At the Hyderabad Book Fair rising footfalls but falling sales, thanks to demonetisation

Out of the 290 stalls at the fair, nearly 100 are struggling without point-of-sale machines.
At the Hyderabad Book Fair rising footfalls but falling sales, thanks to demonetisation
At the Hyderabad Book Fair rising footfalls but falling sales, thanks to demonetisation
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There is a fairly large crowd milling about at the Hyderabad Book Fair in NTR stadium. 12-year-old Chandrika stands at one of the corner stalls, trying to make up her mind.

“I want to buy “The Frogs And Their Monsters”, but I also want to buy some books to practice quiz and maths,” she says.

But when she runs to show her mother the books she wants, she’s told she just has to return them to the shelves. The reason – the stall she’s at, Mohammad Zahir’s MS Books does not have a point-of-sale (PoS) or swipe machine for credit and debit cards.

“We will buy from the other shop, here we can’t do card payments,” her mother tells her.

Zahir says this has been the scene all day. “People came and looked around, but very few bought books. As they have the option to buy from stalls that have the facility of a PoS machine, no one is buying from here,” he says.

The Book Fair, normally a sales bonanza for vendors, is hitting those who can’t afford PoS machines hard.

“My sales are down nearly 50% compared to last year’s book fair,” says Zahir.

K Chandra Mohan, the organiser of the 30th edition of Hyderabad Book Fair says that conducting the book fair has been a challenge post-demonetisation.

“People of Hyderabad eagerly wait for the book fair every year. We had to organise it,” Mohan says.

The Book Fair, he says, consists of 290 stalls this year, of which nearly 100 do not have PoS machines.

In what is somewhat of a relief for the organisers, however, for the first time the Telangana government provided the stadium for free, in a bid to promote reading culture.

“We know that this is going to be a challenge, but seeing the crowd I feel satisfied. One the first day around 20,000 people visited, on Saturday more than 40,000 people. And today we are expecting over a lakh people, as it is a Sunday. Apart from that we are conducting a variety of cultural programmes like Odissi and Kathak performances and folk singing every evening, so that more people visit and interact,” he adds.

However vendors at individual stalls say that the high number of visitors is not translating into commensurate sales.

(David Rajput from Made Easy Publications)

David Rajput from Made Easy Publications has set up a stall featuring guides for competitive exams such as GATE, PSU, UPSC and so on.

He has been a regular at the fair for the past four years, but for the first time this year his stall wears a deserted look.

“For the past three days we could hardly sell anything. The sales have come down by 80%, as we do not have a PoS machine. Some of the shops are accepting old Rs 500 notes but we are not. Due to demonetisation, people are either coming with Rs 2000 notes or insisting on card payment,” he says.

K Savita, a customer at the fair points out that it doesn’t make sense for them to spend scarce cash on a commodity like books.  

“We hardly have any hard cash with us, so why should we pay cash when other book stalls have the facility of card payment?” she asks.

However, vendors say that even having a PoS machine doesn't guarantee great sales.

(Savita, one of the customers in Hyderabad Book Fair in NTR stadium Hyderabad)

“The crowd is less than last year’s. Last year every day I had a sale of nearly Rs 30,000 in a day but now it has come to Rs.20,000,” says Chakravarthy, one of the vendors.

One of the founders and a former president of the Hyderabad Book Fair, Shrutikant Bharati, says says that until the 1990s, the charges for putting up stalls had been rather low. However, they have steadily risen in the past two decades, reaching up to Rs 15,000 for each stall for the duration of the fair.

This year, he says, in view of the troubles faced by vendors due to demonetisation, the charges for stalls have been reduced to Rs 9,000 for the 12 days of the fair.

Despite the complaints of vendors, Bharati refuses to make any pessimistic declarations about this year’s fair. The bigger vendors, he clarifies, have not really been affected by the cash crunch. For the smaller stalls, he points out that only the fourth day of the fair has gone by, and says hopefully that sales numbers might rise during the remaining eight days.

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