They are inventing ways to enhance the utility of a traditional book, with things like hyperlinks, embedded videos, games, conversations, etc. They plan to go further to offer experience of pleasant reading unhindered by the present day limit of one shape, one font, and one size of the book on paper. The meaning of story-telling has changed drastically.

Doomsayers may wonder if books would continue to be printed on paper. Will printed books survive the multimedia onslaught? Books, as we know today will not vanish in the foreseeable future in India. It would be presumptuous to consider that books -on-the-web, e-books or other digital formats are a looming threat to paper-printed books in India. Digital media available today act as a fanciful complementary for Smartphone or Kindle owning readers and nothing more.

Indian publishers need to realize that it is not a question of ‘Print’ vs. ‘Digital’. It is in fact a question of the survival of the ‘book’ as a concept, as a bundle of knowledge, as an expertly edited masterpiece. The importance of the editorial segment should not be neglected. It’s not about how flashy or attractive the title is. What ultimately matters is content. The bottom line is that ‘The Book’ must remain as HOLY as it has always been.

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