Of late, it has become quite common to see noses buried in books, thanks to a great extent to Potter Mania. Book reading no longer takes a back seat to other mediums like television and the Internet. Moreover, new formats seem to have been well accepted by the reader community.
Innovation is paying off for bookstores. A case in point is Crossword – promoted by Shoppers’ Stop Ltd, India's leading department store chain, and ICICI Venture – which has taken several initiatives like organising author-based and community centric events at the bookstore, offering Dial-a-Book service free of charge, etc.
According to R Sriram, CEO, Crossword Bookstores, “We offer cafes as part of the bookstore, allowing customers to browse through books over coffee. In fact, Crossword aims to be a point of cultural and social interaction, where authors and poets hold court, where children are regaled, where people gravitate to be informed, to be entertained and enlightened.”
Oxford Bookstores, too, has come up with innovative concepts. Divulging details, Rajiv Chowdhry, CEO, Apeejay Oxford Bookstores Pvt Ltd, said, “The Cha Bar is one such place where readers can come, have their cup of tea while they browse through the books at the store. The effort here is to bring the charm back to reading. Oxford has also made attempts to promote book reading through different initiatives like Club Dialog, Kids’ events among others.”
Crossword indulges in promotional events like pictionary contests, quizzes, slide shows and the annual affair with Santa and his elves. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull came for a book signing session, so did Macho Man Randy Savage, the WWF champion, promoting books, writers and the reading habit.
Apart from this, Crossword launched the Crossword Book Award in 1998 to recognise and reward the best of Indian writing. There was a cash prize of Rs 200,000 in 1998 for the best original work of fiction in English by an Indian author, which was won by Allan Sealy for The Everest Hotel.
Most importantly, the fact that children are returning to the books has worked tremendously in favour of bookstores and booksellers. Chowdhry of Oxford Bookstores explained, “Today, the most popular genres are the categories that revolve more around children, fiction and travel.”
Agreed Sriram of Crossword Bookstores, “Children’s books are our largest selling category out of total book sales. Children's books contribute 40 per cent of volume sales and 26 per cent of value sales out of total book sales.”
Commenting on the positive trend of reading, Chowdhry said, “The reading habits of people in India are improving progressively. Today’s readers are exposed to literature from not only all parts of India, but also the world, as opposed to a few years back when people used to limit themselves to reading select authors and magazines due to dearth of availability of most titles.”
Sriram subscribed to the view when he refered to the highly popular Harry Potter series, “This book appeals to all ages and proves that book reading is still much liked activity.”
Believed to be a Rs 1,000 crore business, book retailing has greener pastures in store for future. Among factors that show promise for days ahead are higher literacy, more children taking to reading and a general improvement in reading habits.
In what seems to have acted as a boon for the bookstores, the Potter Mania certainly has opened doors for opportunities. Crossword’s Sriram agreed, “The customer interest has been phenomenal – amongst both children and grown-ups – even more than the earlier books.”
Chowdhry, too, accepted that the book had worked wonders. “The Harry Potter mania started in India about 3-4 years back. With each passing title, the hype just seems to get bigger. The book is a favourite among all age groups and has managed to transcend all cultural boundaries,” he noted.