When Ajitvikram Singh closes Fact & Fiction, Delhi's best independent book store next month, he will be remembered, most of all, for trying to sustain a business with high taste. In his shop, you did not meet the entire book market but handpicked works of literary fiction, history and popular culture. Singh's intimacy with books is real; his interaction with customers is polite enough but aristocratic. Unless you are a regular, you get no discount.
"Readers need to decide whether they want to go to a bookshop or a wholesaler," says Singh who, like anyone interested in the survival of book stores in the times of online book shopping and e-readers like Kindle, is still trying to crack the model that will keep indie stores running. (Spell & Bound, another standalone bookstore in SDA Market, is also shutting shop next month.)
"Corporate publishing houses, more than the internet, have changed the game. They pushed up the price of books. Also, their attention only on the big sellers affected sales and production values. Penguin, for example, seems only interested in pushing Amitava Ghosh."
Add to that, the changing culture of reading and you are looking at the beginning of the end of the world - from a bookseller's point of view. "What is the Google experience fundamentally about?" asks Singh. "It's about getting something for nothing, for free. You can't make bookshops about discounts rather than books."
F&F's closure has lessons for other stores even when their sale model is different. MirzaBaig of Midlands, whose shop is high on volumes (here you can bet on 20 copies of everything) and the 'personal touch,' says that he started the tradition of selling books cheap in Delhi.
To his customers he is Mister 20%."Not just 20% discount; at times, he even takes back books if we don't like them," says one of his customers.
Rajni Malhotra says being available at various levels - as publisher, literary agent and a bookseller - has worked for Bahrisons. Niche is also a model that is serving standalone bookshops. Prime examples of this are the National School of Drama bookstore and the May Day Bookshop.
Theatreperson Sudhanva Deshpande, who runs May Day says that in an age when everything is easily available on the internet, a bookstore has to provide a reason for it to be on customers' agenda. "When people come to our store, they know we don't keep what the average store does. We also keep second-hand books." he says. His effort to bring in the off-mainstream culture of the city has also kept the shop formless and in the thrum of the city's conversations. And his favourite bookshop? "Fact & Fiction's one of them."