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Scramble to buy Westland books as Amazon announces its closure

Bookstore owners say the Indian publisher and its imprints form 3-15% of their collection
Last Updated : 04 February 2022, 06:08 IST
Last Updated : 04 February 2022, 06:08 IST
Last Updated : 04 February 2022, 06:08 IST
Last Updated : 04 February 2022, 06:08 IST

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Amazon’s decision to shut down the Indian publishing house Westland Books that it acquired in 2017 has shocked the community of authors, bookshops and readers.

After the news broke out on Tuesday, they took to Twitter to express solidarity with the publishing team and its authors, and shared a list of Westland books people must read before they disappear from the shelves.

Offline, some bookstores in Bengaluru are looking to stock up on their old and new bestsellers as Westland and its imprints form 3-15% of their collection.

Last-minute rush

Westland will accept new orders till February 15 and its distributors will take in unsold books till March 31, Mayi Gowda of Blossom Book House on Church Street has learnt. He is now preparing a list of bestsellers to order.

On the same street is Bookworm. Its owner Krishna Gowda has been getting many enquiries for the Westland titles since the news came out. His team has started shipping the orders to other states already and can arrange for international deliveries if required.

“We want to place orders with Westland because if their books go out of print, it can affect our sales. Their authors will find new publishers and the books will be reprinted but the process may take up to a year,” he explains.

He can’t figure out what went wrong. “The Westland books had been profitable for us especially since the past one year. They have been putting out great non-fiction works lately.”

Lakshmi Sankar, co-founder of Atta Galatta, a bookstore that is temporarily operating online, and who is part of the organising team of Bangalore Literature Festival, would concur. “In the latest edition of the festival, three out of five bestselling titles were from Westland, including ‘The Silent Coup’ by Josy Joseph. Plus, we sold tons of Shashi Deshpande’s books, many from Westland.”

The closure, Lakshmi feels, will impact the current titles immediately, and the ecosystem in the long run as upcoming authors will have one less publisher to go to. She wants to source their old and unsold books and has written to the Westland team asking for the same.

Fallout: business or political?

Social media is rife with speculations about the shutdown.

Some are discussing the fallout of handing over publishing to purely commerce-driven empires. Ravi Menezes, who runs Goobe’s Book Republic on Church Street, has similar views: “Sometimes, 10 titles sell 1,000 copies. Other times, two titles sell lakh copies. Maybe Amazon doesn’t see the long-term vision of running (a publishing vertical).” Ironically, Amazon started out as a marketplace for books. Savie Karnel was a journalist working in Bengaluru before she turned an author with her children’s book ‘The Nameless God’, published by Red Panda, a Westland imprint. The shutdown, she has learnt from her editors, was business-related.

“They said ‘People are not reading books. The business isn’t doing well, especially because of the pandemic. Amazon doesn’t want to put money in Westland’,” she shared with Metrolife.

The news was “shattering”. “My book was the most popular in the children’s category in 2021. It went into reprint. We even have an online event with a school in Hyderabad lined up,” Savie, who is currently in Assam, said.

Despite the shake-up, Savie hopes Westland will find a buyer soon and she will continue working with the “same brilliant team”. “Their mail said they will revert the rights to the authors on April 1 unless a third-party acquires Westland (before),” she shared.

Bengaluru-based author Madhavi Mahadevan had published ‘The Kaunteyas’ with Westland in 2016 but has since moved to another publisher. “Sometime back I did feel that Westland was having problems with distribution and that their books were not reaching the bookshops. But I wasn’t surprised. I blamed it on the Covid (slowdown),” she said.

A section of social media is speculating that the latest crop of Westland non-fiction books was critical of the ruling party and that could have brought down shutters on them.

Some booksellers agree and add that titles like ‘Price of the Modi Years’ (Aakar Patel), ‘India’s Undeclared Emergency’ (Arvind Narrain), ‘Despite the State’ (M Rajshekhar), and ‘Whole Numbers and Half Truths’ (Rukmini S) were selling fast.

Savie would like to call them “brave books” instead. She doesn’t believe in the speculation because Westland also has a “non-partial list”, including a novel by union minister Smriti Irani.

Suresh Narasimha of JustBooks, a library chain, is also not convinced. “We are in a capitalist society. They could have easily published books supportive of the government (if that was an issue). It’s just economics. Our business is down by 50% since the pandemic hit.”

Westland’s journey

Westland Books started out as East West Books in 1962. Amazon acquired it from Trent Ltd, a Tata group subsidiary in 2017. It ran imprints like Context (for literary fiction and non-fiction), Eka (stories in Indian languages) and Red Panda (children’s books). It had bestselling authors like Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi, Devdutt Pattanaik, Rujuta Diwekar, Rashmi Bansal, Harsha Bhogle, Chetan Bhagat, and Bengaluru’s Preeti Shenoy under its banner.

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Published 03 February 2022, 19:23 IST

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