Today, April 23 is celebrated as World Book Day. On this occasion NT BUZZ speaks to book lovers and readers to find out about the current scenario of bookshops in sight of the closure of a few bookstores and the trend of online shopping and the need to create a young breed of readers who keep books circulating
ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
20 years ago if you wanted to buy a book, you would go to your neighbourhood bookstore and start your search. This is no Google search where you get hundreds of choices in a few seconds. Here you take your time, browse through various shelves, books or ask the bookstore owner’s suggestions and then finally get what you want.
Even though this exercise took about an hour, you enjoyed the experience and you came out enriched with more information than you sought for.
But, now you probably will not venture into a bookstore, instead will order your book online or download an e-copy. Thanks to technology and the internet.
This trend could be the reason behind closing down of bookstores in our neighbourhoods. Recently, in the capital city alone, two bookstores have shut down and the ones surviving claim that it is a battle to survive.
“Bookshops are important and offer multiple benefits to society. Goa doesn’t seem to recognise this despite our high literacy, high per capita income, early encounter with printing of all the regions in Asia, etc. Rising rents, online competition, the poor promotion of reading are probably responsible for killing bookshops,” says Fredrick Noronha, writer and publisher.
Khalil Ahmed of Broadway Book Center has now closed down his store at the Caculo Mall, Panaji, as he could not keep up with the high rent. “The cost of running that store was very high and I used to suffer huge losses,” says Khalil.
Khalil further mentions that online shopping for books has affected his sales around 15 to 20 per cent. He however is hopeful that people still like to come to bookstore especially to buy children’s and Goan literature. “Goa related books are not easily available so people come here. Also Goa being a tourist place helps to sell such books. We have good sale from children’s books too. Many schools recommend children to buy Jeremy children’s books. There are around 140 to 150 titles and at one times a child buys 25 to 30 books as they are easy to read,” says Khali who now runs two stores at Panaji and Candolim.
It is not only the rents that kill the bookstore business in Goa, but sometimes the way they are managed and placed also makes an impact. The bookshop at a city hotel, managed by Sirur is also closing down. “We were running this bookshop for the past 27 years. Before the renovation of the hotel, it was on the ground floor. But then it was shifted in the corner on the first floor and was completely unnoticeable,” says Sirur who had clientele from other hotels too, visiting the bookstore. He suggests that a bookshop should be inviting, have a large space for readers to sit, browse and spend quality time there.
Interestingly if we look back we will observe that Goa had a rich history of bookstores. Fredrick says, “Goa was a pioneer with bookshops of its own: scholars refer to Casa Luso-Francesca bookshop dating back to 1900 or 1901. Other India Bookstore was effectively doing mail-order and servicing buyers across India in the 1980s, long before Flipkart and even Amazon. Golden Heart Emporium at Margao is remembered for its well-stocked library in the 1980s; it is still well patronised. Broadway has been well stocked, offers bargain books at its sales, and also held exhibitions in various parts of Goa.”
But, all is not lost. A new bookstore has been now opened in Margao by Leonard Fernandes. He however, confirms that he didn’t plan of starting this store. “We were offered a place that had just been vacated and we took him up on his offer. Setting up a bookshop was always a dream and this seemed like a good way to realise it,” says Leonard Fernandes, co-founder and director, Dogears Print Media Pvt Ltd. They mainly stock children, young adult and Goan literature. He thinks that such curated books are one way of saving a bookstore. “The reasons for closing down bookstores are rising real estate rents, rising salary expectations and unpredictable reading habits. You know the first two. Let me explain the third. Unless you know what your customers will read, you, as a bookstore owner, are forced to stock on all kinds of books. That means a large amount of capital is locked. It also means you have to earn a lot more to cover the costs, and you need more real estate to accommodate all books. Sometimes this leads to more outflow than revenue,” says Leonard.
Many believe that the discounts offered by the online selling of books are the main reason for the closure. Diviya Kapur of Literati bookstore and café says: “Online selling is killing all types of retail stores and not just book market. Sometimes you are forced to go online and buy. I think these indiscriminate discounts have to be stopped. Running a bookstore especially in these last three years has been really tough,” says Diviya who started literati in Candolim in an Indo-Portuguese house, over a decade ago. She sells new, second-hand and antiquarian books.
Leonard agrees that India should prohibit large discounts. He says: “Online companies are riding on invested capital to offer discounts, something not available to independent bookstores. However, for the customer, the discounts are what matter. France and Germany are examples of countries which have prohibited large discounts, and one wishes India would follow too.”
However for readers online buying is the better option. Says Anuradha Goyal, writer and reviewer: “Bookstores in Goa are either too Goa focused or have only bestsellers; readers have no choice but to go online.”
Nowadays books are also available in easily downloadable e-book format. Interestingly, most bookstore owners do not consider this as a threat. It is believed that it amounts to less than 5 per cent of total book sales in India. Also Diviya adds that those who read e-books also tend to buy hard copies.
Many believe that bookstores need to be revived and should become more interactive to bring in more people and thus increase the sales. “Book buyers will never visit bookstores for purchasing books alone. There has to be another, communal, rationale to make that visit. Therefore many bookstores are luring in customers not by telling them to come and buy books, but by making various events open to them, such as book readings, poetry slam competitions, live music, etc., that ultimately result in book purchases,” says Leonard.
However Diviya opines that such events used to help, but not anymore. Literati which also has a café and a gift store was one of the first bookstores in Goa to have interesting events like book releases, book reading sessions, film screening etc. She observes: “It used to help when we had just started. Now there are 10 to 15 events happening at the same time. So, we have also reduced such events, until and unless it is something very special. Some market experts are hoping that book sale will be revived after a year. I don’t know how. But, in places like USA, bookstores are now reopening and also Amazon is opening a bookstore,” says Diviya.
Anuradha says: “I think Goa can do with some curated book shops where chosen books are available – including old ones and not so popular ones and which are run by readers and people who understand books.”
Reading and more reading
Jugneeta Sudan, academician and book reviewer says that closing down of bookstores is to do with the whole community as we have failed to support them: “We should have events like book clubs as it is very important for people to come together. Also every art gallery should have a book club and it should not matter how many people are attending,” says Jugneeta.
Apurva Kulkarni, art historian, conducts book reading sessions at Gallery Gitanjali, Panaji, opines that reading habit has been under threat right from late 1980s with advent of new media, but in spite of that it has survived. “There is always a tussle between reading and viewing habit. But, in these few years Indian publishing has grown leaps and bounds. Also there are so many literary festivals happening now. Also our book reading sessions ‘Between the Lines’ is more for readers as we focus not on best-sellers or the new books,” says Apurva. He further adds that with advent in digital technology we have become digital natives: “Due to our exposure to new media I think we have become plural and are continuously shifting from one medium to another.” Apurva who finds himself comfortable with books and e-books equally, is one who buys a hard copy after reading the same book online.
Fredrick believes that our library system is languishing and two grand libraries (Panaji and Navelim) are not enough. “The ‘library cess’ which the government collects isn’t being used to promote the actual book-reading culture in Goa.
In the Central Library, you have to search real hard for new books published from Goa, though there are many nowadays. Some of the state-funded book exhibitions end up as flops due wrong choice of venue or inadequate publicity. Even plans for an NBT (National Book Trust) outlet in Goa have got stuck due to some possibly bureaucratic approaches,” says Fredrick.
Creating new breed of readers
The oxygen for bookstores and books is its readers. It is the time to invest in creating young readers. Jugeneeta suggests, “Make a point to buy books for children and let them be there in their book shelves. They may go through them once in a while. For outings take children to book stores, book fairs. Also the school administrators need to conduct book reading sessions as library extensions in schools.”