Almost fifty days since Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced that ₹500 and ₹1000 ceased to remain legal tender – or as the media termed it, ‘demonetisation’ – and large parts of the country are still reeling from his decision’s impact.
While the disruption has affected all aspects of daily life, we decided to specifically take a look at after-effects on the publishing, especially areas such as casual labour-intensive tasks, freight and sales of books in metros and smaller cities.
Ravi Deecee, CEO of one of the largest publishers in Kerala, DC Books, said, ‘Unlike in the metro cities and other urban suburbs, book sales has been affected considerably. The demonetization effects still ripples across, even today, because of the kind of statements being made by the Central Government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which makes the people afraid of spending money and instead save it for the future.’
In large bookstores in metro cities, however, the impact on sales was felt for only the first couple of weeks. ‘We saw a dip of nearly 25-30 per cent in sales in the first fortnight,’ said Kinjal Shah, CEO, Crossword Bookstores.
Ravi DC said smaller cities were the worst affected, with sales having dipped ‘more than 30 per cent’. ‘The numbers are yet to show any signs of major improvement,’ he said.
To stimulate sales, booksellers have taken measures towards digital transactions and seen some benefits. Mobile wallet applications such as PayTM, Freecharge, Mobikwik have seen a surge in downloads and usage.
Crossword has had a working partnership with Freecharge for the past two years, Shah said. ‘Sixty per cent of our transactions were earlier through credit cards. Post demonetisation, they have now increased to about 75-80 per cent,’ he said.
Landmark, another retail bookstore chain, too, saw a surge in card usage. ‘Earlier, credit cards comprised 60 per cent of our transactions. That figure has now gone up to 90 per cent,’ said V. Rajesh, a spokesperson from Landmark. He added that October-December was the peak season and no major changes were observed.
Apart from sales, another area which is experiencing the ramifications of the move, perhaps most deeply, is the printing of books. ‘In terms of production, most tasks are automated but certain things involving casual labour – transport, stickering – are always managed via cash,’ said Amit Sharma, general manager, HarperCollins India.
Small and medium-sized printing presses are experiencing a shortage of labour due to non-availability of cash, he said. ‘Even if semi-skilled labourers are paid via cheque, they need to eventually encash it one day. That’s when they could face a lot of hassle in sending the money back home, to their folks in villages and small towns,’ he added.
The other change, Sharma pointed out, was that printing presses (and therefore publishing) could face in the coming days, was the rising cost of paper. Raw material required for book production continue to be traded only in cash.
The long-term benefit of this move in the future could be a level playing field for A-level and B-level presses. ‘Our appetite for new technology was dying due to the unfair competition created due to cash-enabled illegal activities. Now that these [activities] have been stopped, ethical printing presses will be happier,’ Sharma said.
‘Business will return to normal in the next few months,’ Crossword’s Kinjal Shah said. ‘Disruption is the new normal.’