The bookstore has changed. Selling books is not always a profitable business, so perhaps strategising to increase footfall is all the more important for the trade. “Today’s bookstores are no longer book-selling retail outlets. Along with the publishers, we also curate promotional offers that would excite readers,” says Shashindra Nath Mishra of Apeejay Oxford Bookstores.
The look of the bookstore has also changed. Both Starmark and Crossword (Elgin Road store, picture left) and to an extent Oxford stock stationary, CDs, toys. “The concept of retail in general has changed. And a good product mix helps attract the family crowd. These are all allied products and internationally too, bookstores would have such stock,” says Sidharth Pansari of Crossword.
Gautam Jatia of Starmark agrees: “Because we have a good product mix, even those not in the habit of buying books come in and often end up picking a book when they see what’s on offer.” Which is why perhaps most visitors to College Street are students who just want a quick textbook, or are from the old world, who feel out of place reading Coelho while sipping coffee at a new-age bookstore.
That’s not to say that books don’t sell at all, or need other incentives to be picked up. Book Cellar, a small store that opened under the escalator at City Centre, doesn’t have the space for frills. “We don’t have the space to host events. But we do get customers. We started three-and-a-half years ago at City Centre with a stock of Rs 1 lakh. Today we have three stores in Calcutta and a stock of Rs 45 lakh. Business is growing at the rate of 15-20 per cent annually,” says Anand Prasad of Book Cellar.
Starmark opened with one store in 2006. “Now we have four stores in the city and sales have gone up four times,” says Jatia. Crossword has gone from strength to strength too. There are already five stores in the city, the latest at City Centre II, New Town, and there are plans of targeting smaller towns now. “It’s not that you run at a loss. But yes, returns may be less than from other businesses. It’s a business that runs on passion,” says Pansari.