All over the country, bookshops are closing down. And all over the country, litfests are springing up. So there is a paradox for you.
Are Bookstores Pitted Against Online Book sellers?
Many of Delhi and Gurgaon’s iconic bookstores, both big chain stores like Landmark and smaller, quainter ones like Fact & Fiction pulled down their shutters in the recent times.Bookstores are heaving under the weight of the online book market, which has changed reading habits and solved the problem of towering rentals. The reason for the sudden collapse of bookshops and book retailing is the marketplace model which online selling giants Flipkart and Amazon have adopted. Here, the buyer has the option of comparing different prices for the same book, as offered by different sellers, and picking the cheapest.
As a result, the physical bookseller loses customers. As for the deep-pocketed e-commerce company, it is even willing to take a loss on each transaction in order to grow its customer base. Naturally, booksellers without matching resources cannot compete. In this crippling price war, physical bookshops are losing out since they had neither strategy nor resource. Rentals have increased. Sales have decreased. Buyers scoff at the small discounts they offer and download the e-commerce app instead.
Ironically, there are more readers than ever before
It is not that book reading has reduced – it has in fact increased. A new generation of authors appealing to the sensibilities of the aspiring classes has mushroomed. Their love stories, told in elementary school English and some Bollywood pastiche added on, are being devoured avidly. However, sales of literary and serious fiction have dipped. Many patrons of these genres have moved their loyalties to e-readers as e-books are usually available quicker and cheaper. Sales of Kindle have gone up phenomenally. Bookshops that do not cater to the changing tastes of a younger India are suffering doubly as a result.
Publishing isn’t exactly dwindling. Multinational giants like Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Hachette are scaling up their businesses, smaller global publishers like Bloomsbury are expanding, and even international companies not yet in India are looking to start publishing here. Clearly, the supply lines are getting wider.
Moreover, ambitions are getting bigger. Flipkart and Amazon often run front-page advertisement in The Times of India for new kids on the block. This happened for Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend, and also Amish’s Scion of Ikshvaku. The sheer marketing budget involved in such advertising points to extremely high sales targets for these books.
Don’t Write Them Off Yet
Some relatively smaller format bookstores like Om, Teksons, Midland continue to exist and thrive. For those who remain, the book business is a product of more than passion and personalized curation. Certain bookstores have gone ahead by tying up with mega online stores. The thriving family book business of Midland, for instance, cashes in through tie-ups with Amazon and Flipkart. “How delightful is the feeling of hearing familiarity and seeing recognition on a bookseller’s face, as opposed to a disappointing black text set on a white screen, saying ‘Sorry, this book is currently unavailable”, says a voracious reader. That says it all! Amen to that!