Is rising readership in Mumbai fact or fiction? Bookstore, library owners reveal

Jan 12, 2019, 09:40 IST | Dalreen Ramos

Last year proved to be good for book sales in the West. Mumbai's bookstore and library owners tell us if rising readership is fact or fiction

Is rising readership in Mumbai fact or fiction? Bookstore, library owners reveal

I've fallen in and out of love for reading. The romance began when I was eight, and my parents thought it would be a good idea to get me a library membership, because I'm sure they didn't want shelves to come crumbling down with the sheer weight of bundles of Enid Blyton, Carolyn Keene and Franklin W Dixon. But the shelves at a circulating library near home were stronger. Visiting it was a weekly ritual. I can't say the same now.

The Nielsen Bookscan, which monitors data for retail book sales in English worldwide reported an increase of £34 million in sales in 2018 in the UK. With data collected from 6,500 bookstores, the sales in 2018 are likely to cross that of 2016 — the year of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. In the US, hardcover sales have risen and the number of independent bookstores have gone up by 5 per cent. Here's what Mumbai's independent bookstore and library owners have to say.

Jignesh Shah with his father at the library. Pics/Suresh Karkera
Jignesh Shah with his father at the library. Pics/Suresh Karkera

An emotional attachment
Thirty years ago, when Sunil Book House and Circulating Library set up shop in Grant Road, bookstores made business sense. It's been 14 years since I had my name written down on their giant black ledger. Members pay a R500 deposit and pay a rent of R10 to R150 for each book they take home per week. "We have around 400 active members, most of them are women in their 40s. Reading habits have changed in the last 15 years, and we've only been carrying this business as an emotional attachment," says Jignesh Shah, who manages the library.

Manish Modi. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Manish Modi. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The more, the merrier
I would not say that book sales have shot up. A huge component in any publisher's sale in India is government purchases. The government in power has cut down the budgets of government publication houses by 70 per cent, and purchases of books by 90 per cent," says Manish Modi of Hindi Granth Karyalay at CP Tank, who sells a wide variety of publications starting at R20. Modi adds that having more bookstores will only increase sales. "As long as people are buying books, I'm happy. It's free competition," he states.

Ashok Shah. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Ashok Shah. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Second thoughts
In 1961, Dhanjibai Shah launched the Navbharat Sahitya Mandir, a bookstore, distributor and publisher for Gujarati books on Princess Street, after working in a bookstore in Ahmedabad. But his son Ashok, who runs the space today says things have drastically changed since then — publishing has been cut by nearly 50 per cent. "Children can't read Gujarati because they don't learn it in school. It's the same case with any other non-English language. So, our customers are only people aged over 45," he shares.

Saifuddin Golwala shows a rare Urdu book. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Saifuddin Golwala shows a rare Urdu book. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Still scholarly
For Saifuddin Golwala of Saifee Book Agency, an Urdu bookstore in Bhendi Bazaar, a book is a book, even if digitisation has hit the industry. "There are still ghazal lovers in the world. And there is a demand for Urdu overseas. There's a downfall, but people still respect the language," he says, adding that the people who drop by are usually those pusuing a doctorate or a degree in the language. So, books are bought even if they are slightly expensive and titles offering an introduction to ghazals are the most popular.

Iqbal Merchant. Pic/Ashish Raje
Iqbal Merchant. Pic/Ashish Raje

No second thoughts
Iqbal Merchant of Victoria Book Centre and Circulating Library in Mahim noticed a slump in book sales three years ago. But things changed last year and Merchant is all set to open a new store adjoining the old one on January 26, for second-hand books ranging from R9 to R99, while their library maintains a rate of R300 for membership. Even the hoarding reads, 'Loot Lo'. Speaking about what prompted the move he says, "Many libraries have shut down so we have more people flocking here, even from places like Vasai. I noticed that there's a huge market for second-hand books and decided to convert our godown into another store," he says, adding that it will house some of his prized comic books.

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