Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Literature Festivals, do they create new readers?

There are so many good things which can happen in a literature festival. I will touch upon them before I proceed to grim factors. First of all, readers to get to see the writers. You will hear their personal stories or their favorite writers and other details which are not documented in the form of books. You get to know of new literary works and their creators or even remembrance of some of the legendary writers. Yes, the discussion would revolve around the subject of literature. At last they, the literature lovers, got a forum to get together.

But beyond a physical meet-up of existing literature lovers, will these Literature festivals attract more people to read literature? Try asking the book-sellers at those festivals, the answer is not that encouraging. Those who were already attracted to literature would definitely buy books at every opportunity. Leaving them behind, are there new readers being created through these festivals? And in what numbers? You see, the writers who conduct panel discussions or read-out sessions are no movies stars. Much of them are introverts and may not feel easy at public speaking. They may not have the physical charm to attract new audience and hook them up into reading. Reading has to be done in solitude and the choice to become a reader is internal. So if the young are not coming in considerable numbers into the field of literature, how long these lit fests would make sense?

You check with the younger generation if they had watched the movie ‘Bahubali 2’. They would quote a dialogue or two from the movie. They would not have missed the IPL series too. And they would read hundreds of messages on their Whatsapp. But reading a book? It does not interest them. Some of them would have had a copy of Chetan Bhagat or Shiva trilogy. But beyond that can they name couple of authors or their interesting works? Don’t ask or get ready to face a strange look.

When the majority of population is not interested, that business line does not make much commercial sense. Let us look at best-selling authors. Books of S L Bhyrappa have been doing well but has he made any serious money from it? Who is the next author in Kannada who can find considerable number of readers? A publisher would tell, selling 10,000 books would make him see some profit. When Karnataka’s population is more than 7 crores, it is just 0.0001% market penetration. A savvy marketer would make more money selling off perishable things than books which last really long.

Those who write for self-expression may not experience pain learning this. But the budding writers who want to make a living out of it would understand first that their probability of seeing success is 0.0001%, may be same chances of winning in a lottery. Better they find a job which pays and limit literature to a hobby.

The literature fests, though they intend to revive the habit of reading and spread its joy, are unlikely to see much success. Publishing may never become a commercially attractive business anytime but keep losing its shine and disappear some day or live a negligible presence. Don’t blame the modern life style for it. Change is part of evolution. But have sympathy for writers who could not learn any other life skill.