In the recent past, several bookstores of fame and reputation have closed down in all major cities, thanks to the invasion of online sellers into the worlds of books. In 2011, a major American publishing house named Borders, liquidated its stores all over that country and closed down, filing for bankruptcy. All of its employees lost their jobs, and customers were shocked as the seemingly flourishing bookstore shut down after 40 years in business.
While the stores which have continued to be afloat despite disastrous financial outcomes remain adamant on prices (although certain concessions are extended selectively), the online sellers, some internationally known, have successfully lured the readers away from book-stores, which had had a special place in the hearts of booklovers, with great discounts. In this raging battle, the readers, the main stakeholders, have not been taken into consideration with the significance they deserve. Namrata Srivastava spoke to some avid book readers.
“I love to read books. But after a busy week at the office I wouldn’t want to spend hours travelling to a bookstore to pick my next read. I would rather sit at home and order as many books as I want at a cheaper rate” said Aditya Jamwal, manager in an MNC. “My work schedule does not allow me to go book browsing in stores during the week, but online I can order books even on a Friday and get them delivered at my door steps by Saturday afternoon” he added.
Nowadays, almost everyone possesses a tablet, smart phone or some access to the internet. The websites available online provide easy access to a spectacular range of books for every age. On the other hand, bookstores have a limited stock of books with no discount on the price.
“Most websites suggest books based on those you’ve recently bought. However, compared to online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating customer experience”, said Mr K Chandrmouli, Principal, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Vizag. “There are no customer reviews, no reliable ways to find what you are looking for, and dubious recommendations”, he added.
However, for many, 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 bookstore, past the racks full of titles. Mrs Geeta Warrier, an English teacher at Kendriya Vidyalaya and an avid reader said, “for people like me who like spending time going through each book in a rack, enjoying the feel of endless books around them, bookstores are irreplaceable.”
It has been widely speculated that the way music piracy has discouraged people from buying albums, online books are slowly destroying bookstores. Merging book shops with coffee cafes and gift shops can only help so much. The downside of it is, people are more likely to sit and enjoy the fringe benefits but not buy the books. Also, a huge range of books is available online. One can order any book from any part of the world in any language.
“What most people do not understand is that websites do not have to worry about shelf-space, maintenance cost of the building, electricity bills, and employees’ salaries. So the only way for bookstores to stay afloat is to sell items at a huge mark-up. I always buy my books from a store rather than online,” said Madhu Awasthi, a communication expert at an NGO.
It is hard to say if the magnifying business of online booksellers will overtake the traditional bookstores, but for people who like the view of book-shelfs, traditional bookstores are irreplaceable.