The year 2020 has been unique in all aspects, with a lot of it being challenging. Even during the normal days, handling law book trade in India, which includes sales, distribution and collection, comes with its challenges. This year, the pandemic has added multiple challenges to the existing issues faced by the market.
Usually in law book trade, the first quarter of the calendar year is a good performance quarter and among these three months, the month of March contributes the most in terms of sales or revenue. In 2020, due to the early onset of the pandemic, the market sentiment fell. Also, the trade was quite wary about carrying any inventory due to the uncertainties. The immediate impact was the lowering of overall revenues for the period as compared to the usual.
The credit cycle in the law book trade being long, February and March are the months where the cash flow/liquidity is better in the market, leading to easier collection of receivables which was also impacted in 2020. This was the second impact even before the lockdown came into force.
The four months of lockdown that extended from April to July further exacerbated the situation with a huge unsold inventory of law books in the market with large distributors across the country. The markets work on a sales chain, operating between the distributor to the retailer and finally to the end consumer. Sometimes, there is the involvement of an intermediate link through an individual (called a hawker) in the trade. This logistical cycle faced a major disruption, and some of the links have still not managed to get back.
The Road Ahead
Institutions like the courts, law universities, etc, have not yet got back to any degree of normalcy, and this has heavily impacted the demand in the law book trade. There have been glimmers of the market opening up again and the first Quarter of 2021(January to March) is going to be crucial in determining the performance of the market.
The pandemic has brought two things clearly to the forefront.
- The need to go online - This is an area that has seen challenges in terms of appropriate technology and unclear regulations around taxation, given that print books are not taxed while ebooks are.
- The operation of the market like the sales cycle needs to undergo a complete overhaul.
Publishers need to rethink how they reach the market and customers. Traditionally, the law book trade has been about relationships, face to face interactions and trust which relies a lot on interaction, all of which has now been disrupted due to Covid 19. They even need to look at applying technology to reach the market and broaden the direct outreach to end customers. Integrating technology is something that has not been done well in the law book trade by publishers, barring a select few local ones.
Publishers need to look at how there can be a mix of offline and online content availability, such that customers are served better and faster. Moreover, the print part of the business needs a relook at the way markets are served, and perhaps consider the option of regional printing to cover the local markets faster and with minimal inventory. Essentially the logistical tail has to be shortened to improve efficiency.