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Saving books, one title at a time during the pandemic

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sun, June 21, 2020  /  02:09 pm
Saving books, one title at a time during the pandemic

Gaining popularity: Active online since 1996 by having an online catalog and selling non-book items, Gramedia only started to implement the e-commerce model to sell books in 2007. (Courtesy of Shutterstock/File)

Since she started working from home in March, Jasmine Puteri said she had more time on her side to read books.

“Now I no longer have to spend time commuting every day from home to my office in Central Jakarta using the bus or MRT, and I’m fed up of watching Netflix series all the time,” Jasmine said.

During the pandemic, the 32-year-old, who works at an environmental NGO, has ordered eight books online, comprising Indonesian titles from local online bookstore togamas.com from Sleman, Yogyakarta, as well as English titles from bookdepository.com.

The titles include non-fiction on environmental issues, such as the 2020 The Future We Choose by Christina Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac as well as The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, both on the subject of climate change.

“I consider books an essential need, because I also use them for my career development. However, I am mindful not to buy impulsively: I allocate my transport money, which I don’t spend recently since the quarantine period, to buy more books,” Jasmine said.

Aqmarina Andira has also picked up more books during the pandemic.

At the beginning of the quarantine period, the 31-year-old corporate employee used to work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to keep her mind off all the fearsome news about the coronavirus outbreak.

“At some point, I became aware that I couldn’t go on like this; thus, I decided to spend my time from late afternoon to evening to read books to afford myself some sort of solace instead,” said Aqmarina, who has bought seven paper books and six audio books via Audibles throughout her two months in quarantine so far.

Audiobooks have risen in popularity, with one platform, Storytel, for instance, seeing 38 percent growth in subscribers, with its streaming revenue growing by 45 percent.

Others are enthralled by Kindle.

Saving paper: A kindle e-book reader is pictured at the Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. Saving paper: A kindle e-book reader is pictured at the Book Fair in Frankfurt, Germany. (AFP/Daniel Roland )

Winny Triwandhani, a 30-year-old corporate employee, revealed her love of reading as her favorite form of escapism since she was little.

“By rereading books, like [young adult book] I Capture the Castle by Dody Smith and [historical fiction novel] Desiree by Annemarie Selinko [on the late French general Napoleon Bonaparte’s first lover], I can run as far away as possible from our current situation,” Winny said.

To seek solace amid the devastating pandemic, some have also been re-reading old titles, like Jasmine, who rediscovered The Diary of Anne Frank.

She said the claustrophobia that the Jewish girl must have felt when she was hiding from the Nazis might be similar to the claustrophobia some people are feeling right now under quarantine.

The pandemic has brought down sales figures of many Indonesian publishers – both major and independent ones. Yet, most of these publishers’ businesses have been sustained by an increase in online sales – obviously coming from people stuck at home during the large-scale social restriction period.  

Leading publishing house Gramedia Pustaka Utama’s marketing general manager, Yola Putryanie, revealed that book sales had dropped by more than 50 percent, but the decline had been buffered by a fourfold increase in online orders – with the most popular genres being adult fiction and children’s fiction as well as cookbooks.

Changing course: Independent publisher Marjin Kiri has published more new titles to bring in buyers.Changing course: Independent publisher Marjin Kiri has published more new titles to bring in buyers. (Courtesy of marjinkiri.com/-)

Marjin Kiri, an independent publisher focusing on progressive titles, meanwhile, has seen sales figures decline by up to 55 percent in the period between March and April 2020. “But recently, our sales figures have improved, since we published new titles,” said its editorial staff member Pradewi Tri Chatami.

Meanwhile, Haidar Bagir, president director of Mizan, a publisher concentrating on Islamic books, said initially he had expected sales to drop by 60 or 70 percent, but fortunately, Mizan’s strong online presence had stopped the decline at 50 percent.

Haidar said online book orders had increased fourfold, sustained by Mizan’s strong social media promotional campaigns, including online book fairs, such as the one focusing on children’s books called Komidi Putar (Carousel), where buyers can enjoy discounts of up to 90 percent.

“We also enlist our editorial staff, who aren’t handling the production of new titles at this time, to contribute to our online campaign efforts,” Haidar told The Jakarta Post over the phone.

Globally, the publishing industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with publishers unable to print new books. Printing of new titles dropped to almost zero in spring.

Five international publishing organizations – the International Publishers Association, the International Authors Forum, the European and International Booksellers Federation, the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organization as well as Science, Technology and Mathematics – have called on governments around the world to support the book industry.

“In many countries, our industry is already struggling for oxygen. We must find ways to ensure the future of authors, publishers, editors, designers, distributors, booksellers and those who work in collective management, so that the book industry can bounce back once this pandemic is conquered,” the joint statement reads.

“A world without books would be a sad and impoverished place. We are working hard to come through this crisis, but we need help to survive. We need governments to help us go through it together.”

Prominent book fairs, such as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and the London Book Fair, are also not happening.

Meanwhile, Frankfurt Book Fair business development vice president Claudia Kaiser said that, at the moment, they were still thinking about organizing the fair, held annually as a platform to push the industry.

The upcoming fair, she said, might be smaller, inviting German and European publishers and exhibitors in compliance with hygiene and physical distancing standards.

“For business-to-business meetings outside Europe, we plan to do it online; we are preparing a platform to make rights sales easier right now,” Kaiser said. (ste)

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