The smell of books while entering a bookstore is probably the most hypnotising aroma for an avid reader. Though e-commerce platforms have been muscling in, shop owners maintain that book stores will always be the first preference for those bitten by the reading bug.
"Who says people don't like coming to book stores? Good books will always bring readers back to shops. For them a shop is not just a place to buy books but also a platform where like-minded meet and talk about common interests. Why else would chains like Crosswords and Om Book Stores be opening more and more outlets?" Anuj Bahri Malhotra, the second-generation owner of the iconic Bahrisons in New Delhi, asked.
Bahrisons, located in upscale Khan Market in New Delhi, was established in 1953 by Anuj's father, Balraj Bahri Malhotra.
"Book lovers will always opt for buying from book stores because, for them, getting physically connected with a book is important. They can never trust books purchased online and therefore, for us, those book lovers are treasured ones," Sanjeev Arora of Famous Book Store said.
Located in the Janpath market near Connaught Place, New Delhi, the book store was established in 1943 in Lahore and, after partition, it shifted to Delhi in 1948.
Mirza Asad, who looks after the Midland bookstore located in South Extension-1, also shared similar thoughts on the survival of bookstores in the e-commerce era.
"Old customers always keep coming to bookstores. We have even seen three generations who have been our regular customers. There are many old books, translated works which you won't find on e-commerce platforms but will surely get in a book-store and this is a big advantage," Asad added.
Bookshop owners can perfectly understand the need of a customer and this keeps them ahead of online sales.
"Only a shop-owner can understand the need of a reader, and that makes a vast difference from online sales. They can only provide discounts but can never understand the requirements of a reader," Bahri maintained.
Asad too stated that he can now easily identify a reader's preference when someone enters his shop.
"This is what I have been doing so long. Not just the book lovers but we also read books and keep a track so that we can immediately provide the requisite book," beamed Asad as he handed over a copy of Bapsi Sidhwa's "The Pakistani Bride" to me.
Asked about the craze for purchasing books online or opting for a Kindle version, the bookshop owners opined that it is the youth who are failing to get physically connected with books.
"A major problem with the youth is that they cannot connect physically with books. They can wait for five days after ordering a book online, but are not ready to give that same time to a bookshop, because they are impatient," Bahri replied.
"People are opting for online purchases because of the discounts they are offering. We bookshop owners can't blame the people because anybody will tend to purchase products available at a lesser price," Asad pointed out.
Despite this, the owners voiced similar thoughts when asked why they don't consider e-commerce platforms themselves.
"There is certainly a craze, but this does not mean bookshops will close down or won't receive readers. Offering discounts won't help you to survive in the long run," Arora responded.
"Online has also given rise to the sale of pirated books. Most of the time people cannot judge from its advertisements and end up purchasing a pirated copy. There have even been cases where pages are not printed properly or paper quality is very poor," Asad added.
The owners also conveyed their dissatisfaction with publishers as well. "Publishers are giving preferential treatment to the online sellers with a higher discount and full coverage of discounts," Bahri lamented.
"With high discounts offered by publishers to e-commerce platforms, they are killing themselves; the owner loses interest in the books. If we order a good number of copies, the publishers offer discounts—but they are not ready to give discounts for fewer copies," Asad explained.
A number of book stores have been closing down, but the shop-owners said this was not due to lack of sales but soaring real estate prices.
"People have assumed that online marketplace has captured the market and that shops are closing down owing to this. However, this is not true. A bookshop like Fact and Fiction (in Basant Lok in Vasant Vihar) closed down last year (after a 30-year run) because they lost a (rent) case in court," Bahri stated.
"Real estate prices have gone up and shop owners often fail to adjust to the soaring rents. Those who have their own shops are safe. In Connaught Place, there used to be 19 book shops, now only eight are surviving," Asad pointed out.
One thing is for sure: e-commerce or whatever, bookshops are going to be around for ever—perhaps in reduced numbers, but they'll be there for sure.