I’m not afraid that my sales will be impacted if the next generation does not read; but I’m concerned for them
Santhosh Kumar is in the newspaper and magazine business for two reasons — first, he loves to read, and second, his father and grandfather were in the same trade. “They also sold Tamil and English dailies and magazines. Their shop was in Royapettah, but I shifted here — to Nandanam — nine years ago.” And since then, Santhosh Newsmart has had a steady clientele, which walks in not just for reading material, but also for short-eats and stationery.
If the number of walk-ins in the hour I spend at his shop is anything to go by, ballpoint refills, Rs. 5 biscuit packets and four-line ruled notebooks, are as popular as printed material. But then again, it’s four in the evening, when school children heading home from school stop to pick up supplies. The newspapers — Santhosh sells 300 copies of Tamil and English papers every day — have regular takers in the mornings, and magazine buyers, I’m told, drop in anytime.
With the years, it’s magazines that have undergone the greatest changes. “Earlier there weren’t so many varieties,” Santhosh tells me, pointing to his shelves, bristling with 220 titles, out of which 150 are in English. “Back then, there was one Anantha Vikatan. Now, there are so many books from the Vikatan group itself! It’s the same with Kumudham. National English magazines too have come out with their own vernacular editions. Even The Hindu,” Santhosh tells me with a smile, “has now brought out a Tamil paper!” Among the specialty magazines, interior design, automobile and electronics are popular, and his customers routinely drop in for their favourites.
And yet, reading, as a habit, is on the wane, feels Santhosh. “I don’t see too many youngsters buying newspapers. They all say they read it online, but it is not like reading a paper, is it?” he asks. Santhosh also believes that the younger lot are happy with ‘flash news’, and merely skimming for news. “And that makes me afraid,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid that my sales will be impacted if the next generation does not read; but I’m concerned for them,” he adds, and attends to a customer asking for pencils and a circulation staffer from a magazine, who asks him where he can pin up a poster.
Business, by and large, is good, and at the end of the day, the newspapers are usually sold, and so are nearly eighty per cent of the magazines. “Some companies take back returns,” Santhosh explains, when I ask what he does with the unsold merchandise. “Sometimes though, we have to bear the loss.” But the products sell only if the content is good, says Santhosh, pointing to a stack of magazines with washing powder sachets stuck to their wrappers. “Samples of toothpaste and face-creams won’t entice the readers!”
Santhosh himself makes it a point to read as many books as possible. Besides being a voracious reader, and an avid follower of political news, he also feels that if he’s familiar with the books, he can easily pick out what his clients want. And so, between customers, Santhosh sits behind the counter, on a plastic stool, next to a pedestal fan, and devours the news that he sells…
(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)