With the economy returning to normalcy, publishers hope business will gain momentum soon
"It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover," said a reader with visible satisfaction on her face when asked about her recent favourite books. On asking further about the books she likes, the list mostly consisted of foreign novels. Not a single Nepali novel made it to her recent favourite collection. The case is the same for most of the readers at present. Nepali readers these days are greatly inclined toward the books by foreign writers rather than the works of Nepali writers. The impact of the reading preference is seen directly in the market as well. The book shops, which used to be filled with books written by Nepali writers, are now dominated by the books written by foreign writers. A significant amount of money is flowing out of the country as a result.
As described by the readers, the work of Nepali writers nowadays is not engaging enough. The readers get detached from the Nepali literary works midway through reading. Ashish Pun, a reader from Dang, says that his favourite Nepali book is “Karodaun Kasturi” by Amar Neupane, published in the year 2015. He also shared that recently he started a few Nepali books but could not finish them as they were not engaging enough, and the flow of writing was distorted. "Nowadays, I read just English novels in the new edition. I prefer reading Nepali novels from previous decades as they are much more satisfying, flow is good, the story makes sense, and keeps me engaged throughout."
Another reader, Purnima Subedi from Bouddha, said that “Seto Dharti” by Amar Neupane, published in 2012, is her favourite book. "Nowadays, it seems like everyone is a writer. There are lot of books, but the element to keep a reader engaged and connected to a book is missing. Further, the Nepali books feel repetitive, like the same story being told in every book. English books offer a wide range of elements that keep getting the readers curious and connected," she shared. "Some of my friends prefer reading just English novels because they find it easier to read. Although I have been unable to find a book that suits my interest lately, I am hoping to find one."
FinePrint is one of the most well-known publishing houses in the country. It has published most of the bestselling Nepali books like Seto Dharti, Summer Love, Karnali Blues, China Harayeko Manche, Mahako Ma, Prayogshala, Khusi, Phirphire. Its co-founder and managing director, Ajit Baral, too is concerned about the declining sales of Nepali books. “Until a few years ago, I used to tell friends that this is the best time to be in the publishing business in Nepal. But not anymore. There has been a steep decline in the sale of Nepali books. A few years ago, even an average book would sell upwards of 5,000 copies. But now even the most critically acclaimed books fail to sell in that number,” he said, “The situation is so dire that distributors and booksellers have started wondering if they should start an alternative business to make a living.”
Baral thinks the social media that had helped promote books initially is much to be blamed. “It is eating away much of our free time and making our attention span shorter and shorter. No wonder people don’t have time or the mental faculty to read with focused attention over a longer period,” he said, adding that the publishing houses and the bookstores closed down entirely for close to six months, like other businesses, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Naturally, the sales dwindled in the absence of new books. With the economy tanking and thousands of people losing their jobs, there wasn’t enough money to spend on non-essential items like books”, stated Baral.
Baral expressed his hope for the revival of the publishing industry. “With the economy bouncing back and mobility and business activities running again, things will get a little better for the publishing industry. I don’t think that the publishing industry will be as robust as it used to be five years ago this soon. We may have to operate on a smaller scale, downsize our companies or cut down the number of titles we would otherwise have published until the situation gets better,” he said. “Still, most of us in the publishing industry won’t stop publishing altogether. Books are our labour of love; publishing is our calling, more than a profession.”
Publication Nepa~laya is one of the leading book publication houses in the country. Nepa~laya has published books across various genres like fiction, non-fiction, war memoir, travelogue, biography, poetry, health, wellness, etc. Some of the notable and well-performing books published by the publication house include Palpasa Café, Binod Chaudhary, Khalangama Hamala, Rookmangud Katawal, Ranahar, etc. Saijan Maskey, the Chief Executive Officer of Publication Nepa~laya, also said that the sales of Nepali books were declining. "We conduct surveys regularly to know the ongoing trends in the book market to give the readers what they want. Surely, we as well have witnessed a decline in the number of sales of Nepali books. These days, readers seem to be more interested in foreign books than domestic books," Maskey shared. "Basic education plays a prime role in an individual's life. Looking at the education system here, the Nepali language and Nepali literature are not focused on the curriculum. More emphasis is on English literature rather than Nepali literature nowadays; students struggle with the Nepali language itself. I believe that this is one of the reasons why youngsters nowadays are more inclined towards foreign books rather than Nepali literature."
Maskey also said more titles available in the market have also caused the sales to decline. "Previously, fewer books used to get published. But now, the market is flooded with many new titles. The readers are confused about what to buy and what to read,” she said, adding: "Social media engagement is also one of the reasons why readers are deviating from not only Nepali books but from reading itself. People hardly have time to read books. They are so involved in the virtual world."
Maskey said that old titles are still on the top-selling list of Publication Nepa~laya. “When we asked retailers why they are recommending old classic books to their customers, they told us they do not want to disappoint them by recommending new books. Our survey shows our old titles like Palpasa Cafe, Khalangama Hamala, Binod Chaudhary, and Phool ko Aankhama are on the top-selling list in the market,” she added. “Although the number of Nepali books sold in the market has fallen, there is still quite a demand from readers. The readers still believe in the writers and are constantly striving for a better literary piece.”
Maskey said her publishing house witnessed a great demand for Nepali books during the lockdown period. “As all the book shops were closed, readers had no way of buying books. We started our ebooks platform from Thupraibooks.com. It was well-received by the market. We noticed substantial downloads, and it was very encouraging to see that people were open to ebooks as well," she shared.
Maskey, who has been in the field of the publication since 2005, adds: "As shown by our surveys, the Nepali book market is struggling currently, especially after the COVID-19 situation. The lockdown affected every business, and our publication market was also not spared. Now that things are slowly getting back to normal, we are hopeful that the book business will take up its pace again."
Daya Ram Dangol, the Managing Director of Book Paradise located in Jamal, has been in the book-selling business for 46 years. According to him, book sales have declined regardless of the language. He stated that the trend of selling books online made a direct impact on the trade. Dangol said that the sales of international bestsellers are higher compared to any other books. However, he informed that readers often come looking for Nepali books that are decades old. "Sometimes people come looking for Nepali books that even we do not have any idea of. Even the youngsters look for Nepali books published decades ago rather than newly published books," he shared.
After all the interactions with people who are directly associated with the book business, it is clear that the book business is not headed towards doom. Although the readers these days are drawn toward foreign books, they are still hoping to discover the gem within Nepali literature. Likewise, although there is a slump in the sales of Nepali books, it is not threatening. As long as the people are passionate about Nepali books, the slump will disappear in no time, which will directly impact the economy of the country positively as well.