There is always something special about buying new books isn’t it? Leafing through its crisp, new pages, inhaling its smell; these are all traits of a true book lover.
The experience of buying books, though, has changed manifold in the last 3-4 years. Today, the e-shopping rage has consumed us all. And apart from apparel and domestic items, books too are being exceedingly purchased online. The lure of massive discounts and the comfort of buying your favourite book from the comfort of your home by just one click are drawing countless people towards the various e-shopping websites.
This tremendous shift in the buying pattern of readers must have, expectedly, affected a lot of other related elements; namely the physical bookstores.
How are bookstores dealing with this e-shopping onslaught?
We spoke to quite a few bookstores and the reactions were pretty much common everywhere: they are suffering. The small and local bookstores, especially, have been burnt the worst in this e-shopping rage.
Gopal Tiwary, owner of Mohan’s Book Shop – a popular book joint near New Market, Kolkata – raises the same sentiments. “I might have to close shop or consider opting for a new business if this continues,” says Tiwary from his bookshop, “These e-shopping sites offer massive discounts that I can never hope to offer and hence we have suffered badly. My shop is more that 60 years old. But sadly, I might have to shut it soon.”
The situation is much the same in several bookstores across the country. Many popular ones, who have a chain of bookstores, have had to shut down several of their outlets and are reeling from this effect.
The numbers inside these bookstores have dwindled and most of them bear a deserted look through the day unless there are some huge discounts on offer or if they have a makeshift café inside.
So what do the readers, who are the most important aspect of this debate, have to say about the issue? Let’s have a look.
In favour of physical bookstores
Surprisingly, there are still plenty of readers from different places in the country and beyond who prefer physical bookstores to the online ones. The reason for their preference is pretty common.
“I like to buy books from a bookstore primarily because when I enter it, I really love the sight that is in front of me…shelves filled with loads of books!,” says Ceyang Chogyal a young school teacher from Bhutan, and adds, “However, I think the core reason is that while buying a book personally, I really like the touch of the pages in a book, along with its smell which is not possible with online book shopping. And more importantly, I like to choose a book that I find fascinating and then rate it after I have finished reading it, unlike online book stores where a book is already rated.”
This interesting view is almost exactly backed by several other people we spoke to from different age groups and from myriad professions. Most of them loved shopping in bookstores for its nostalgic value and because of getting to ‘touch, smell and feel’ a book before buying it, which, according to them, is an unparalleled feeling.
Best-selling author Usha Narayanan, whose latest book ‘Pradyumna: Son of Krishna’ was a huge success, and who reads books on Kindle these days, also has soft spot for physical bookstores. “Bookstores have their own appeal and nothing can match the pleasure of turning the crisp, clean pages and admiring the beautiful cover. Stores give us the opportunity to browse the latest offerings and take our pick,” said Ms. Narayanan when we spoke to her.
Many, surely, would agree to this sentiment.
In favour of online bookstores
Expectedly, there are countless people who prefer online bookstores today because of various reasons.
“I buy books generally online as I can read their reviews and the discounts are good. Also, it is easy to find books online,” says Shreyance Bhansali, an I.T. professional from Bangalore.
Ava Suri , a working professional from Punjab says much the same, “I buy my books online. I don’t really browse around in bookshops any more. Online books are cheaper. They are better stocked and easily available.”
The numerous others we spoke to mostly preferred online bookstores for their convenience and the large discounts. Furthermore, online bookstores offer a plethora of exclusive and international books which can never be found in a retail bookstore. Plus, their stocks too are much greater in comparison.
However, there are also many out there who are stranded in between; they love physical bookstores and can’t do without them but they can’t ignore the comfort and discounts of online bookstores either. Hence, they end up buying books from both channels.
Whether or not we love the physical bookstores for all the nostalgia or for the ‘smell’ of books, there is no denying that they are facing an imminent threat from e-shopping in the present times. The e-bookstores are here to stay.
That is not to say, though, that the physical bookstores would be wiped out from existence. Much like the many single screen theatres that are managing to survive the multiplex boom, the physical bookstores too would live on – even though their numbers might lessen – if they can adapt to the current times and don’t give in. They will always have their fair share of loyal admirers and all they need is to find ways to keep them hooked.
Author and senior journalist Bishwanath Ghosh of ‘Chai Chai’ and ‘Longing Belonging’ fame, perhaps best explains this debate in his subtle words. “Online stores introduce me to books whose existence I wouldn’t be otherwise aware of. Physical bookshop is about what is there. Online bookshop is about what else is there,” said Mr. Bishwanath when we spoke to him on the issue.
Simply put, e-bookstores, with their myriad advantages, hold the upper hand over their counterparts today. They are definitely the order of the day. But physical bookstores will not fade away either. At least not very soon anyway.