Sindh publishers adapt to changing readership

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KARACHI:

The advent of social media and the increased penetration of digital and cell phones over the past two decades have had a significant impact on reading habits and the wider perception of print books. As mobile devices have evolved from an electronic accessory to what is now, in more ways than one, a bionic extension of the human limb, the old paperbacks and hard cases appear to have been replaced by bright displays and digital ink.

The shift from physical books to digital books and the changing times have also led to changes in reading interests and, consequently, in publishing patterns. As observed in recent years, a majority of readers are now increasingly interested in genres such as poetry, fiction, romance and autobiographies, while political literature, which reigned supreme in the 1990s, has took a back seat, which publishers have picked up on and started to adapt. Meanwhile, the decline in the number of readers who still opt for physical books has reportedly forced publishers to offer more affordable prices, in an effort to attract rapidly declining audiences.

Per Ahmed Memon, who owns a local publishing house called Sindhica, students currently constitute a large part of the active readers in our society. While most of the upper middle class have been washed away from their inclination to read. “This is the main reason why the publication and sale of books in Sindh is stuck at the same rate as in the 1990s,” he said.

Read more: 28 foreign language books translated into Urdu

Renowned writer and researcher Akhtar Baloch, who considers the 90s to be the golden age of reading books in Sindh, believes that 20 years ago reading was not a privilege upper classes like today, and was rather a habit enjoyed by all classes. Going back to the 90s, Baloch said it was a time when almost every other village or town had some kind of library, and a wide range of people could be seen engaging in a wide range of genres in these establishments.

“Trends among readers and writers change over time,” commented local publisher Muhammad Ali Manjhi, who runs a publishing house called Kachho Publications. According to him, current readers of Sindh mainly want to read romantic literature; especially novels. Contrary to popular belief, Manjhi believes that recent years have seen an increase in the number of book readers in Sindh, with students among the most enthusiastic readers, despite their apparently particular interest in titles and genres.

By Qamar Aftab, another owner of a local publishing house, it was in recognition of the students forming the majority of sindh readers, that local publishers began to offer more affordable prices for their products, and started to search popular genres and titles among demographic.

“There is also a strong demand for translations of foreign literature,” said Ali Nawaz Ghanghro, who heads Roshni Publications, Hyderabad. Hyderabad, he continued, is the center of Sindhi literature; housing several functional book stands at different locations in the city.

Speaking in a similar vein, journalist and writer Hamsafar Gadahi agreed that Sindh has remained the epicenter of book culture. He said that in addition to locally published books, the province has also remained a large market for books published by publishers based in Lahore.

Corroborating Gadahi’s claim, Lahore-based publisher Zahoor Ahmed Khan also said Sindh and Balochistan remained big markets for their books. “The two provinces still have a much larger readership of books than the Punjab, despite the vastness of our province,” he added, while addressing The Express Tribune.

Posted in The Express Tribune, October 12e, 2021.

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