Why Independent Bookshops Still Matter
April 27, 2018
Which isn’t to say that I want to start a morcha protesting the proliferation of online bookselling websites. Despite what the title might imply, I’m not setting out to deliver a judgemental lecture on the evils of online book-buying. Instead, I hope to begin a conversation about why good, local bookshops are important.
Independent bookshops cannot hope to compete with the advantages offered by an online bookseller. If you visit a bookshop with expectations of steep discounts or of finding nearly any single book you can think of, you’re likely to be disappointed. Which is why bookshops need to rethink the way they promote themselves. While they might not be able to offer the convenience of an online bookseller, they should market their distinct advantage in the sort of experience they can provide.
“I don’t want to go into a bookshop which merely feels like an impersonal store,” explains writer, parent and reading club organiser Harshikaa Udasi. “I like for the person to enhance my knowledge of the book. The advice of a ‘book person’ is essential. Then, I don’t mind paying a higher price because of the expertise.” However, not many independent bookshops have people who are able to do this well.
Browsing through the interestingly-stocked shelves, discovering new authors and books they’ve not heard of, and being surprised and excited by the books they find are the favourite bits of visiting bookshops for the readers I spoke to. Writer and literature-festival-curator Yashasvi Vachhani likes being able to physically go through the books she may have read about online before she commits to buying a copy.
Cafes in bookshops are another crowd-pleaser. Sometimes you don’t want to buy books but just want to be surrounded by books, as Vachhani points out. Bookshops which have found a niche can also use that as a promotional feature both in-store and on social media. For example, stores with a strong children’s book collection or science fiction and fantasy sections will bring fans in through the door.
Aparna believes editor’s picks and featured author sections in bookshops would be a great touch. Sen suggests friendlier reading spaces, particularly for children and teenagers. Annual sales in bookshops would also be a welcome way to draw people in. “I understand bookshops can’t offer the same discounts,” says Vachhani. “But I would like to see a good sale full of interesting titles. Everybody likes a good bargain.” Sanjana thinks the shops need to do a better job of displaying and promoting Indian books. “Even Amazon has a recommended list of books and some of them are rubbish but at least they include some good Indian titles,” agrees Udasi.
Parinita Shetty likes books, board games, blanket forts, and cake. She dislikes procrastinating but not enough to actually stop doing it. She works with children's books in different ways and has managed to write a few too. She should currently be writing but is probably watching Doctor Who. You can reach her on Instagram.