How Delhi’s last few independent bookstores are holding the line

How Delhi’s last few independent bookstores are holding the line

By KARAN CHOUDHARY | | 23 January, 2016
Interiors of Amrit Book Co. in Connaught Place, New Delhi.
The recent closure of Delhi’s favourite independent bookstore Fact n Fiction saddened book lovers across the city to no end. Now, only a handful of independent bookstores remain in the national capital, barely able to keep afloat. Karan Choudhary reports.

There is uniqueness in the way in which every bookstore presents its merchandise. The way the books are arranged, the choice of books put on display and the differences in the collections combine to create a distinct feel for each store.  

With the closure of Fact n Fiction in Vasant Vihar, Spell & Bound in Hauz Khas and Galgotias in Connaught Place in quick succession, independent bookstores are now a dying breed in the city. They are being replaced by chain stores and online retailers who provide lower prices and special offers which standalone stores cannot afford to. This, accompanied by real estate prices ratcheting upwards, have meant that people who were runing such self-funded enterprises had to shut down shop, not being able to make enough to remain profitable. But the city still boasts a few independent outlets, the last remaining, each with its own specialties and idiosyncrasies.

Nestled in the crowded market of Paharganj, Jackson’s Bookstore can be easily overlooked by the traveller’s gaze. The small shop is incongruous with the spice and tea merchants who surround it, but it has a formidable collection of books. In existence since the early 1970s, the store has an extensive collection of foreign books.

A large numbers of foreign tourists sell their old books at this store. This means that that the facilitiy remains well-stocked with foreign editions and reprints which are difficult to procure elsewhere. The unique nature of their clientele requires the store owners to maintian an eclectic collection of books. The owner, Deepak, says: “With most of our clients being tourists, we have to even stock English books which are popular in Germany or Israel”.

Amrit Book Co., established in Connaught Place in 1936 — just a year after Connaught Place itself was constructed — lays claim to being the oldest bookstore in the city. The store makes use of its capacious size to host a large collection of books, with a number of them on religion and philosophy. Puneet Sharma, the proprietor, says, “We do try and specialise in books on religion and philosophy and stock title which are generally not available at other stores.” Talking about the state of the book business in India, he adds, “It is hard, and the profits aren’t what some other stores make. We get about 60-70 customers each day. But it becomes difficult for those who do not own the shop to stay in business. The profits from book selling do not allow the store to pay rents”.

The extensive collection here has been curated by the owners themselves, and the books are bought on a “sale or return” understanding from the publishers. “This allows us to stock titles by new authors, since we know we could return the books if they don’t sell,” Sharma says.

Famous Bookstore, located on Janpath, has been in business since 1948, with the shop established after the closure of the original one in Lahore. With the books here stacked in closely arranged piles, the store bears a cozy ambience. Along with books, the store also has an extensive collection of comics.

Sanjeev Arora, who owns this facility, says “The book business in India has never been better. More people can read, and more people are reading. But this business is not going to the bookstores, who are not being able to make the profits which they once did. The rapid rise in real estate prices means that selling books is no longer remunerative. So, the only stores who have the option of keeping a bookstore running are the ones who own shops, and not others.”
With his quarter century experience of managing the store, he notes how the interests of the customers are changing. “Earlier, fiction was the most popular, but now, most customers want to buy non-fiction books. Self- Help and management books too are becoming increasingly popular” he says.

“The book business in India has never been better. More people can read, and more people are reading. But this business is not going to the bookstores, who are not being able to make the profits which they once did.”

Located in the quiet surroundings of the Jor Bagh market, The Bookshop is redolent of a time long past, with its wooden floors and low lighting. With an extensive collection and ample space, the shop allows one to browse at leisure. It is easy to guess that most of the patrons are regular with the familiarity with which they converse with the owner. Established in 1970, the bookstore has a created niche for itself among Delhi’s bibliophiles.

Fakirchand in Khan Market is one of the two major bookstores which still adorn Khan Market, Baharisons being the other. These two are remnants of a time when the market was known for its bookshops, with the now The Book Shop and Full circle complementing these two. Established in 1951, along with the market, Fakirchand is now being run the third generation bookshop owner Anup Kumar. Talking about his business, he says “The last few years were really bad for books, with really low sales, but this has changed now. It is picking up again now. The margins on books which we sell is really low, and we don’t make as much of a profit as other establishments can.”

Discussing the competition from the e-retailers, he says “the effect of these has now worn off, now we get a lot of people who want to browse books before they buy them, and those who want the bookshop experience. The closure of other brick and mortar bookshops has meant that the ones which remain have gotten their clientele. This has made our business more profitable.”

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