AS DIWALI season sets in, the spirit of Marathi readers eagerly awaiting Diwali Ank – Marathi magazines especially published for Diwali, running into some 100 pages each – has not been dented in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. But with a drop in advertisement and apprehension over a similar drop in sales amid the virus threat, about 100 magazines backed out from publishing this year and many others reduced the number of pages. Since fewer copies were available this year, they have sold – in India and abroad – like hot cakes with many copies sold out even before Diwali.
But in a year when nothing is the same as before, publishers, who begin work on Diwali special editions around April-May, and distributors were faced with many challenges amid the pandemic. Hemant Bagwe, owner of Girgaum’s BD Bagwe Agency, leading sellers of the various Diwali Ank, said this year about 100 magazines, including the popular Shatayushi and Vasant that are published every year, did not bring out copies and many who did had fewer pages.
“Since there was a drop in the number of advertisements, many magazines had fewer pages and prices have slightly increased because the entire cost was disturbed. We have over 200 magazines this year and some more are yet to arrive. If only 30 per cent to 40 per cent copies are available in comparison to previous years, they are bound to be sold out. So we can’t say that demand has increased. If 60 to 70 percent of the Anks have not come into the market this year, the remaining have to sell,” Bagwe said.
He said even if readers who missed out on some of their favourite magazines were willing to buy them, publishers were unwilling to risk publishing more copies. “You cannot publish just 100 to 200 copies more. They have to be published in thousands and there isn’t that much demand, so publishers are saying they are satisfied with this year’s publication run. It’s only natural. Nobody wants losses,” Bagwe added.
He said with public libraries reopening only around Dussehra and many, especially senior citizens, still in fear of visiting, readership might also drop.
“With local trains not functioning fully, the chain of distributors to readers has been upset. Readers haven’t lost their love for reading, but many haven’t been able to buy Diwali Ank this year,” Bagwe said.
Book stalls at railway stations and bus stands across the state also sell the magazines. The tradition of reading Diwali Ank is dear to many Marathi households. It evolved in simpler times when adults and children spent Diwali vacation reading various magazines, whose topics ranged from social, philosophical issues, health, women’s issues, caricatures, humour to children’s special issues.
Bharatbhushan Patkar, editor and publisher of Awaz, a popular humourous Diwali Ank, began commissioning articles to writers around April. “I gave standing instructions to all our writers that we don’t want articles about the coronavirus. It is a serious issue and we should not mock it,” said Patkar, a resident of Borivali.
Patkar said he overcame many challenges since his graphic designers could not visit his housing society amid the lockdown. “This is our 70th year of publication and I did not want to take a break, especially this year. There were difficulties, for four or five months I have single-handedly worked towards bringing out the edition. But for 69 years, our readers stood by us so despite the odds, I had to do this for our readers,” Patkar said.
But unlike many others, Pune-based Chaprak Diwali Ank published and sold one lakh copies, outdoing sales in previous years. Ghyanshyam Patil, editor and publisher of Chaprak said they aimed at capturing the market that fell vacant with many Diwali Ank not publishing. On the cover this year, are varkaris who missed their annual trip to the Vitthal temple in Pandharpur.
“For five months, 15 of my colleagues were dedicated to bringing out our Diwali Ank. This Diwali, we wanted to make every Marathi reader happy. We brought out a 316-page magazine priced at Rs 250 and sold one lakh copies, out of which 46,000 were pre-booked. We had readers, not just from Maharashtra but other states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and 25 countries like USA, Australia, Abu Dhabi, and we also sent three copies to Fiji.”
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