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Updated: July 2, 2012 12:04 IST

‘Retail bookstores need to reinvent themselves’

S. Anandan
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V.K. Karthika
V.K. Karthika

With online sale of books becoming the order of the day, conventional retail bookstore chains are in for serious trouble.

“Retailers should take a relook, rather reinvent themselves to stay in contention,” cautions V.K. Karthika, publisher and chief editor of Harper Collins India.

In a conversation with The Hindu on the sidelines of an academic event here the other day, Ms. Karthika said almost 25 per cent of Harper Collins’ revenue came from online sale of books through Flipkart, Infibeam, Indiaplaza and Amazon.

“Retail stores have of late become display centres where you see and choose books. Then you go home and order your choices online. That is what everyone does these days,” she said.

Flipkart was even coming up with warehouses in every part of the country. This would not augur well for retail bookstore chains. “Crossword, for instance, has shut three stores in Mumbai alone.” The exodus of buyers from bookstores, however, had not affected ‘neighbourhood stores’— the ones maintaining a rapport with their regular customers, she maintained. According to her, online sale of books turned over a new leaf for publishing houses, as they were now able to access the Indian diaspora.

Retail patterns, which earlier would register a surge when NRIs headed home for holidays, were changing now.

During a recent visit to a Landmark store, she found more curios, toys and stationery items stacked there as compared to books.

“Retailers have never really supported us,” she said. In comparison, online stores were really forthcoming to take on books that were relegated by conventional stores to ‘special categories’.

With this trend in mind, leading publishing houses have already begun to convert their volumes into e-books.

“In the US, 50 per cent of our revenue is from sale of e-books. Here, we are starting it in July-August which will also be available for purchase through online book stores besides e-readers.”

Ms. Karthika said there would be a sea change in the book publishing scene in the country over the next five years. The discounts offered by online stores to lure book buyers would see cuts and eventual extinction in the long run. And, the thing about e-readers was that they created a ‘captive audience’. The inherent danger of this, she said, was that over time the publisher would be bypassed and everyone would start putting “rubbish out there without it being filtered by an editor or a reader”.

More In: Kochi | Books

Coming from a background where I was sorrounded by books as part of my job and now on to a ecommerce platform which sells books online, I can very much emphatize with offline retailers who seem to be going through the churn. Selling books offline had its own chram, with the familiar smell of books on wooden racks, having a touch and feel of the same, flipping through the pages before zeroing in on a buy-all of which is only possible within the confines of a book store.
However where the online stores have made a dent is the fact that they are able to pass on huge discounts to the customer which includes options like COD(Cash on Delivery), Free Shipping and the like of offers, freebies which the book trade has never seen before.

from:  Karthik Subramanian
Posted on: Jul 4, 2012 at 15:20 IST
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