What's Going On With Bookstores in India?
The best books about bookstores, replying to author fan mail, interviews with founders of bookstores, industry research
Recently, the news that Crosswords Kemps Corner is shutting down took over literary twitter. Like everyone else, I was deeply saddened to hear of it, for I live two minutes walking distance from the store. The store holds so many happy memories - of sitting at Moshe’s with friends, reading, chatting, spying on other people’s dates, watching book launches, walking in to browse on a lazy Sunday.
I had just about finished reading Paper Moon by Rehana Munir, when I heard the news. The book is about a young woman (Fiza) who opens a bookshop in a beautiful old bungalow in Bandra, as per her late father’s last wishes.
It’s a flight of fantasy, since the bookstore does fantastically well and has very few struggles. Books fly off the shelves and famous customers grace its corridors. But one also has to keep in mind that the book is set in 2001, maybe things were better then. The book also has a cute little cafe - it’s basically every book lover’s dream come true. The author also takes you into the inner workings of book buying and sales - a side of the book industry that we rarely see.
Bookstores are dying - there’s no two ways about it. Last year, Wayward and Wise shut shop, this year it is Crosswords. I live between Bombay and Goa, and I recently checked out the only bookstore in Goa- it’s in a dilapidated but beautiful Portuguese house - when I asked the owner about some recent books, she didn’t know about them. I decided to order them from Amazon, though I prefer ordering directly from bookstores. In order to keep up with Amazon, bookstores are having to come up with innovative ideas to retain customers, especially in a pandemic situation.
Here’s a Youtube video with the founder of Champaca Books, where she talks about setting up a new bookstore (Champaca is a barely a few years old) and keeping it running in the pandemic.
Legacy bookstores also have to innovate to keep relevant. In our podcast episode, Aanchal Malhotra, whose family owns the legendary Bahrisons bookstore in Delhi speaks about the very unique experience of growing up in a bookstore - she talks about how the Harry Potter books would arrive days in advance of the world launch, and the agony of not being allowed to open the cartons. Listen on for more fun insights from her:
Here’s an excerpt from our publishing industry research document, where Radhika Timbadia speaks about the bookstore ecosystem. Read the document for more analysis about bookstores.
There should be more communication within the publishing ecosystem, says Radhika Timbadia, founder of Champaca Books in The Book People: “I do think people are reading, I do think that reading is relevant to a lot of people. But I think one of the biggest setbacks is the industry not coming together. There is not enough communication between bookstores, and distributors, and publishers and the people who are doing the marketing for them or people who are readers. Why does Amazon have first access to books that independent bookstores should have? Like it just makes it easier for people to buy in different spaces? And I think one of the biggest threats to independent bookstores in India is this industry not coming together and not having enough communication. And I hope that that will change in the next few years.”
Speaking of books about books, writers and bookstores, here are a few recommendations for you
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff- this is a really lovely book, which I read long ago. It’s about an editorial assistant at a literary agency, who is responsible for replying to the fan mail that legendary author JD Salinger receives. She is expected to give a generic response, but in some cases - she tailors the response and actually writes back as Salinger! It’s a coming of age story and combines my favourite things - books, New York and romance!
The book reminded me of my first internship at a literary agency in New York. I was also expected to reply to fan mail for E.B White. Even though he had passed away long ago, I think lots of American children are made to study Charlotte’s Web in school. So the publisher had given us a generic template to use. Every postcard had to be handwritten - I would spend hours writing back to the children. I have to say some of the letters were really cute- children have a very unique way of expressing themselves.
A really fun show about books is ‘Younger’. Again, set in New York - it’s about a 40 year old who pretends to be 26 in order to get back into publishing. We are taken through the book buying process, how books are commissioned - it’s obviously very exaggerated and dramatised - but again - it’s about books, romance and New York! It’s one of those shows for which you have to switch off your intellectual side :)
There are so many books about books, publishing and writers - makes sense that this would be a topic of interest, right? Season 4 of my podcast is going to feature many more conversations around books, apart from our author interviews - and I’m definitely going to do an episode about books about books.
For now, do listen to my latest episode - it’s one of my most engaging yet, because it grapples with the question - should stories have a moral responsibility? We talk about issues like cancel culture, art vs artist, trigger warnings and more. I don’t know the right answer to any of these questions, but it was fun to explore these issues in a structured way.
That’s it from me. I would love your thoughts and recommendations. Feel free to reply to this email.
About me: I am an entrepreneur, book editor and podcaster. Here is my editing and content consulting website:
Here is my company’s website:
We help individuals tell stories through curated live classes, mentoring, editorial services and podcast production. And here’s the link to my podcast Books and Beyond With Bound, India’s no 1 author interview podcast :
What is this newsletter: A fortnightly (mostly) letter about the books I have read and how the ideas they give me filter into my life, career and opinions.
If you have read any of the books mentioned or have thoughts on any of the things I have written - do write in! Would love to hear from you.
Until next time!