New Delhi, June 12 (IANSlife) Like most industries, the COVID-19 lockdown and resulting economic slowdown has affected the publishing sector too, with physical bookstores registering little footfall and sales. As many bookshops reopen gradually, along with the rest of the country, they maintain an optimistic outlook for what’s to come.

The recent relocation of Khan Market’s 20-year-old iconic bookstore Full Circle, to nearby and equally well-placed Meherchand Market, illustrates the underlying nuances of running a business in these difficult times. ?

Priyanka Malhotra, CEO, Full Circle, says: “While bookstores are allowed to operate, there are still issues of overheads – rent, salaries, utility bills – and this is the case for other sectors as well. It had been a very difficult and heartbreaking decision to leave our home of 20 years in Khan Market. Two decades of enriching and engaging experiences with books, readers and literary festivals. The learnings and friendships are precious.”

“We would not have taken this decision were it not for the high rents we would have to continue to pay, and no waiver during lock down either. The terms were unreasonable. A very different case from our GK and Nizamuddin outlets, where we have come to agreeable terms with our landladies who have shown concern and understanding in these trying and unprecedented times for all. We look forward to making more memories with our friends of Full Circle and Cafe Turtle, as we move to the charming neighbourhood of Meherchand Market.”

Anuj Bahri Malhotra, owner of the Bahrisons Booksellers which also has an outlet in Khan Market says there is recession in the market because of the lockdown. Sharing his optimism for the future, he told IANSlife that when they reopened the store, they started with a 10 per cent comeback of the customers, which has grown to double the number in just a month. “We are confident that by the end of July, 50 per cent business will come back,” he said. He also pointed to surplus expenditure in sanitisation equipment – masks, gloves and hand sanitisers – that is necessitated by these times.

According to Swagat Sengupta, Chief Executive Officer, Apeejay Oxford Bookstore, this new phase of opening up has, to an extent, lifted sentiments of book lovers. “We are quite positive about Unlock 1.0 and are delighted to welcome back guests to Oxford Bookstores across India. We were happy to see customers coming back and selecting their choice of books and tea, at our outlets. We believe the economic activity will certainly revive and pent up demand for books and literature in general will help in the market rebound,” the spokesperson told IANSlife.Oxford Bookstore was among the first few brands in literature to have initiated a series of digital brand communication around books and authors to help customers stay connected while fighting the virus. Andrew Sean Greer, Namita Gokhale, Manu S Pillai, Shashi Tharoor, William Dalrymple, Kunal Basu, Christine Leunens, Vishwanathan Anand, Durjoy Dutta, Jerry Pinto, Toby Walsh, Saikat Majumdar, Saurabh Shukla were among personalities featured in their online sessions.

Seeing the reopening as a celebration of the written word, they said that in addition to the traditional retail, they will deliver books through e-commerce and apps.

“The lockdown disrupted retail operations and bookstores were not able to function as usual. These initial days were tough, people couldn’t sell or buy books and that is never good for either the bookstore or its customers. However, it was inspiring to see how some of the retail and independent bookstores innovated to stay relevant and connected to their customers,” Nandan Jha, SVP – Product and Sales, Penguin Random House India told IANSlife in an email.

Elaborating, “With partnerships, digital campaigns and online book launches, they were able to engage with people even when their shops were shut. And as we enter into the unlocking phase with businesses resuming and many shops opening up, albeit under restrictions, it will take some time to recover the losses some of them faced, but it will definitely bounce back. Many bookstores reported high sales when they opened up after the lockdown. Some local bookstores used delivery services to send books to their customers.”

While many of the changes were induced due to a crisis, it definitely has been a learning for a lot of us – “to be nimble, innovate with existing platforms, being there for our customers even in these trying times, and much more,” concludes the publisher.

(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at [email protected])




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