February 20, 2020
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The world's most famous literary date? June 16, 1904? Or is it now June 21, 2003? What sells more -- children's or adult books? Books in English per year in India? 5500.

illustration by Jayanto The world’s most famous literary date, June 16, 1904, around which James Joyce’s Ulysses revolves —is fast being overshadowed by June 21, 2003. That’s the day Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth in the world’s most hyped series, will hit bookstores throughout the English-speaking world. In India, sole distributors Penguin India is already gearing up for the big day what with hundreds of orders pouring in. The book may be a publisher’s dream come true, but it may turn out to be a nightmare for Penguin. Will they be able to ensure that between 10 am and 4 pm on D-Day, it reaches every bookstore in the country? In Canada, postal authorities have a dozen flights on call to deliver pre-ordered copies to the doorsteps of avid fans in 40 cities between 9 am-1 pm on D-Day.

illustration by Jayanto The phenomenal sales of the Potter series has done nothing to boost sales of children’s books in general. But publishers aren’t giving up hope just yet. In India, the launch of the latest Harry potboiler will be an occasion for a massive campaign at all the four British Council centres to promote children’s books. As Penguin belatedly realised, children’s books, especially well-illustrated ones, do better than adult books. In their list of 105 titles that have crossed the 10,000 sales mark, there are at least a dozen children’s titles, including several by Ruskin Bond (Panther’s Moon, Room on the Roof, Night Train at Deoli) and one even by Romila Thapar (Indian Tales).

illustration by Jayanto June is a cruel month. For most publishers here, the peak season is January to March, when the bread-and-butter textbooks start selling. Almost 40 per cent of the over 27,000 English language books published here every year are textbooks. And while it looks like everyone in India is publishing a book these days, there are less than 5,500 new books a year in English, all of which they prefer to launch in the peak season.

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