Books

Independent bookstores come together to fight discriminatory practices

Rachna Bookstore in Gangtok

Rachna Bookstore in Gangtok   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The Independent Bookshops Association of India hopes to give struggling bookstore owners a platform where they can consolidate, find their voice, and be heard

“We unbox, organise, shelf, dust, and arrange together. That has been our philosophy from our origin. There is a lot of hard work going forward and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and building another gem in the city that is special and welcoming,” says Priyanka Malhotra.

She and her team are setting up Full Circle bookstore anew, in Meherchand Market, taking with them the frangipani tree, after they decided to give up their Khan Market branch in Delhi, when the rent became unaffordable. It is not just this family-owned small bookstore that has been facing rough times because of the lockdown. Many across the country are, but there is hope.

Two years ago, at The Hindu Lit For Life, Raman Shresta and Diviya Kapur both book shop owners, spoke of their struggle for survival at a panel discussion. “The seeds of this idea were probably sown there,” says Raman about the recently launched Independent Bookshops Association of India (IBAI) by six proprietors of independently owned bookshops.

Their vision is to empower, promote and provide a platform for these stores. Besides Diviya and Raman, they include Leanord and Queenie Fernandes (The Dogears Bookshop, Goa), Neha Tiwari and Vishal Pipraiya (Pagdandi Bookstore Café, Pune), Aman and Mayura Misra (Storyteller Bookstore, Kolkata) and Ahalya and Meethil Momaya (Trilogy, Mumbai).

“People lament the loss of readership, people moving away from bookstores and all that,” says Raman who owns Rachna Books in Gangtok, Sikkim, a beautiful store with a café and a B&B attached to it. “The industry is not empathetic to small bookstores. I think we are the frontline workers in the book business; we deliver right into the hands of the reader,” he says. “Decades of relationships with publishers and distributors count for nothing and we find ourselves sidelined. Small book stores are struggling to compete with online giants like Amazon or Flipkart.” How can we offer the large discounts these people do?” he asks, rhetorically.

Thank you, says Priyanka Malhotra, to...
  • Urvashi Bhutali of Zubaan Books, who offered support by rallying around others in the fraternity to help set up our new space in Meherchand Market
  • Naveen Kishore of Seagull Publishing sent us an encouraging email, offering marketing and promotional efforts to their large and loyal database
  • Bipin Shah of Mapin Books, Arpita Das of Yoda Press, Sayoni Basu of Duckbill Books, Richa Jha of Pickle Yolk Books, Gaurav Shrinagesh, Sanjeev Gupta and Sameer Mahale from Penguin Random House India have expressed their full support in the opening of our new bookstore
  • Nini Singh and Rachna Singh of The Bookshop Jorbagh, who immediately sent us an email expressing the collective loss and offering any help going forward
  • Jairaj Singh of the erstwhile, and famous, Fact & Fiction Bookstore, whose father Ajit Vikam Singh, the gentleman that provided a much-needed bookstore that was at the centre of Delhi’s heart
  • Kanishka Gupta, of Writers Side, who encouraged us to share our journey
  • IBAI could be a viable alternative to Amazon and Flipkart, says Leonard Fernandes. “Most developed economies have very vibrant bookstore economies. It levels the playing field.” He gives the example of France and other European countries that have a law where retailers are not allowed to give more than a certain percentage of discount. “The booksellers and the Government’s association is strong as is the law that was laid down in the early 1980s. Whether you buy a book online or offline, the discount is the same.”

    “We hope IBAI will give even the most obscure bookstore an opportunity to find its voice and be heard. At the moment we do not have the numbers to be taken seriously. Collectively we will have more bargaining power,” he says. The bookstores registered with the IBAI will also extend help to each other, says Fernandes. “For example, there are small bookstores and publishers in Kolkata who lost so much stock post Amphan. We will step in to fulfil any order they have so they do not lose customers.”

    IBAI hopes to have an online bookstore fed by independent shops. “You can order a book online and the store closest to you sends it.” This has been an ongoing topic of WhatsAppp chats for a few years now, but it really did not translate into anything concrete, says Diviya, laughing. “But lockdown gave us the time to hone the discussions to what we are and want to be,” she says. All they want is a policy that is fair to independent bookstores, says Diviya. “Instead of most support we get the least,” she rues.

    What excites her is the possibility that IBAI will facilitate small stores sharing best practices and resources, and, at some point, maybe an online presence. IBAI will also start compiling a directory of independent book stores in the country. And she hopes, “We should be able to lobby for policy changes.”

    While Priyanka is not a part of IBAI yet, she says the way ahead is to see “ourselves as a community, that is collective and collaborative rather than competitive. We realise we’re in this together.”

    To register with IBAI as an independent bookstore, visit Indiebookshops.in. On Instagram, Facebook, Twitter @bookshopsindia

    With inputs from Sunalini Mathew

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    Printable version | Jul 4, 2020 12:00:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/small-bookstores-come-together-in-india/article31824224.ece

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