Online sales are fast replacing traditional bookstores that are now struggling for survival

Remember the times when a visit to the bookstore was no less than a treat? The rows and rows of neatly stacked books always held the promise of an untold mystery or transported you into a world of fantasy while the friendly store owner wouldn’t mind doling out recommendations based on your preference. Stores like Higginbothams, A.A. Husain, Walden, Akshara and Gangarams have for long been a part of Hyderabad’s heritage. But with the reading habit undergoing a metamorphosis with the invasion of technology, book lovers in the city claim that bookstores too are undergoing a transformation — and taking desperate measures to sustain themselves against the onslaught of e-commerce.

“At the cosmetic level, bookstores are now becoming general stores. Today bookstores sell a whole lot of gifts and merchandise in addition to books. This is not really an inspiring sight but I understand the economic realities as well as the changing consumer behaviour. But books are beyond that; they shape a civilisation. If books lose their rightful place in society, then society itself loses a huge aspect of its DNA,” says Sunil Robert Vuppula, a Hyderabad-origin author. A voracious reader himself, Sunil recalls the time when a visit to the bookstore opened up a whole new world for him. “A.A. Husain and Gangarams were a couple of bookstores that are part of my memories of growing up in Hyderabad. Higginbothams was another. But one defining moment was when Walden opened up in Begumpet. By far, the biggest in the early 90s, Walden was able to bring in new books at a fast clip,” he says.

Bookstores hold a special place for Deepa V., a student. “When I was a child, my mother would take me to Gangarams to buy me books if I did well in my exams and at the beginning of every vacation. The prospect of getting a new story book was incentive enough to study. These days though it just seems more convenient to buy them online. Besides you get good offers on these websites,” she says.

While there are still quite a few bookstores around, they are not just about page-turners anymore. Online sales have affected bookstore sales. “There has been a notable change in buying patterns in the last five years. When Akshara was first set up there was a lot of demand for books. But today people would rather buy books off a website. E-commerce websites offer huge discounts; even on bestsellers, which are what drive sales at any bookstore. They offer discounts even up to 40 per cent, better than what is offered by publishers; sometimes even we buy a few titles from these websites. However, people still prefer to come to a bookstore to pick up children’s books and works by Indian authors that are not online,” says Myneni Lakshmi, partner at Akshara bookstore.

Asif Husain, proprietor A.A. Husain & Co. couldn’t agree more. “Sure, online portals have affected our sales. But they have also created an awareness of books and encouraged the reading habit. However, things are different today. People don’t have the patience to read and complete a book. The thrill of reading a book has come down. They will pick up a book only if there’s something about it online. Earlier, customers would come to the store and spend hours browsing through our collections. They would have a conversation with my father and grandfather about the books we stocked and their interests, based on which we would then suggest them a few books they could pick up. Today it is impersonal. Customers come and pick up what they want and leave,” he says.

Popular online book stores