Et tu, Book Fair?

In view of the pandemic, the World Book Fair is the latest event to go virtual PHOTO:

With Delhi’s World Book Fair going virtual, avid readers and regulars at the event are left feeling disheartened

Organised by the National Book Trust (NBT) in association with India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), the World Book Fair, one of the first ever virtual book fairs in the country, is one of the most awaited events for book lovers in the city. Open to visitors from 6-9 March, the theme of the fair was National Education Policy of 2020, with discussions on education and pedagogy.

This year though, owing to the pandemic and the need for social distancing the book fair, much like many such social events, will be held virtually — something that hasn’t gone down well with regulars at the event. 

For many, the book fair is a much awaited event to explore literature, intermingle with like-minded individuals, attend book launches and visit multiple stalls to invest in their reading list. One of the major attractions for many visitors used to be book stalls that sell known titles from well known authors was nowhere to be found in this year’s virtual event, leaving many disappointed with not much to look forward to. 

Though going virtual may have its advantages like free entry and the ability to visit at any time, the interface that greets visitors is not something to swoon over. Most of the visitors were unhappy with the bare appearance of the virtual halls, lack of seamless navigation and difficulty in locating stalls of their favourite publishing houses. And with access to over 160 publishers displaying books in various Indian and foreign languages, the task became even more challenging. 

Another common complaint was the lack of a concise site map that would help users visit their desired stalls. This in turn dissuaded many from placing orders for books and stationery, something they look forward to every year. Talking about her experience of the event, Avantika Chopra, an avid reader from the city says, “I like book fairs, I like going through random books without knowing who the author is, but this virtual book fair is more like an external tour”.

A view of the virtual book fair

All in all, the virtual event was a culmination of the things visitors expect from the book fair, however, as Mansi Dua, another regular, puts it,  “It failed to deliver on one very important parameter — the feel of going to a book fair, strolling through the numerous stalls, gazing upon books and more often than not stumbling upon the works of authors you may not have heard about”. She also complained about the lack of an easier way to navigate the many virtual halls to look for a particular stall and the cumbersome experience of trying to place orders. 

And though visitors also had the opportunity to place orders using various payment methods for home delivery, most of the people we talked to chose to stay away from doing so. “I liked going to the book fair because I could instantly get my books and also because it had second hand books available at a cheaper price. If I want to buy books online, I’d prefer other platforms I trust, like Amazon. I am not even sure how long the books I order from the book fair will take to reach me,” adds Dua. 

The opportunity to hold discussions on education, attend book releases, seminars and cultural programmes seemed to have received better reception. 

Other complaints about the virtual event ranged from the font of the pages being too small and no encouragement to explore the venue. “The website did not give a pleasant experience. All the halls seemed the same and I did not discover any new book, something that happened every time I visited the book fair,” she further adds. 

To sum up her experience, Chopra mentions, “It did not feel like a fair, but just a website and it was cumbersome to go about it. It’s strange how I could not spend more than five minutes while I used to spend hours, at times even days, at the physical event.” 

The World Book Fair in Delhi, famous for its appeal to avid and occasional readers alike, thus, seems to have been unable to escape the pandemic, and with visitors feeling unhappy with the virtual, we hope next year we get to roam the familiar halls of Pragati Maidan and stumble upon great pieces of literature, and maybe bring a few back home.  


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