Not just Netflix and chill! Indians are reading more than ever

Remember the discussion around reading and how the habit can get lost in the face of Netflix and social media? This speculation can be put to rest. “People are reading more than ever,” says Milee Ashwarya, publisher, Penguin Random House India.

In an interaction with Business Today, Ashwarya said the publishing industry has been disrupted the most by technology, then the pandemic, but many people have returned to avid reading in recent years. What they read, however, has changed.

India’s growing middle class is interested in personal development and self-help books. “You generally find that as an economy develops and people gain purchasing power, they turn to personal development. This is why bookstores are increasingly stocking up on self-help books,” says Ashwarya.

Books are back in fashion

It’s the height of non-fiction, she says, and publishers too are more drawn to the genre than fiction.

“There’s always a chance that a work of fiction will succeed, but it doesn’t happen easily. By comparison, a good work of non-fiction already has a ready audience. Naturally, more and more publishers are interested in non-fiction,” says Ashwarya.

The “reading” space that exists between bookstores, authors and readers, she says, is intact, despite all the dynamic changes the industry has undergone in the recent past and at a time when some publishers and bookstores have shuttered for good.

“Reading has changed form, it is now a distributed experience across print books, e-books and audiobooks. As publishers, we have transformed over time to meet the changing needs of readers, but overall, the concern for information and the need to grow with books are both in place,” says Ashwarya.

Indians read to grow and succeed

Speaking of emerging authors, Ashwarya is excited about regional literature increasingly appearing in the English language. “Emerging regional voices translated into English are the most rewarding trend in Indian literature today,” she adds.

Just as the appetite to consume the written word is prevalent today, Ashwarya believes that today’s new writers are both young and restless.

“What I notice in new writers is a lack of patience, which is why self-publishing has become mainstream; an easy fix. Putting out a good book takes time and the author must have the patience to work as a team. Authors should indeed try to do their best for a book because when a book is out, it is out and it will always be there. While many are going the self-publishing route, it’s always a good idea to polish your work well. A book requires effort,” she adds.

Paradise for bibliophiles: reading is in fashion

According to Ashwarya, the task facing parents today is to be able to inculcate a reading habit in the next generation of readers.

“Let children read in whatever form they want, because reading, after all, is about being open to stories and information. There are different ways to absorb these stories and narratives and once children are introduced they naturally grow to be readers,” she says.

Lucas E. Kelly