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The Lost World of Book stores


This article in Mint made me think of the dying trade of bookstores, which as a bibliophile pains me.  Independent book stores have been downing shutters for a few years now - Borders the iconic bookstore chain - its Oxford street store was a landmark (even tourist attraction for Bibliophile Asians like me where I have spent couple of Sundays just reading) - shut shop in 2009; Fact & Fiction a similar iconic store in Delhi shut shop recently.

Some non-bibliophiles wonder why are bookstores needed when you can buy any book online much cheaper? Well, (at the risk of sounding politically incorrect) any woman would tell you why - the pleasures of Window shopping! Yes indeed - for bibliophiles, bookstores offer the same pleasures of serendipity - discovering a new book in a completely different genre or chancing up on an old book from your favourite author which you didn't know about.

There are other benefits - especially with bookstores with liberal policies for browsing books - you can read from the first chapter up to even half a book in the store, sitting there for a few hours before you decide you want to buy the book. In fact, the more 'mature' the book store, the more liberal the browsing policy. Many bookstores have stools, benches or even couches in the isle so that people sit and browse books, many have alcoves converted into coffee shops where you could sip a cup while reading a book (even without buying it).

Bookshops have also served as places of meeting like minded people, as this article puts it - "A section of the political circle often hangs out at The Bookshop... The Bookshop has the vibe of a global village.... Fact & Fiction's Ajit Vikram Singh, frequented KD’s Jor Bagh store as a college boy. 'I wanted to open a bookshop just like KD’s.... It was there that I first met writers like Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut and Jerzy Kosinski.' " There is a theory that the rise of bookstores along with coffeehouses contributed to the Age of Enlightenment aka Renaissance.

In essence, the bookstore has several reasons to exist, apart from just 'selling' books, which is the one need online retailers service much better. To be fair, some online retailers have tried to replicate part of the book store experience by allowing buyers to browse books before buying them; some new age publishers and authors also release the first few chapters of books free prior to the book release.

However, these attempts have failed to create the same effect and romance in minds of bibliophiles who still love their already dwindling book stores. So what is the way out? How should bookstores cope up with the challenge of rising property prices (rents), lowering margins, even dying of physical books (and rise of eReaders)?

Read on to Part II

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