I love bookstores and books. They’re a great place to spend some time browsing books and sometimes even picking up a few books to read every now and then. But bookstores have changed in the last decade. As a kid I would never miss an opportunity to go to a bookstore – be it at Railway Stations, Malls or even the neighborhood store where you got mostly textbooks and stationary apart which also kept generic motivational books. The visit almost always ended with me buying a book even though most of the times I bought a comic book which my mom thought was a waste of money because “it barely had anything to read!” as she always said.
The bookshops like Crossword, Landmark and countless other stores which stacked novels and all kinds of books have undergone a massive change in not only the type of books they keep but also the type of consumers they serve. As a kid, visiting Crosswords at Ghatkopar was something i looked forward to every month or so. It had shelves full of books of all types. It even had a small shelf dedicated to comics. I have many fond memories of browsing and buying books there. It had only books and magazines. You could find obscure titles among the popular ones too. As the years passed, the books were still there but the shelves reduced, merchandise, toys and premium stationary also found its way here. All of the above was similar for Landmark as well.
Landmark is dead. If you visit a crossword bookstore now it has changed itself from a bookstore to a merchandise store which also sells best sellers. They changed with the times to stay relevant and I guess they are doing well? I don’t know. But I don’t see them going away anytime soon. Small independent bookstores never adapted to the modern times and find themselves struggling against a generation that has all sorts of entertainment in their pockets. Many blame e-commerce for their downfall but the truth is that these stores never innovated. They never became anything more than store. The arrival of e-commerce killed the need to go to a store so why would one go to a bookstore in the first place if the point was to just go and buy a book!
We still go to stores for clothes, groceries and medicines. The reasons vary but the primary reasons are for look and feel, personal service and trust. Books were always behind the counters at local stores so you had to deal with either the owner or the sales guy looking at you all the time you were there. If you did go to a store that allowed browsing, the books would either be packed in plastic so one couldn’t read a few pages before buying, had to deal with overly sticky sales people, rude owners and old, often damaged stock. Ofcourse there are exceptions to all these things.
Strand, a popular bookstore in Mumbai recently shut down. It created a sort of sadness among folks online and offline that a Bombay icon had died. Anyone who had ever been there would tell you why it was a good shop. The owner and his behavior with his customers. I never visited this shop because it was too far from where i live. What got to me was how everyone was blaming everything from the internet to ecommerce to today’s generation in the demise of Strand. Strand shut down not because of these things but the reasons i listed above. Failing to keep up with the times. As usual Hemant Morparia says it like it is.