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Reader connect, eclectic collections help bookstores flourish in online times

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: September 20, 2019  | 15:31 IST

By Manish Sain New Delhi, Sep 20 (PTI) Online discounts, the ease of getting books delivered to your doorstep and e-readers are tempting but many readers are still drawn to brick and mortar bookshops – for the sheer love of leafing through pages, scanning shelves to choose and a discussion maybe on the merits of Murakami vs Marquez. Though the business is a precarious one, bookstores are here to stay as long as there are readers driven by a compulsion to read, say leading booksellers in the capital. The business models may be different but eclectic collections catering to niche customers and reader connect are the constants that have helped bookstores flourish in the time of online competition. “Bookstores are doing very well. I am so happy the new generation is reading far more than my generation. You may not find people in hoards in bookshops, but the percentage of sales of books has increased by 35 per cent. That's a fact,” Anuj Bahri Malhotra of Bahrisons, one of Delhi’s best known bookshops, told PTI. Acknowledging the competition by online retailers, Bahri puts his faith in the variety and experience that a brick and mortar shop offers. “Amazon is not a seller, it's just a platform. I have got books from Seagull, Vintage, Bloomsbury, and various publishers… Every publisher is selling their product here. So consider the retail space as Amazon. “Online the only competition is money, who will be selling the cheapest. But there is no ingenuity to a product. I have books you will not find online, because either they are yet to be released or are specific to my collection,” he added. His store has braved the test of time in Khan Market, one of the most expensive retail locations in the world, for over 60 years and Bahri gives the credit to his staff that reads and knows their Kazuo Ishiguro from Keigo Higashino. School teacher Mira Roy echoes Bahri’s line of thought. The feel of a paperback in her hands and engrossing conversations with the staff on her favourite books and authors keeps taking her back to bookstores. “I like that you can talk about your books with someone before buying and some bookstores do have that. It is an experience to spend time in a bookstore,” she said. Some bookstores have changed character over the years. The Book Shop, for instance, moved out of Khan Market a few years ago and settled on a quiet street in nearby Jor Bagh. Its loyal customer base followed and the shop, once a go-to place for expats, added several new ones. A representative of the store said it was important to attend to the business side of a shop instead of only dwelling on the romanticism of running one. “There have been many new bookstores that opened and shut down, maybe people only look at the romantic side of opening a bookstore, they don't look at the logistics, the sheer rote work that goes into running a bookshop,” she said. Punit Sharma of Amrit Book Co. in Connaught Place disagrees. His store, which has stood its ground for 83 years and has “grown 100 per cent in the last five years”, has survived on goodwill, he said. “You can’t run it with a strict business point of view. It is not practical to think you will only make profits, but the satisfaction involved in it and the goodwill of customers makes it worthwhile,” Sharma said. Bigger names in the business have diversified to remain viable. Oxford Bookstore, for instance, combines a cafe and merchandise such as bags in its retail space. It has also survived and registered year on year growth, said a senior employee. The store, also in Connaught Place, continues to attract readers because of its expanding list of books, she said, requesting anonymity. “While most customers go for bestsellers and new releases, we also keep backlists. It depends on the types of customers,” she said. The backlist is also what keeps the Book Shop going. “Our bookstore doesn’t depend on the frontlist, which is usually discounted by the online seller. We are mostly dependent on our backlist, which is our strong base. “So we are not hampered by competition, because we are not even looking at that market. We are not looking at selling the latest book in huge numbers. It's there in our shop but that's not our bread and butter,” said a Book Shop representative. Frontlists comprise latest titles, and backlists are made of older and even lesser known books. It’s the fun of rummaging through a collection that should thrill a reader, said Bahri. “As a reader you visit a store once, then again you go, you don't buy a book every time you go, you only look, to know what is where, that's what a good bookstore is all about. That’s what a bookstore does for you,” he said with a proud smile on his face. Not all stores have withstood the vicissitudes of online competition. The city, over the years, has seen some small and some big bookstores shutting shop for one reason or another. Ajit Vikram Singh, the owner of Fact & Fiction in Vasant Vihar, closed shop in 2015 after 30 years because he could not afford to run it. Timeless Art Book Studio in south Delhi, too, succumbed to a bleeding business that sold expensive coffee-table books. PTI MAH MIN MIN MIN

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