WBF needs Publishers’ mentoring

One of the biggest events in Delhi’s winter calendar every January is the World Book Fair. In a display of great ambition, NBT and partner ITPO made this fair into an annual gettogether, with as many as 50 foreign participants and about 1.4 million visitors for the 10-day event. However, the question this year has been, is it up to the mark? Unfortunately, our reporters collected the general opinion, ‘the 2018 WBF was one of the most badly organised fairs’.
The well-known Hindi publisher Vani Prakashan which completes its 55 years this year in the publishing industry has participated in the World Book Fair since its beginning. ‘There is an urgent need to reform World Book Fair’. Vani’s much acclaimed CEO Arun Maheshwari minced no words in saying catagorically, ‘a committee of participating publishers must be constituted by the organisers who can supervise the fair’.

Organisers keep making placatory remarks, ‘world fairs don’t come to India’ and ‘we want to make our fair venue world class’. Its 45 years and yet a book fair in its 26th edition cannot be brought to order. There were no rains this year, but the usual complaints were louder, the washrooms were dirtier, there was no drinking water. Raman Kumar Choudhary from Prakashan Sansthan told Book Link, ‘There is no arrangement for drinking water in the Fair. The lavatories are unhygienic. We have been participating in the fair since its early days but never faced difficulties like this. Even when stall fee has been his hiked, we feel cheated’.

Sources tell us there was less money spent on providing facilities, but again, it begs reiteration these are basics that should never be affected by budgetary cuts, more than a million visit this fair.

The fair took place in just three-four halls, so it should have been easier for people to get to the exhibition, but participant publishers noted that there were no gate entry specifications for the WBF, so for visitors it was long walks in the rubble-strewn complex before they got to the fair. There was food inside the halls and exhausted visitors just ate and left, without seeing the stalls on display.

WBF: Profitable but not world class as it should be

WBF needs Publishers’ mentoring

The India Trade Promotion Organisation are the owners of the iconic Pragati Maidan, the venue of the World Book Fair for 25 years. Parts of the song ‘Lagan Lagi’ from 2003’s Tere Naam film was shot at the premises of the famous Hall of Nations, that has gone since 2017. The razing to the ground of pavilions within the trade fair maidan, set up in 1972, is part of a Rs 2600 crore renovation plan. The cconstruction major Shapoorji Pallonji will take at least two years to redevelop the complex. One wonders why the NDWBF, with more than a million visitors, was held amidst this dust and din? Whose decision was it and why, the mentors for NDWBF being National Book Trust and ITPO, both government organisations. Can the reading public be enlightened?

Dump Sales: The The publishers were flanked on the right of them and left of them by reject sellers. Eventually, the New Delhi World Book Fair was ‘a dumping ground’ for cheap books, denying genuine publishers a level playing field. Novels were being sold at a dirt cheap price of two for Rs 100 or even Rs 50. As a student visitor remarked, ‘kitaab to chai se sasti hai’. Good for NBT since promoting reading is their goal. In that case they should say, managing the NDWBF is not within their capabilities.

This time there was a hike of 20 per cent in stall fees. Sonavi Desai of Indus Books said, ‘We have all the way from Mumbai to participate in the fair. This low-cost dumping has hurt our sales badly. Imagine, we are not even able to meet our expenses. NBT authorities must also consider reducing stall fees at least for those participants who come from different cities’.

In one hall, if there are more than 20 such dump-stalls, the whole of NBT’s stall allocation operation comes into question. A few years ago, they said, allocations are through a lottery that is computerized. If it’s a lottery and computerized, how are publishers placed alphabetically and wellknown names dumped into corners? And how is it the dump-stalls get prime display space? Book Link reporters counted more than 50 dump-stalls in the various halls. How did that happen? Even when there is lack of space?

If more money is the operative word, how is it that people coughing up 20 per cent more in stall fees got fewer display poles and had to contend with dumpsters on either sides? Its unbelievable that in 2018 the stall allotment procedure is so opaque, despite the computerization.

NBT officials coughed up their pet lines, ‘We take all action against them’. What has actually been the action ITPO-NBT taken? Over the past two years, these stalls inside the halls have only grown, turning the WBF into a market for rejects and fake books. At WBF 2018, even Pranab Mukherjee’s, the President’s, biography, was being sold without an ISBN on the cover.

One needs to look at who comprise the Fair Administration Committee, how have they allowed it? How have the seven federations not cracked down on this? Infighting in the federations are well-known in the industry, also that the federations are the same people rotating offices for more than two decades who don’t even have a proper media-briefing system in place. All this need to change, for India to have a worldclass book fair.

NBT Director Rita Chowdhury has said, next year NDWBF may be held at another venue and NBT is looking at other options. Change of venue does not necessarily mean level playing field for publishers. It is the management of the fair that needs looking into deeply.

And by representatives of major publishing houses that are paying through their nose to showcase themselves at this fair. A committee of participating publishers must be constituted by the organisers who can supervise the fair.