book bazaar

Why bookshops are closing down when book-reading is thriving

Bookselling as an art and science has been taken out of the sparse resources of a bookshop.

There were five of us mourners at Fact & Fiction bookshop in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar market, as if trying to console the well-known book seller Ajit Vikram Singh. There was a sense of disbelief , tinged with some nostalgia as Singh packed away some old books, talking about the inevitability of closing down his bookshop. “If society is not bothered and cannot take care of it, bookshops will not survive,” he said underlining his own epitaph.

Why bookshops are under pressure

Reality is a bit different. This shop, like others, has been living in denial for the last three years, unwilling to see the future and unable to mount a fight. Retail sales in all bookshops have crashed, and the ones who still hold on are those who own the shops themselves. Others have enlarged the scope of their offerings, adding on stationery, or diversifying.

Shobha Sengupta’s Quill and Canvas in Gurgaon, for instance, is now mostly an art gallery. Or the Apeejay group’s Oxford Bookstore in Connaught Place, New Delhi, has an upgraded chai bar as its main attraction, while books cry for attention. What’s a collection of Partition stories compared to iced tea?

The reason for the sudden collapse of bookshops and book retailing is the marketplace model which online selling giants Flipkart and Amazon have adopted. The Marketplace is a platform on which any online bookseller can sell books. A buyer has the option of comparing different prices for the same book, as offered by different sellers, and picking the cheapest.

Now, the ecommerce company itself might be selling the book, although at a higher price. Their algorithms, however, tell them that, for instance, makemeread.com (the Internet website which I once owned and closed down) has sold 10 copies of Lee Child’s latest thriller at Rs 180. The company will at once match this price, or go even lower, so that no other seller can be the cheapest choice for a prolonged period.

As a result, the 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, small 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. The best discounted price they can offer a customer for a Rs 499 book is Rs 450. Buyers scoff at this and download the ecommerce app instead.

Government intervention like in Germany, where online sellers like Amazon are not allowed to deep-discount book prices, could have offered a temporary reprieve. But in India such an intervention is not a possibility.

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. Chetan Bhagat’s total sales already run into multiple millions. Books by me-too authors have replaced Reader’s Digest as the favoured item of display in the living room of India’s aspiring populace.

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. Bookshops that do not cater to the changing tastes of a younger India are suffering doubly as a result.

“Publishing is a cottage industry pretending to be a big industry,” Singh says. Maybe. But publishing isn’t exactly dwindling. This year alone, two new ventures have come up, led by stalwarts of publishing: Penguin and Aleph veteran Ravi Singh’s Speaking Tiger, and former Random House and Penguin publisher Chiki Sarkar’s new company.

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. First, Flipkart ran a front-page advertisement in The Times of India for Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend, and Amazon did the same with Amish’s Scion of Ikshvaku. The sheer marketing budget involved in such advertising points to extremely high sales targets for these books.

It is not just in India but in Paris too that bookshops are shutting down. Adam Gopnik wrote a New Yorker obit for the famous book shop, La Hune, which closed down in April:
“It was as much a social center, a place to drop in and see what was new among the leaves, so to speak, as a place to go and buy an assigned book. I can’t count all the books I bought there, and still own. (Some of them I actually read.) But the education was, as educations ought to be, more sentimental than simply didactic. “

As in Paris, so in Delhi. Back at Fact and Fiction, I bought Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter and Nisid Hajari’s Midnight’s Furies as parting gifts to Singh’s bookshop. There were at least ten empty shelves. There seemed no point in arranging new books on them.

The other mourners were still browsing and occasionally mumbling nostalgically. Like me, they had come for the last time.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Movies can make you leap beyond what is possible

Movies have the power to inspire us like nothing else.

Why do we love watching movies? The question might be elementary, but one that generates a range of responses. If you had to visualise the world of movies on a spectrum, it would reflect vivid shades of human emotions like inspiration, thrill, fantasy, adventure, love, motivation and empathy - generating a universal appeal bigger than of any other art form.

“I distinctly remember when I first watched Mission Impossible I. The scene where Tom Cruise suspends himself from a ventilator to steal a hard drive is probably the first time I saw special effects, stunts and suspense combined so brilliantly.”  

— Shristi, 30

Beyond the vibe of a movie theatre and the smell of fresh popcorn, there is a deeply personal relationship one creates with films. And with increased access to movies on television channels like &flix, Zee Entertainment’s brand-new English movie channel, we can experience the magic of movies easily, in the comforts of our home.

The channel’s tagline ‘Leap Forth’ is a nod to the exciting and inspiring role that English cinema plays in our lives. Comparable to the pizazz of the movie premieres, the channel launched its logo and tagline through a big reveal on a billboard with Spider-Man in Mumbai, activated by 10,000 tweets from English movies buffs. Their impressive line-up of movies was also shown as part of the launch, enticing fans with new releases such as Spider-Man: Homecoming, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Life.

“Edgar Wright is my favourite writer and director. I got interested in film-making because of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the dead. I love his unique style of storytelling, especially in his latest movie Baby Driver.”

— Siddhant, 26

Indeed, movies can inspire us to ‘leap forth’ in our lives. They give us an out-of-this-world experience by showing us fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder, while being relatable through stories of love, kindness and courage. These movies help us escape the sameness of our everyday lives; expanding our imagination and inspiring us in different ways. The movie world is a window to a universe that is full of people’s imaginations and dreams. It’s vast, vivid and populated with space creatures, superheroes, dragons, mutants and artificial intelligence – making us root for the impossible. Speaking of which, the American science fiction blockbuster, Ghost in the Shell will be premiering on the 24th of June at 1:00 P.M. and 9:00 P.M, only on &flix.

“I relate a lot to Peter Parker. I identified with his shy, dorky nature as well as his loyalty towards his friends. With great power, comes great responsibility is a killer line, one that I would remember for life. Of all the superheroes, I will always root for Spiderman”

— Apoorv, 21

There are a whole lot of movies between the ones that leave a lasting impression and ones that take us through an exhilarating two-hour-long ride. This wide range of movies is available on &flix. The channel’s extensive movie library includes over 450 great titles bringing one hit movie premiere every week. To get a taste of the exciting movies available on &flix, watch the video below:

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of &flix and not by the Scroll editorial team.