The Demise of Bookstores

7 mins read

A home without books is like a body without a soul.

Brick and Mortar bookstores are dying and e-commerce companies like Amazon, Flipkart etc are their killers. Nothing against the e-commerce companies, just that the demise of the bookstores at their hands is difficult to accept. They just cannot compete with the deep pockets, discounts and speed of delivery of online platforms – it is not a level playing field. By some account hundreds of bookstores have closed in the NCR – replaced by jewellery / mobile shops. I cannot find a decent bookstore within my reach.

Even textbook haven like Nai Sarak and footpath markets like Daryaganj are struggling for survival. “Advent of online bookstores, rise in book piracy, a flourishing photocopy culture and an increase in number of foreign publishers setting up shop in India are behind the book street’s slow death.” says the article.

A Class 10 pass, Pramod Verma (above), considers himself an authority on textbooks. To be a good textbook seller, he says, one needs to understand how courses change.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
Charanjit Singh’s book shop in is among the largest book markets in the entire city. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Malls and mega shopping complexes today are devoid of bookstores. I mistrust malls without bookstores. There is no place in it for a person like me, a place to escape the crowds and find the voices on paper that calm you.

This piece by Satabdi Mishra puts across the value of bookstores aptly:

“Bookshops are one of the few spaces that uphold democratic values, social justice and freedom of thought and speech. Bookshops are our best hope of keeping truth alive, to help us speak up, more loudly, with more courage, each time our voices are silenced by oppressors. Bookshops are spaces that bring us together, help us empower ourselves with knowledge, to fight back our oppressors. We will not be silenced. We will not die.”

Bookshops and libraries, are oases of civilization in the present uncouth world of Twitter and Facebook. They are islands where lively democracy exist, where they connect us with like minded people and acquaint us with our cultural past. The world of distant lands and the romance of history comes alive in a bookstore or a library. They inculcate and stimulate a love for books by the very act of browsing over titles, picking them up lovingly and riffling through their pages. You cannot do this by scrolling on a lifeless website or URL. You have to touch, feel and smell a book to appreciate the attraction of the written word. I find nothing more comforting than the musty smell of a bookshop.

Buying a book cannot and should not be a vulgar mercenary transaction, as it is when you press a key on your computer to buy one.

In my younger days and even today, I do it differently – a fast vanishing art. A book is not supposed to be just picked off a shelf like a packet of cigarettes, a certain etiquette has to be followed – after half an hour of browsing through the various sections, you ask the owner for a certain title or author, the bookstore owner produces half a dozen of them, suggests some books of his own, shows you the latest issues. It’s time now for a cup of coffee or a cigarette (during my younger days), over which the two of you discuss who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays or whether Hemingway was a better journalist or writer. No one is in a hurry and in the fullness of time a book is bought, a bond cemented. I witnessed all this again after many years at Bahrisons, Galleria Market and Khan Market, and my heart did what Wordsworth’s usually did on seeing a daffodil. Surely we cannot allow this dimension of our culture to die at the hands of Amazon and AI algorithms which know nothing about books.

Some countries, I think twelve in the EU, including Germany, have legislated a ” Fixed Pricing Policy” which prevents on-line portals and platforms from selling books below the printed price and empirical evidence shows that this has in fact helped the brick and mortar bookshops to better compete with their on-line rivals.

Libraries and bookshops are public goods/ services for they are repositories of knowledge, which distinguishes homo sapiens from all other living creatures – the intellect and the mind. If we do not change our pernicious habits the time is not far away when the last bookstore will down its shutters for ever, perhaps to be followed by public libraries which too have been dealt a mortal blow by the pandemic. To survive the digital age the bookstores need the support of the state as well as from each one of us, individually. And so, I urge parents to patronize brick and mortar bookstores in their areas and for heavens sake PLEASE TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO BOOKSTORES – (I was horrified when a young child claimed that her parents never took her to a bookstore – now what is more sad – parents not interested in books or a child growing up without loving books. Just Think!

Culture meant books, because from books we learn about what is best

Tracy Lee Simmons
 I am a book hoarder. I have toyed with the idea of owning a bookstore many times, but I can’t stand other people touching my books, let alone taking it off my shelves and leaving. People who know me well can see a halo around my head when I exit a bookstore.

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