The advent of social media and increased digital and cellular penetration in the last couple of decades has had significant bearing on reading habits, and the greater perception of printed books. With mobile devices morphing from an electronic accessory to what is now, in more ways than one, a bionic extension of the human limb, the once classic paper-backs and hard-shells appear to have been replaced by bright screens and digital ink.
The shift from physical to digital books and the changing course of time, has also brought changes to reading interests and resultantly publishing patterns. As observed in the last several years, a majority of readers now show a keener interest in genres like poetry, fiction, romance and autobiographies, while political literature, which reigned supreme in the 90s, has been pushed to the back seat- something which publishers have picked up on, and started adapting to. Meanwhile, the drop in number of readers who still opt for physical books is said to have forced publishers to issue more affordable prices, in a bid to lure in the fast withering audience.
Per Ahmed Memon, who is a proprietor of a local publishing house called Sindhica, currently students make for a major chunk of active readers in our society. While, most people belonging to the upper middle-class have been washed off their inclination towards reading. “This is the primary reason for publication and sale of books in Sindh being stuck at the same rate as it was during 1990s,” he opined.
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Renowned writer and researcher, Akhtar Baloch, who deems the 90s as the golden-age of book reading in Sindh, believes that some twenty years ago, reading was not a privilege of the upper classes as it is now, and was rather a habit enjoyed by all classes. Harking back to the 90s, Baloch said that it was a time when almost every other village or towns had some kind of a library, and a wide range of people could be seen indulging in a wide range of genres at these establishments.
“Trends among readers and writers are change with time,” commented local publisher, Muhammad Ali Manjhi who runs a publishing house called Kachho Publications. According to him current readers of Sindh mostly want to read romantic literature; specially novels. Contrary to popular belief however, Manjhi believes that recent years have seen a surge in number of book readers in Sindh, with students ranging among the most enthusiastic of readers, despite their seemingly peculiar interest in titles and genres.
Per Qamar Aftab, another proprietor of a local publishing house, it is in acknowledgement of students forming a majority of sindh’s readers, that local publishers have started offering more pocket-friendly prices for their products, and started looking into genres and titles popular among the demographic.
“There is also big demand for translations of foreign literature”, said Ali Nawaz Ghanghro, who runs Roshni Publications, Hyderabad. Hyderabad, he went on to say, is the hub of Sindhi literature; housing several functional book stalls at different spots around the city.
Speaking in the same vein, journalist and writer Hamsafar Gadahi, agreed that Sindh has remained the epicentre of the book culture. He said that besides locally published books, the province has also remained a big market for books published by Lahore-based publishers.
Corroborating Gadahi’s claim, Lahore-based publisher Zahoor Ahmed Khan, also said that Sindh and Balochistan have remained big markets of their books. “Both the provinces still have a much bigger readership of books than Punjab, despite the vastness of our province,” he added, while speaking to The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2021.