Have e-Readers, internet spelled doom for the humble, hand-held book?

Jan 31, 2014, 21:54 IST | Soma Das

The start of the year marks the commencement of book sales. The GUIDE speaks to bookstore owners and the management to find out why sales are significant and whether eReaders and the Internet have played havoc with book sales

Online shopping for books and the entry of eReaders should have spelled doom for the humble, hand-held book. Especially, since the web offers economical prices and ships books home (for free, at times). Yet the interest in books and book sales remains unabated, evident in the hordes of people seen at most such events.

A sale for every season
“Organising a book sale helps customers buy their favourite books at lower prices, as they can buy more books during this time. Also, it helps to keep up with the online discounts,” shares Kinjal Shah, COO of Crossword Bookstore.

The bookstore has been hosting sales for the last eight years, including an annual sale, a clearance sale and a children’s festival. Fiction, children’s books and non-fiction categories work well during such sales, observes Shah.

He admits that the main challenge lies in identifying the best months for a book sale. “We also have to get maximum margins from the publishers to give customers higher discounts. Sales help new groups to explore books and induces people to buy books in spite of them not being a necessity,” he adds.

Going further back in time, the city has one name that has always been synonymous with book sales — The Strand Book Stall, which started its bi-annual book sale 16 years ago. Vidya Virkar, the owner, recalls, “My father TN Shanbag and I felt that it could be an extension of the brand ethos. Readers have limited access to the stocks of books we get, since the display space at the store is small. Through such sales, we display those books which don’t find space at the shop, and offer readers an eclectic collection of books, at affordable prices.”

The Strand Book Fair at Sunderbai Hall offers books across genres 

Complementing the fiesta
Literature festivals are another opportunity where book sales become a complementary draw for readers and curious onlookers. Banking on this, Landmark hosts sales at the Mumbai Literature Festival as well as festivals in Chennai and Lucknow. Over the last two decades, they have been organising half-yearly and end-of-year sales. Sivaraman Balakrishnan, Head of Marketing, Landmark, states that the major challenges are acquiring the stock in time and deciding on the discount offers. “At a literature fest, the books on sale also need to complement the theme of the fest,” he says.

Explore the genre
T Jagath, Business Manager, Kitab Khana, also believes that book sales are significant as they provide readers a greater access to books. At their sales, children and non-fiction categories are considered crucial for good sales. Coffee table books also make sense as they are usually high-priced and people can afford them only
during sales.

Netting the web
On the other hand, the availability of books through the Internet has the possibility of acting as a dampener for bookshops and sales, yet surprisingly bookstore owners and management seem unfazed. Says Shah, “We haven’t seen a dip in book sales. In fact, books as a category has increased by 7% as compared to last year and books contribute 60% to our overall sales. To gain footfalls, we use print ads, radio ads and branding at other venues.”
Shah is not worried about e-books invading the market either, as they make up less than 1% of the overall book market, he states.

The Crossword Book sale includes an annual sale, a clearance sale and a children’s fest

Balakrishnan seconds Shah’s view on the matter: “Readership is at an all-time high. Although, the way the readers source books has changed, this has not affected the sales. Many readers have presumably shifted to e-commerce. In most cases, readers have a specific book in mind in that context. However, during a sale, the reader is exposed to new genres which can interest the reader to choose and read that book.”

Jagath explains that a book sale can beat the online experience: “Word of mouth publicity is the best publicity.

People still like to browse in bookstores and read from paper editions. As long as you give good customer service and individual attention, bookstores will always remain special and unique. Online portals can never provide personalised service or good ambiance for readers and intellectuals to meet and interact with each other. At Kitab Khana we also encourage a lot of literary events.”

In a similar vein, Virkar stresses that they are catering to literary purists who don’t like to dilute the experience: “On the net, you will not find a certain quality of books and there are many people who don’t know where and what to look for in books, as there are thousands of titles out there. At our sales, they are assured of handpicked selections of books based on quality. Our sales help people build a library,” she concludes.

Sales currently on

Strand Book Fair
Till: February 2
At: Sunderbai Hall, Churchgate.

Crossword sale
Till: February 9
At: All Crossword outlets.

Landmark sale
Till: February 4
At: All Landmark outlets.

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