In 2011, a major American publishing house named Borders, liquidated its stores all over the country and closed down, filing for bankruptcy. All of their employees lost their jobs and customers were shocked as the seemingly flourishing bookstore gave in to hounding buyers and shut down after 40 years in book-selling business, with stores and loyal customers all over the world. More can be found out here.
From this we can infer that even a huge conglomerate in the book selling business isn’t immune to financial hurdles. The real question remains; if this can happen, then will our regular, hole-in-wall bookstores survive?
Convenience in Buying Over Experience of Buying
College Street in Kolkata, aptly named so, is the largest second-hand book market in the world and largest book market in India. When one visits this street, chock-a-block full book stores stocking every conceivable variety of books are found and it is hard to imagine that book stores are diminishing instead of thriving. But there is another, untold side of the story residing in those dusty bookshelves.
Almost every person we know, possesses a tablet, smart phone, a laptop or all three nowadays. With easy access to all kinds of books with over the table sites like Project Gutenberg and under the table pdf/epub sites, your next read is just a few clicks away. There are many people who still haven’t adjusted to swiping the screen instead of flipping the pages. But it isn’t an issue which cannot be resolved with technology. Online shopping sites like Flipkart, Amazon etc. offer a spectacular range of books, for every age. The turnover of Flipkart in 2014 is $1 billion, evidence of just how much people are relying on online mega stores to deliver their books on their door steps.
The Other Side of Your Neighbourhood Bookshop
However, the whole act of buying a book goes beyond just watching a graphic image of the cover and ordering it. It’s walking into a cool and musty smelling book store, walking past the racks full of titles, taking them in your hands and carrying them back home, anticipation and fulfilment in your mind. Book stores have evolved radically from times when travelling salesmen used to carry self-published books in satchels to multi storey buildings, complete with recreational areas for kids and also stocking music, craft supplies or even a coffee shop merged with it.
‘People buy books online more now because it caters to their specific needs,’ says Ashim Dey, owner of Dey Book Shop, a charming little textbook store in College Street. ‘I’ve been running this shop for the past ten-fifteen years now. There is more competition, not only from all the other new shops around here, but also those big shops which stock updated versions of all books.’
Dasgupta and Co. is one of the oldest book stores in India, situated at College Street. Founded in 1886 by Mr. Girish Dasgupta, this book store has been run by four generations of their family and it is still standing proud with all its glory. Any day of the week, this store is crowded with students, professionals and book connoisseurs, shouting out their book orders. Books which aren’t available are jotted down and ordered especially for that one particular customer. It is not just a book store for regular patrons there, rather a familiar and warm place, where several generations have bought books for their school and college years. The customers and shopkeepers call each other by names. This was the only book store which had academic books by Indian authors during the 1880s, when India was under the British rule.
A Publishers’ and Bookseller’s Association of Bengal official, who chose to remain anonymous said, ‘As foreign companies like Oxford invade the Indian markets, local booksellers are under serious threat. They have more capital, better machinery, moreover more power.’ He further adds, ‘But students all over still opt for these book stores because they have better opportunities to choose between authors, they have the freedom to read and evaluate and then choose the book best suited for them.’ Thus when it comes to buying books off the school list, or off a prescribed syllabus approved by the government, these old book stores are still the most trustworthy of them all.
It has been a widely speculated theory that the way music piracy has discouraged people from buying albums, eBooks; legal or illegal; are slowly diminishing book stores. Merging book shops with coffee and gift shops has only helped so much. The downside of it is, people are more likely to sit and enjoy reading a book for some time, but that might not lead to them actually buying the book.
For people like me who like spending time going through each book in a rack, enjoying the feel of endless choice by being surrounded by walls of books, these bookstores will be irreplaceable. The book stores around the corner are being rivalled by huge, online organizations. In this situation, they need more than just a loyal customer base to stay afloat. They need people to remember that reading is not just an act, it is a process.