Only a book-lover will understand the joy of sitting beside a window sill, watching the rainfall, holding a steaming cup of tea and curling up to read a wellthumbed, yellowed book. Fast forward to the future: hordes of students and professionals are travelling in packed buses or metros, each one holding a smart device: a phone or a tablet and reading his/her own’s book.
In a technology-driven world, there is a constant push towards the ‘e’ content. From vegetables to diapers, everything is available online. Flipkart, an e-commerce giant, has recently acquired Myntra, another major e-commerce website in what is being touted as the ‘biggest consolidation of e-commerce space in India’. The most interesting part of this deal is that Flipkart was launched in 2007 as a website selling books online. It goes without saying that Flipkart hasn’t had to look back since then. Yet, booksellers in the city are definitely looking back.
“Yes, our sales have dropped reasonably due to online book sales. No wonder we’ve had to shut down our ground-floor shop and move to the first floor,” says Ajay Arora (44), owner of Capital Book Depot, Sector 17, Chandigarh.
He asserts that sales have been hit both by the rise of online book-sellers like Flipkart and Amazon and due to the advent of e-books.
“There are different kinds of readers, some are quick adaptors; they are open to the idea of e-books and gladly read on an electronic device. Some prefer the printed hard copies and stick to them. The new generation is well-versed with e-learning. So, for them, e-books is the future, while a large segment of traditional readers would still prefer a tangible book.”
He adds that websites sell bestsellers on discounts to attract customers, even incurring losses in the process. Whereas, local retailers are unable to do so as they have to make ends meet and pay for other costs. Raising the issue of book storage, he says. “Today, we have smaller houses and compact spaces, so storing several books is a problem for many. E-books solve this problem and thus, gain advantage over printed books,” he says.
However, he is certain that even though newer technologies have hit the booksellers’ business, there is still a huge market and it is not really a ‘doomsday scenario’ for them.
For Bhupesh Bhateja (48), owner of Universal Book Store, Sector 17, Chandigarh, online book-sellers are not a threat at all.
“While e-books are still a rarity in India, online sellers hardly have a share in terms of course books for different streams. Yes, online sellers have an edge when it comes to pocket books, but for a course book, one will always visit a local book store.”
He says that at a book store, a buyer gets the extra benefit of consultation, “You come to me asking for a general knowledge book, I will be able to help you choose one; you do not get this kind of personal consultation while buying online,” he says.
He states that being a bookseller is the best profession, as one is always in the company of books and loyal readers will always flock to a book shop.
Has the e-whirlwind hit libraries too? “No,” says Pankaj P Singh (44), chief executive, The Browser Library and Book Store, Sector 8, Chandigarh. He maintains that readers who come to libraries are people who love books and are in the habit of visiting libraries. E-books do not hold the same significance for them. “For someone who loves books and the feel of a hard-bound paper in his hands, e-books cannot replace printed books,” he says. It is different when it comes to buyers, he adds, “There are certain advantages of e-books, like academic books, which have a new edition published every year. Printing them again is a bad bargain even for the publisher. In such scenarios, e-books are a great option.”
He states, “Many e-commerce sites use books as lossleader products. This means that they sell books at heavy discounts, incurring losses in the bargain only to convert potential customers into buyers. E-buying is still a new thing for many people. Websites cleverly attract new consumers by giving them great deals on books and thus, earning loyal customers for their entire line of products.” Nevertheless, he agrees that though business has dwindled, a segment of loyal customers will always be there.
Simranjeet Kaur (25), an ardent book-lover, says, “I have memberships for many libraries and buy new books. Yes, I do buy online sometimes, but then there are times when I can’t wait for two to three days for the book to be delivered. Then, I just go to a book store and buy them in an instant.”
Mandy Singh (22), a Panjab University student, says, “I do not think reading on a phone or tablet is as much fun as reading a book. One may read articles or short stories online, but trying to read longer versions on a screen can be taxing.”
Kalpana Khanna (32), mother of a five-year-old, says, “Though I prefer the printed book, kids nowadays are so tech-savvy. My son can easily use mobiles and tablets and if given a choice between a book and an e-device, he would pick the e-device.”