Bengaluru: Walking through stacks of books, scanning the pile from top to bottom, picking up a new book and soaking in the aroma as you flip through its pages is an experience a bibliophile cherishes. Surrounded by a plethora of books, one can easily lose track of time when in a bookstore. With the onset of pandemic, exorbitant rents, and shift in reading habits, bookstores have found it challenging to survive in recent years. This has led to a few bookstores shutting down in Bengaluru, the recent one being “Walking Book Fairs” in J.P. Nagar. However, there are many who adopted new methods to survive tough times.
Church Street has been home to a number of bookstores for long. With the bustling crowd that visits this street, bookstores here have a good number of footfalls. A lot of this changed during covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. People did not venture out during these times which came as a shocking blow to stores that survived on daily sales. This period led to an adoption of technology that helped fight the pandemic blues. “The Bookworm” located in Church Street, is one such store where a quick change helped survive. The owner, Mr. Krishna Gowda, who has been running the bookstore for over 21 years, talks to this correspondent about the challenges and changes he undertook to help survive uncertain times. “The initial lockdown period was difficult. We struggled for over nine months and it took us another three months to break even. The turnover was good but the profit margin was less which gradually improved after lockdown was lifted and we have been lucky to have a loyal customer base,” said Mr. Gowda. “One of the reasons why our bookstore has survived for this long is because we provide a unique feature, where customers can return their purchased book anytime in the future, for a 50% store credit. We also offer a 25% discount on all new books. During the pandemic, we adopted a social media presence and our website saw a huge number of visitors. We even made a system in which we would send updates on book releases specific to every customer’s preference. The customers could also reach out to us with the details of any book that they needed, and if available, the customers will arrange for its pickup via delivery apps such as Dunzo.”
The customer-centric method that “The Bookworm” built, helped navigate through tough times. The owner also keeps himself abreast with customer behaviour patterns. “Post pandemic, we have witnessed a number of first-time readers, probably owing to the fatigue caused by excessive use of online media during the pandemic. We have also observed a surge in demand for non-fiction books,” said Mr. Gowda. This bookstore also hosts book club meets by various parties, thereby, encouraging the reading habit.
A popular bookstore Bengalureans are familiar with is “Gangarams.” Founded in 1965 as “Bangalore Book Bureau”, they currently have two stores in the city. The owner, Mr. Chaturbhuj G. Kalro, mentions how challenging it was for the business during the pandemic, and how they are yet to completely recover. “Firstly, It was difficult to close the store for months as we dealt with stationery, children’s books, general books, and other categories. After the reopening of business, we had to restrict people from walking and browsing as per rules. We had set up counters at the entrance of the shop where people could come and request for books, similar to a chemist's store,” said Mr. Kalro. “After the restrictions were partly lifted, not many customers or families ventured out, especially to bookstores as books are not an absolute necessity. There were days where we were not even able to earn a day's electricity bill amount. However, we were sure that as time passed, people would come back to our stores. Now we are running at 50-60% of our pre-covid customer numbers. We hope to reach 100% by March 2023.” Inspite of all this, the primary reason for Gangarams to run their Indiranagar outlet is because the store buildings are owned by the store owners themselves.
Bookstores in Bengaluru have always served as the city’s landmarks but with uncertain times, the livelihood of people running them are challenged. While some stores have perished some continue to thrive through innovation and technology dependence. In addition to this, customer sentiments are crucial. When stores treat every customer with respect, they are serving a potential buyer. It was evident that stores like “The Bookworm” and “Gangarams” keep customers in mind and hence, the people come together to support these stores. However, on the other hand, Higginbothams, a well-known bookstore on M.G Road, painted a different picture.